A recent piece in OFM (Observer Food Monthly) titled ‘The best thing I ate in 2014’ got me to thinking about the best things I have eaten this year, both at home and whilst out and about in East Anglia and further afield.
Some of the best things included:
The wild mushroom, treacle bacon and Reblochon on toasted sourdough at the Horringer Six Bells which was one of the best things I have ever eaten;
Henrietta Inman’s macarons, specifically the lime and coconut;
A bear claw from Pump St Bakery;
Mark Proctors bread from the Friendly Loaf Company (sold on Bury St Eds market) and recently his Stollen;
Winter spiced apple butter used to sandwich a sponge cake from the Apple Butter Company;
Smoked haddock, kippers and salmon from the Anchor Smokehouse;
Voluptuously filled burgers from Shakes n Baps in Sudbury; this one had beetroot in it.
Pizza from Franca Manca;
Alder Carr ice cream, specifically stem ginger & rhubarb, toffee apple and damson;
The jugged hare I made with meat from the Wild Game Company;
Chashu Pork, mustard leaves and nori in chicken bone broth and soy ramen with cock scratchings at Bone Daddies;
Baozi (Chinese steamed buns) from Yang Guang Supermarket, Newport Court, London;
Selfridges Brass Rail classic salt beef sandwich (not cheap but very very good);
Monty’s Deli classic salt beef sandwich;
Juniors classic cheesecake- the old New York baked style with the sponge paste base;
Seattle Chocolate Company chocolate coconut macaroon bar;
Doughnuts from St John, baked by Justin Gellaghty;
Really good scrambled eggs on sourdough from Mundfords- local, tip top freshness, un mucked about;
Four hour Italian ‘red sauce’- the best pasta sauce recipe ever;
Strummer and Skiffle ales from Shortts Farm Brewery;
Brunswick stew made by a friend from North Carolina to James Villas‘ recipe in ‘The Glory of Southern Cooking’;
The cornbread at Lockhart, light, sweet, bubbling in its cooking tin and the wedge lettuce, served as James Villas himself recommends with a ranch dressing, allowing the sweet icy crunch of the lettuce to stand proud.
And for what its worth, here are the things I think will attract greater attention next year:
Cup cakes and macarons are exhausted. Lets elevate the humble madeleine with all manner of flavoured soaks and dipping sauces. The combinations are endless starting off with the Proustian lime tisane. Imagine a tumble of madeleines on a plate served with little pots of chocolate spiked with chile, madeleines brushed with chestnut honey, soaked with an all spice and rum sugar syrup or dipped into pots of cardomom infused chai?
Hawaiian food because it has that sweet salty thing going on and is a wonderful melange of culture and history- Russians, Portugese, Japanese and the English- as the islands were settled. There has been regional food in Hawaii for centuries, taro root, seawood etc, but its failure to blend in with the food of incomers from Europe or build itself into a base for modern Hawaiian cooking meant it faded into the background. With only a few thousand people left who are descended from the original natives of these islands, the call for it was less too. What we have, on the surface, is a kind of fusion of eastern and western elements but there are signs that the new breed of chefs and cooks are seeking to meld the old, original ingredients, techniques and recipes with the newer. Cottage industries all over the archipelago are producing great raw ingredients and products: goats cheese, species pineapples and macadamias, venison, passion fruit and chocolate. In addition, the indigenous fish swimming in the local waters are spectacular. Old recipes such as Lomi Lomi salmon are reinvigorated with a crust of crushed macadamia and the basic ahi poke is turned into gourmet food using best tuna toro, the local seaweed and fresh ginger root. As a contrast, street food fans are turning to other Hawaiian foods and remaking them for a generation of food lovers who want to eat on the run but also want to eat well. Malasadas, the Portugese doughnuts bought to the islands by immigrants are stuffed with local fruits, roots or creams made from coconut and fried.
All things Hungarian and Austrian. Because when you strip a lot of baking back to its roots, here’s where you end up.
German food. Nothing like a bit of Mittel European to take us through hard times. Comforting, unpretentious and generally straight forward (although Baumkuchen takes some work!). Barley, one pot eintopf with spatzle and kasepatzle (topped with cheese), high end interpretations of wurst with curry sauce (Currywurst) on the street, remoulade and curry mayonnaise with chips (french fries) as eaten by us on the streets of Frankfurt last week- all comforting foods. Even kale can be accommodated in a bowl of Grünkohleintopf – kale with smoked meat and sausages.
