Saturday, 23 February 2013

Foodie Penpals the third

My third package came from the lovely Chris and Bex in Scarborough. They sent me some homemade chilli chutney which was excellent on crackers with some mature cheddar. I haven't found a use yet for the cranberry jam but I'm sure I will do soon.

The chocolate bunny was consumed with gusto whilst watching Hop. I also revived some lovely pistachios and peppermint tea. Healthy yet indulgent, thank you Chris and Bex!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

First foodie pen pals package

Firstly apologies I should have posted this a long time ago! Here is a post about my first ever foodie pen pals package from Sarah Jayne.

It was a fab surprise to come home to on a wet November evening, it took ages to open the box as I was wet through from the rain and shivering as a result. As Sarah Jayne was married in the USA the package had an American theme it was packed full of sweet treats, just the thing for these long cold winter evenings.

The Aunt Jemima Pancake mix makes big fat US style buttermilk pancakes, I need to get to grips with these a few more attempts and I’ll have ironed out the kinks. I’m still stuck in the groove of thinking that all pancakes should be thin and covered in lemon and sugar on Shrove Tuesday. But the syrup is making the disasters I am creating more palatable (chocolate and marshmallow flavour).
The candy corn was a Halloween themed treat and wow the sugar rush you get from just one is similar to a Hershey’s kiss.  Then the popcorn well I instantly thought of Drew Barrymore in Scream. I'm keeping this to get out during Christmas when we have children over as I just know they'll love this.

Finally the marshmallows are really addictive, mainly because they have caramel inside, perfect with cocoa. So thank you Sarah Jayne I really enjoyed my first package!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Christmas madness – the meat tree

Before I begin I need to let you know that if Christmas was a rock band I’d have the t-shirt, bed covers and probably a wall covered in ticket stubs from their gigs. I am a Christmas freak and proud, anyone who has ever worked with me will tell you I’m the one who organises secret Santa and my nieces and nephews will tell you that they always get something suitably noisy and garish from me (that is also partly because I enjoy the look of pain on their parent’s faces). So you can imagine my excitement when we came up with the latest concept for The Meat Crusade Christmas PR.


Marketing people like me are always trying to come up with new and innovative ways to get your attention at this time of year. As a graduate I cut my teeth in the world of weird and wonderful PR stunts which included promoting a building that mooed like a cow every hour (that’s a story for another time). It’s not something I do often but when done correctly it can be a very effective tool.


Christmas is without a doubt the busiest time in the butchers’ calendar, they usually start thinking about it in June when the rest of us are packing our suitcases and heading off on our holidays. There is one thing that all the butchers I speak to seem to agree on. The festive period is without a doubt their busiest; it is also the most frustrating for them. This is because so many people only visit them once a year for their Christmas meat.


In October I came up with the idea of putting out a story all about a butcher being for life and not just for Christmas. The rise in popularity of shows such as Mary Portas demonstrates that people in the UK want to preserve the high street and the feeling of community that it brings. But without regular trade many of these shops won’t survive and butchers are one of them.

A story like this needed a good accompanying photo but what to have? We needed something that hadn’t been done before, something that said butcher and Christmas all at the same time. My boss instantly brought up the idea of a tree covered in butcher's products. The best ideas are the simplest ones and we all said yes!


Great titters went up as to what we could do, a star wrapped in streaky bacon was a given. Lumineetta bacon (for years I've been calling it weird tinsel) and meat balls for baubles. The tinsel would be sausages, of course. We always use a different customer each time we do this and Hutchinsons of Ripley was our choice. Peter Buck and Nick Allen are great butchers and they were great sports, instantly buying into the idea.


