is not just a man with ingredients, but a man with an ideology. Not just a man with a recipe, but a man with a revolution -- to radically reclaim, rescue, revive and restore the local, the British and the seasonal.
Some readers may have seen his recent Channel 4 programme -- "River Cottage" is the name of the small-holding in Dorset in which he and his family lived before moving to a nearby farm. In this regard, Fearnley-Whittingstall is not a TV cook caught in the concrete city, but a man immersed in the soil and seasons from which is borne the flesh and flora he turns into food.
SUPERMARKETS and SEASONALITY
The essence of the book is "seasonality". Cooking in time with the seasons, specifically, the British seasons.
He wrote the book because he observed, "with mounting alarm, that our sense of seasonality is under threat."
For this, he writes, the supermarkets must take the lions share of the blame: "Of necessity, the seasons still exert some influence on their stocking policy. Yet they will do everything possible to disguise this fact when presenting produce to their customers. They fear that seasonally driven marketing will result in inconsistent spending. They don't want to encourage their customers to think seasonally, because they believe seasonality is not profitable."
WHY BOTHER with SEASONALITY?
He writes: "This is a big and important question. And I am aware that not all supposed food-lovers agree with me about the answer. Much of the way cookery is presented in Britain -- in books, colour supplements and on television -- works against our understanding and appreciation of the seasons. It does so by fostering a 'grass is greener' mentality, making us aspire to someone else's seasonality (or, ironically, their relative lack of it). It implies that the food and produce of sunnier climes (the Mediterranean in particular) are more worthwhile than our own. In short, it idolises the exotic … This sense of identity with our climate and the landscape it creates may not matter to everyone. But there are practical and universal reasons for shopping seasonally. For example, what is locally seasonal will, with negligible exceptions, be far better than what is not. Most fresh produce doesn't travel well, and the various processes and technologies applied to help it travel better are invariable detrimental to its eating qualities … despite the overwhelming trend of globalisation and industrialisation of food, there are still small producers in this country dedicated to the art of cultivating the best varieties of our seasonal produce … Such committed individuals are the guardians of the vital variations in the taste and texture of produce that allow us, by turns, to be individuals in our own taste -- our safeguard against a future of bland homogeneity … I don't want to get too po-faced and ascetic about this, wagging a disapproving finger at those who are tempted by a Costa Rican pineapple in July or Moroccan clementines at Christmas … The simple fact is that we can't grow bananas, pineapples and clementines in this country. And I have no wish to deny other agricultural communities the chance to sell their delightful produce in the global marketplace. I simply believe that an engagement with the global should be secondary to an engagement with the local. What is local and seasonal should be at the forefront of each shopper's consciousness -- and indeed of his or her conscience."
INCLUDES EASY GUIDE to BRITISH FOOD IN SEASON
I am a big fan of useful information presented in fully comprehensive and easily understood formats.
In that regard, I love the tables at the start of the book which show all possible British foodstuffs, and the months in which they are "in season" and the months in which they are "at their best".
These tables cover every conceivable British foodstuff you could ever imagine -- and others you probably can't, or have never even heard of!
The tables include "vegetables", "fruit", "fish", "shellfish", "game", "wild greens", "herbs", "flowers", "wild fruits", "fungi", "nuts" and even "saps" (from trees!).
Presentationally, this hard-back book is superb.
The pages are colour-coded to represent the months and seasons, and the earthy photographs, by Simon Wheeler, are top-notch and printed on the sort of paper-texture, and in the colour-quality, that we are working to move Sovereignty towards.
The only downside of this book -- for me, and some of our readers -- is that all measurements are given in metric, with no imperial conversions.
The River Cottage Year by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
London : Hodder and Stoughton, 2003; price £17.99