The recipes of the Pennsylvanian Dutch, (Amish, Mennonite and Moravians) settled in the USA will come into the spotlight although many of their best loved foods display a fondness for sugar that is not in line with healthier eating recommendations. That Mittel European influence is obvious, seeing as the original Amish were German and they ate hearty, rib sticking meals designed to fuel their heavy labour out in the fields. Potato filling with saffron, Shoofly pie, fry pies, tapioca and friendship cakes will prove popular. Porridge pots will be over taken by little pots of Wisconsin style tapioca.
Plain cakes. The trend for ridiculous hybrids and over decorating suddenly looks so old fashioned although we’ll still be exploring American cakes. Lady Baltimore cake and the classic pound cake will be seen more.
The obsession with the food of the American south will continue as late adopters join the party and lesser known regional specialities such as the Kentucky Burgoo and Brunswick stews will gain in popularity. The southern biscuits will start to accompany our food whether they be cat head, angel flake or the classic baking powder biscuit and we’ll see some more homely pies- meal pie, country pie and woodford pudding.
We’re going to go frontier, a logical extension of the flannel checked shirt and beardy face (the latter more a male thing, I acknowledge) that has run riot on our streets of late. From Pendleton blankets and Frye boots to the ingredients of states like Alaska and countries like Canada it’ll be all birch syrup instead of maple and steaks from moose plus high qual salmon cooked on planks, a variation of the smoked fish we’ve been inundated with.
There’ll also be a run on classic street drinks such as date shakes from South California. We’ll see renewed interest in fish boils such as you encounter in Wisconsin and Minnesota with restaurants and street food retailers putting on their own. Niche communities in the USA will be explored and their foods- Belgian Prune Pie in Wisconsin Door Country springs to mind- will emerge.
The cooking and baking of Appalachia, its culture and music will become more known, with Appalachian stack cake turning up in bakeries and restaurants. Sorghum as a sweetener will gain popularity along with hominy, parched and and boiled peanuts drunk with coke (although they are more commonly found deeper south) will start to be prepared in the UK. The more rustic meat products such as souse, brawn (headcheese) and scrapple will prove popular with the beardy hipsters as they try to out clever each other and the bacon cuts of other countries -fat back for example- will appear. The classic Virginia ham cure, air dried and then sliced and cooked alongside the little known Maryland ham with its stuffing of thick herbed parsley will vie for attention with more niche European ham varieties. We’ll be able to buy squirrel easily and accompany it with home made chow chow and watermelon rind pickles.
Cuba. Now the USA has ‘discovered’ it, we’ll be deluged with hipsters channelling Hemingway and turning their drinking dens in Brooklyn and Shoreditch (the latter complete with architecturally inauthentic pressed tin ceiling) into bodegas from Havana. Expect Farrow & Ball to rush out a cigar smoke stained paint and we’ll all be urged to eat pastries sweetened with sugar cane, black beans and yuca, malanga, mojo criollo, boniato and even more pork. The race to serve the rarest, hardest to get hold of rum is on.
Keep an eye out for new Temperance bars in the style of the original, Mister Fitzpatricks in Rossendale, Lancashire which has been going since 1859. This movement has its roots in the rejection of the widespread alcohol problems during the Industrial Revolution in and around Preston, 1835. A breakdown in family life was blamed on the easy availability of cheap gin and ale and of course, once productivity was affected, abstinence began to be promoted. It was important for working people to still have somewhere to go though to share a convivial drink and the opening of temperance bars across the textile districts of Yorkshire & Lancashire, spreading across the whole of the UK, provided this. Finally, a Preston Methodist cheese maker established a society under which a pledge of sobriety was taken which expanded beyond the churches to become part of every day life for the now sober British. Temperance Bars were the new social scene. Dandelion & Burdock might date back to the days of St Thomas Aquinas but it is coming back into vogue, along with the other drinks that Mister Fitzpatricks never actually stopped selling- sarsaparilla, ginger beer, cream soda, blood tonic and lemon and ginger plus temperance cocktails such as those sold at The Alchemist in Leeds, packed with elderflower and Fentimans delicious lemonade. The old health giving properties: dandelion to reduce water retention, ginger for soothing nausea or colds, rosehip for colds and immune boosting, sarsaparilla and for detoxifying are married with a new cool and most important of all, taste.
The great ice cream revolution has already started, from the trad Italian style gelato and super premium American ice versions to the mastic based ice creams of Turkey named Dondurma after the Turkish for ‘freezing’ and heavier than the Arabic kind. Containing milk, sugar, mastic and salep, the latter a powder from the root of an orchid, Dondurma is all about the chewy texture (sometimes eaten with knife and fork) and resistance to melting. In the past, mountain dwellers made it with snow, goat milk, mastic, and “dried orchidaceae powder” and in southeast Turkey, the ice cream was more solid and sticky because of the powder of the orchid flowers that grow there. This is definitely one for the hipsters. We’ll see them selling their versions from traditional carts, I bet you, and their flavours will have those trad names such as ‘Haleeb’.