My hands become completely useless when it comes to making ‘pretty’ things so thank goodness for the other Meat Crusaders who were fair fairer of hand than I. The end result is a story with accompanying photos that has gained so much traffic on social media and coverage in the media. It’s not the sort of thing we’ll be doing often, I certainly won’t be dressing up as a giant steak anytime soon. But what they hey tis the season and we all enjoy a bit of festive fun to brighten the dark nights.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Waste not want not

Sundays were big family days; normally my Nana would (much to the delight of my father) call in the very early hours to see if we were coming for lunch. We would be packed into the car and taken to St Michael at the Northgate for family service which is right in the centre of Oxford. Occasionally extra colour was added to these outings by tourists, I remember rather clearly one Japanese gentleman grabbing my hand and snapping a picture of me in front of Martyrs Memorial because he wanted a picture of a typical little English girl. Somewhere in the far east there is a picture of six year old me, blotchy faced screaming for my parents convinced I was about to be taken away by the child catcher in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.’

We would head straight from church to Sunday lunch with my Grandparents house, this usually consisted of huge platefuls of roast beef from our local butcher, David John. There would also be cauliflower in white sauce, peas, roast potatoes, mash, broccoli, leeks and sprouts but never swede it was banned. I never thought to question this at the time.

I was taught how to mix Yorkshire puddings by hand and watch my Nana as she basted, boiled and plated up with fascination. Our plates were piled high and if we didn’t eat what was in front of us my Gramps would despair, sighing deeply and talk about wasted food. He was a wise man of few words and I would always feel terribly guilty, so on I would plough. It was only when I was older that I discovered why; as a young soldier in WW2 he was kept in Stalag Luft VIII-B (a German prisoner of war camp) after being captured at Cassel trying to stop the advancing Nazi’s getting near the beaches of Dunkirk.

When the Soviets advance on Germany towards the end of the war the Nazis marched their prisoners’ westwards in what is now often referred to as ‘The Death Marches.’ Not only did these marches prolong the war for him and many others the lack of food and clothing meant many died of the cold and or starvation. Sometimes all they would be given is raw swede, to my knowledge my Gramps never ate another swede once he was rescued by the Red Cross and brought home. He never told me any of this I gleamed the information from family and friends just after he died in 2010. He knew a thing or two about being hungry.

After lunch my father and uncles would take us kids to Mesopotamia (or Messpot as we locals call it) with the beloved mongrel Ben in an effort walk off our lunch and give my Nana and her four daughter’s time to sit around the dinner table and chew the cud. On our return it was usually time for tea and we would be treated to cold roast beef with mash and salad or sometimes bubble and squeak. Nothing was wasted from the precious beef joint I still to this day feel horribly guilty if I throw away any food after a meal.

A butcher is for life not just for Christmas – a tale of meat, Metros and matriarchs

No one taught me more about the importance of using your local butcher than my maternal Grandparents Ron and Barb May. I spent a lot of my Oxfordshire childhood with them, partly to help my fraught mother after the birth of my twin brothers just 18 months after the joyous arrival of my hyperactive self.

Having a forthright wife and four daughters meant that Gramps often struggled to get a word in edge ways. He worked long hours at his shop, Mays Carpets on the Cowley Road, but he would always finish early on Saturday lunchtimes and make a trip to the shops in Marston to get the meat and vegetables for Sunday lunch. One rather fateful afternoon he went to the butchers but returned empty handed, soaking wet and without his car, a yellow Austin Metro.

The women in the house were, as usual, talking at great speed and at times over each other. It took around half an hour before my Nana noticed the lack of shopping and the state of his clothes. He explained that he had left the keys in the car with the engine running while he went into the butchers (a common practice in those days). When he returned the rust bucket had been nicked. He had walked all the way back up the steep hill on Headley Way in the pouring rain then stood for half an hour waiting to get his words out. Nana chastised him but his reply was something that will always stay with me. “Be fair Barb I couldn’t get a word in edgeways! Everyone is talking but no one is listening.”

