Good Food Blog
Traditional...or travesty?Posted at 12:02PM, 14 July 2008 by Carol Wilson - Food writer
Do you recognise any of these: Sorbitan, Monostearate, Polysorbate 60, Humectant, Potassium Sorbate, and Sulphur Dioxide? No? Well, believe it or not, these are just some of the ingredients in a Bakewell tart I had the misfortune to taste recently.
This set me thinking - how many other traditional recipes for regional delicacies have been mucked about with? Well, for a start I've come across 'Traditional Bakewell Pudding' containing peanuts (to bulk out the more expensive almonds perhaps?) and Scottish shortbread made with lard and vegetable oil instead of butter. Even more depressing are scones containing emulsifier, mono and diglycerides of fatty acids and palm oil and 'traditional' biscuits from the Scottish Isles made with hydrogenated vegetable oil and artificial colouring.
In Ashbourne in Derbyshire I joined a long queue of (mainly Japanese) tourists in one of the town's bakeries to buy some 'famous Ashbourne Gingerbread' a kind of ginger shortbread. At least that's what it's meant to be. It was truly awful - dry, dull and tasteless - even my friend's dog wouldn't eat it! I read the ingredients with a sinking heart... rapeseed oil, soya oil, hydrogenated palm oil... The original recipe used just flour, butter, sugar and ginger.
My collection of old cookbooks has a wealth of recipes for fantastic regional cakes, puddings, pies and tarts, made with wholesome, recognisable ingredients. The trouble is, many of these time-honoured specialities are now made commercially on a massive scale, often using ingredients more at home in a science lab than a kitchen. Nonetheless, such foods are heavily marketed as 'traditional' or 'heritage' foods.
We seem to have lost sight of what is traditional
What on earth is going on? We seem to have lost sight of what is traditional. These industrially produced foods have lost all links with the taste and texture of the original recipes and I think they're an insult to our great culinary heritage. God knows what tourists must think.
To be fair, I did manage to track down some authentic regional foods made with fresh free-range eggs and natural ingredients, mostly made by dedicated artisan producers who take pride in upholding traditions. There are some excellent products out there; just be sure to read the labels carefully - or, if in doubt, ask what's in them. Apparently, if a food item is packaged, the ingredients must be listed - if sold loose, at a bakery, say, then there's no requirement to list the ingredients at all.
As food writer Michael Pollan says in his book, In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating, 'don't eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognise as food'!