Last week we were invited by Gloucestershire’s Wild Life Trust to the House of Commons at Westminster to pick up our Nature Works award in recognition of our Tanks in Schools and eel restocking project that we have been promoting for the last three years. Children are the future custodians of the riverbank and by involving children in this scheme we hope to raise their awareness of how important it is to manage our water resources correctly, while at the same time learning about the amazing life cycle of the eel. It was also a chance to meet up with Carlo Laurenzi, the chief executive of the London Wildlife Trust who we hope may perhaps help us to expand the project into more London schools next year. The project starts getting into gear in about March/April so any chefs or restaurants in London who would like to get involved do not hesitate to give me a call.
It also good to report that salmon numbers are up and almost 1500 fish were caught by anglers on the Wye and Usk rivers this year. Catch and release on the Wye is now mandatory and on the upper reaches of the river fish were caught in numbers that haven’t been seen since the ‘60s. This was in part due to the exceptionally high water for most of the summer which made fishing on the lower waters of the Wye exceptionally difficult. With stocks rising it is difficult to understand the draconian restrictions that have been applied to catch limits on the licensed River Severn salmon fishermen.
Our Creative Department (Shirley and Claire) which oversees hampers and mail orders is knee deep in wicker baskets, boxes and bags and for those of you that have staff or customers that you want to send a special Christmas treat to, then they are at the ready to take your calls, and can or will make something up to suit all budgets. A side of Gravadlax or smoked salmon together with some bubbly and mince pies is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Talking of mince pies reminds me of when we lived in France some years ago I thought making a few traditional English mince pies would be just the job for sharing with our French neighbours at Christmas. Looking down my list of ingredients of dried fruits and spices my only problem seemed to be the dry shredded suet. Having checked my English/French dictionary I realised suet has no exact French translation, it just describes it as what it is, fat of the kidneys of beef. So it was off to the butchers, surely sourcing some kidney fat wouldn't prove to be too difficult. I entered the shop and waited my turn, by now the whole shop had filled up, when the butcher said Oui monsieur I hesitatingly asked for some beef kidney fat. He dropped his head and peered over his glasses “and what would monsieur be wanting with kidney fat?”. I didn't think I’d get away with explaining it was part of a pie filling so explained I wanted to make a suet pastry. I could now hear sniggering behind me, and he chuckled “you English” and plonked 250gm of fine French butter on the counter. I stood my ground and said this was special English pastry for meat puddings and as he withdrew his French butter from the counter he instructed me to return in 3 days. On my return 3 kilos of suet in a plastic bag was waiting to be collected. The butcher was insistent that he couldn't possibly charge me for something he threw away. So when Christmas came and I collected my goose and Christmas goodies I handed over a bag of mince pies as a Christmas goodwill gesture and he said to me “whatever happened to that kidney fat I gave you?”. “Oh big mistake” I said “should have followed your advice and taken the butter”. (I didn't have the heart to tell him).
Mince pies aren't just for putting at the base of the chimney for Santa, there is quite a bit of historical folklore about them. It’s traditional to make a wish when you eat your first mince pie of the season. They should always be eaten in silence and eating one every day in the 12 days before Christmas means good luck for the coming year. A mince pie isn't a mince pie unless it’s got a star symbolising the star that led the shepherds to the baby Jesus. That’s probably enough info for one day, more soon.