David John, the butcher, still remembers the story of the yellow Metro to this day, the last time I saw him I told him it was part of my Gramp’s eulogy. When I’m in Oxford I always make a point of going to his shop which is now in the Covered Market in the centre of town. His game pies are one of my favourite Christmas treats, but I know that if I want butchers like him to remain part of our high street we need to use them all year round. Many people right now will be thinking about Christmas dinner and making a ‘special trip’ to the butcher for their meat. The next time they set foot through their butchers’ door will be Christmas 2013.

The sad fact is that in the mid 1980’s there were around 22,000 high street butchers. This fell to just 6,553 in 2010, according to Ed Bedington, Editor of Meat Trades Journal. Part of the reason they thrived in the past was because people, like my grandparents, used them all year round. I’m part of The Meat Crusade, which is campaigning to save the high street butcher. So I am asking you to think about what our high streets will look like without the butcher. Sadly it really is a case of use them or lose them.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Guest blog - The Southerner explores…

As a former intern myself I like to take on students and offer them the chance to work on projects that (I hope) give them a real sense of what it is like out here in the working world and to help me out when I have a big project and all hands are needed on the deck so to speak.  Olivia is on a one day a week adoption with me from Leeds Met and has been a great help especially in the build up to and during Countryside Live.  I asked her to write about her experience and here is her blog post.

 Guest blog - The Southerner explores…

Yes I am Southerner, but before you stop reading I cannot speak any higher of the North right now, especially after visiting (and not wanting to leave) Countryside Live, you may not admit it but you know I'm right…and I’ll tell you why.

It’s the time of year that brings families, traders, farmers and of course livestock all together for one weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect but as I approached the venue, the sea of cars and toddlers on shoulders gave me the impression that this was big – very big.

As I arrived and fought my way through the crowds to the main pavilion I was pleasantly surprised to see such variety in ages and so many different stalls. From Ferrets to Figs, candles to cows, it was all there and in full speed. I was immediately transfixed by numerous smells and beautiful sights. With Christmas around the corner I couldn’t help but become giddy at the beautifully crafted wreaths and handmade candles next to me. Children were running around giggling also amazed with all the excited things around and I was definitely one of them. I was offered a pork pie and kindly accepted (whilst slightly dribbling…elegantly) and it was bursting with flavour. I forgot how much I love these events – absolute heaven.

As I carried on past more stands offering me sweets, photographs and I think even Liquorice perfume (strange I know, I hope they weren’t insinuating anything…) I came across a stall ‘The Meat Crusade’ and beside that a very large Steer (made of fibreglass of course) and terribly good looking people, informing us of the benefits of Rose Veal and taste bud melting sensation it leaves…

You’re probably thinking I am all a bit strange right now, but I should probably introduce myself, my name is Olivia, I am 21 years old and studying Public Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University, hold on I’m missing something… That’s right I am also intern at John Penny & Sons….the penny (ironically) drops.

The Meat Crusade is a national campaign led by John Penny & Sons to bring you back to your local butcher. Butchers can tell you far more than a supermarket ever could about meat, they can even tell you the exact farm it has come from.

The team were inundated with people of all ages trying Rose Veal who couldn’t believe the tender taste and healthy texture it had. Long gone are the confined crates and mislead conception, this is the 21st Century. 

Here are the days that it is RSPCA approved and branded a freedom food, Rose Veal has never been better.

I am aware the word ‘Veal’ can make people shoot off in the opposite direction. But today that was not the case in fact the complete opposite. Bull calf’s in the dairy industry are quite often disposed of soon after birth and have no quality of life whatsoever.

Rose Veal calves are brought up in a far more wholesome way, they have plenty of room to move around both inside and out. The response John Penny’s had was amazing. In this day and age people are more broad minded in what they eat especially the young. Teenagers in particular were more curious about the meat and far more open minded than their parents. All you have to do is ask your local butcher, I’m sure they will be more than happy to supply it for you, that way it is a win win for you, your butcher and the calf!