We’ll also see toasted, smoked and salted ice cream hit the mainstream- recipes are already appearing on large food sites, partially as a result of the home curing and smoking craze where everything without a pulse is bunged in. Super premium is championed by the ice cream makers of the USA such as Jen’s Splendid Ice creams who use high quality ingredients and artisanal techniques married with high tech experimentation to develop new flavours. ((Red Beets with Mascarpone and Poppy Seeds anyone?) Developing from this are the Sno-Cones, sherberts, paletas and ice creams made from the milk of other animals and from nuts and seeds. The street sellers of Latin America with their ice filled carts piled high with paletas (solid frozen fruit sticks) made from chilé spiked watermelon and pinon are the inspiration here. Look out for flavours sold according to the source of their ingredients too- expect a whole menu of vanilla flavours using pods and seeds from all over the world. Much as you get with chocolate now.
Apropos to the ice cream appreciation, will be the return of fun. To get good ice cream one needs (as with most food and recipe development) to be a bit of une serieuse BUT ( and yes, a big ‘but’ interjection is required here) it should also be fun. Take Big Gay Ice Cream in NYC. It’s a real laugh but the quality is taken very seriously. This sense of playfulness urgently needs to spread to other food producers and makers. Less earnestness please and start to unhitch your wagon from the need to trumpet the origin, heritage and family tree of every ingredient (unless it is of real relevance).
Trash fish and more nose to tail. We’ve had nose to tail eating with regards to the beasts of the field. Now can we apply this to those that swim in the sea or inland waters? I am so happy that chefs are embracing a more economical approach to ingredients but less happy that supermarkets have cashed in (literally) by ramping up the price of ox tail, beef and pig cheeks and offal. I suppose the same will apply to trash fish: after all we saw this happen with monkfish. I am not sure however that nose to tail really extended to chitterlings though. I haven’t seen those on the streets of British cities. Not a lot of Menudo going on.
Remember that episode in SATC where Carrie and her friends ate at hot new NYC restaurant ‘Raw’ and grimaced their way through food they considered barely edible? Well since then we’ve come quite a way. Raw food will move away from cubes of baby vegetables and bizarre nut and fungi milks towards raw versions of recognised meals- pizzas, curries and stir unfries. The Icelandic chef Solla Eiriks eats a high-raw diet, and has championed raw food to Icelanders for over a decade and even manages to serve cinnamon rolls in her raw food restaurant chain.
Respect to Mexico. At bloody last. Never has a cuisine been more misrepresented and slurred. Wahaca is great but it isn’t the Mexican food I recall from my childhood being sold there. I think we need a clear division or philosophical demarcation between the authentic replication of regional Mexican cuisine and the influence it has over modern fusion cooking (or to phrase that a little better, a nuanced cooking that borrows technique, ingredient or style from a place). I cannot believe I used the word ‘fusion’- I hate it.
Oh, and can we have some proper tamales in Britain please?
Food writing- Cross over publishing will give us some high quality collectors editions of new and niche writing about food. But not just writing. From books like Cornbread Nation, the yearly collation of writings, poetry and images from the food community of the Deep South via the Southern Foodways to magazines like Toast, Lucky Peach, Gather and Kinfolk, the food writing world will champion new yearly or bi annual publications. These will be new hybrid book/magazines with high production values and things of beauty and function to keep and hand down: print, print and more print for a generation of people wanting tactility and real life form. We all crave the personal and authentic and the idea of posterity in magazine writing will reemerge. Nothing about these editions will be throwaway.
The re-publication of wonderful food writers such as Laurie Colwin, sadly died far too young in 2015 will hopefully herald the rediscovery of many others that have either died- James Beard, Craig Claiborne, MK Fisher or who don’t have a social media presence- James Villas. The food memoir has receded from the spotlight over the last few years to be replaced by the cook book cum memoir and collection of stand alone food writings but these trad, prose chaptered books are a breath of fresh air in a world where every food person has an opinion. I so want James Villas to be rediscovered. Finally, ‘Prune’ by Gabrielle Hamilton set the 2015 bar for cook books, dispensing with recipe headnotes and introductions. No guff, just bloody great recipes and meat mallet like straightforwardness. Less of the hyperbole and alliterative descriptions please.