Can rose veal return onto our shelves? Yes. 2,500 samples over two days flew of our stand and many coming back for more. I packed 800 goody bags (yes 800!) and they were gone by 12pm Sunday. What does that tell you?

For more information please visit:

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Bring me bacon sandwiches – not problems

The most irritating and ineffective person I ever knew  used the line ‘bring me solutions not problems’ about as regularly as they consumed lattes.  But it actually sums up how I feel about some of the major retailers approach to the current crisis British pork is facing. Pork is a cornerstone of British society, without it a ‘Full English’ would be nothing. Try and think of it without the bacon, black pudding and sausage. Nope I can’t imagine it either and nor do I want to.

Many of the butchers I deal with have reputations established by their prize winning sausages and pork pies. British pork is something to be proud of, if you aren’t sure as to the origin of where yours has come from then go to your local butcher who will be able to tell you exactly which farm it has come from and what quality of life the animal has had prior to slaughter. If you have to go to a supermarket then look for the redtractor symbol on the packaging. 

Why do we need to save our bacon?

Pretty soon 10% of British pork production in the UK could disappear (source: National Pig Association). This has come about due to soaring costs in pig feed which has gone up dramatically recently.  This is due to adverse weather conditions in the USA and Europe where the wheat and soya is produced to create the feed.

What does this mean?

This will have a detrimental impact on the small to medium pig farmers in the UK who work tirelessly to create a happy natural environment for their pigs and thus produce great tasting pork, we could lose many of them by Christmas. Cheap imports from Europe and the rest of the world could flood our market.  This is great news for the big retailers as this will drive the cost of pork down making them big savings and making it impossible for these small to medium pork producers to get back into the game.

This is bad news for the consumers, the pigs raised on continental Europe are not so fortunate in their standard of living. They are often intensively reared in confined spaces, when an animal is not allowed to run around and display natural behaviour the meat it produces is often tasteless and needs to have a myriad of additives pumped into it to make it taste of anything. Jamie Oliver, love him or hate him, demonstrates the two different approaches to rearing pork in this short video.

What are the retailers saying?

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which has some of the UK’s biggest retailers as members’ has come to their defence.  A spokeswoman from the BRC was recently quoted in the Metro newspaper said that it was unfair to blame the supermarkets for this situation as they aren’t the only buyers of pork and that consumers should put pressure on food manufactures.  Well no indeed they aren’t but from speaking to BPEX around two thirds of the pork bought in the UK is by supermarkets. 

Surely the sector that has the biggest amount of buying power has considerable sway over the food manufacturers?  Besides more and more supermarkets take their production in house, Morrisons are a prime example.

I can understand why the spokeswoman feels brow beaten, having been a press officer myself it isn’t always the easiest of job when the press are baying for your blood.  After the dairy farmers protests there will be many a press officer in the food sector who dreads looking at their Blackberry and responds to Facebook and Twitter message at a rate most pavlovian dogs would be proud of. The executives making the decisions that the press officers have to make the statements on won’t have had much sleep either. However this isn’t a personal attack, to respond as if it is and point the finger elsewhere does nothing to help the situation and makes it all the more exasperating to read about. Anyone can see that the present system isn’t working.

The solution

From recent media coverage it should be crystal clear that the way the big retailers choose to treat our farmers isn’t fair and it isn’t winning them any favour with the consumers who want to preserve our rich farming heritage (stop press this article from YouGov proves they want local too). All the supermarkets have to do is be prepared to pay slightly more per animal and educate their consumers about why it is better to eat meat raised under ethical conditions.  Will they do this?  Well only time will tell. 

In the meantime the best advice I can offer is to go back to your local butcher for your pork, ask them where it is from and how it has been looked after.  Any good butcher will be able to tell you this with relative ease and you can be confident that you are getting a top quality without sacrificing your conscience.

More information

BPEX feed crisis centre has been setup to help farmers affected by the crisis.