(Referring to her broken leg) I must apologise to you all for addressing you from this semi-recumbent position! As you can see I have no leg to stand on.
I am delighted to be here with all you food lovers to mark the launch of the ninth British Food Fortnight and to share in the exciting news that it will run at the same time as the London Olympics in 2012.
As you may know, my husband is a huge supporter of British food and local produce in particular – some of you, I hope, have sampled some of his Duchy Originals range of organic food. If not, do please give it a try - I can highly recommend it!
I have always loved food and really enjoy cooking simple dishes with the best British ingredients. That, for me, is what British food is really about; a chicken, that has lived a natural life, pecking and scratching about in the yard, roasted until golden brown. Or a spanking fresh mackerel, grilled until the skin is crisp. The first British asparagus, just shooting up now. Or a proper Somerset Cheddar, made with unpasteurised milk from the farmer’s own herd. Food that follows the seasons, rather than the whims of some vast multinational food conglomerates.
A love of food is something that runs in my family. My grandfather was P Morton Shand, a famous food writer and wine connoisseur. He was a man of strong opinions, albeit couched in deceptively elegant prose.
‘One may be tolerant about religion, politics, and a hundred and one other things,’ he thundered, ‘but not about the food that one eats.’ He also declared that ‘A woman who cannot make soup should not be allowed to marry’. You might not agree with his rants, but there was no doubting his passion for proper food.
His mantle, I’m delighted to say, has now been taken on by my son, Tom. But British food has been woefully under-rated for years, seen, wrongly, as some sort of international culinary joke. Dull, turgid and over-boiled, they grin, across the globe. Utter rubbish, I say. Our temperate climate ensures rich, verdant pastures, which in turn lead to wonderful butters, creams and a profusion of exquisite cheeses. It also helps feed our native breeds of pig, cow, sheep and chicken. The best of our ingredients, from our farmers, are second to none. Puddings, beers, ciders and roasts … we’re master of these arts. And a tradition of multiculturalism has given British food a truly global aspect too. The chicken tikka masala, although largely unheard of in India, is as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. We should support and celebrate our nascent food culture, buy British wherever we can.
I’m a passionate believer in great British food, not at the expense of the cuisine of other countries, but alongside them. And I am so pleased to have had the chance to see for myself the excellent initiatives being organized in schools and community centres across the country through British Food Fortnight. Our children and grandchildren are the future of good British food. And that’s why British Food Fortnight is so important.
My visit to the Compass Children’s Centre in Gloucester last year was truly inspirational and you heard from Kirk Goddard about the enormous difference the enjoyment of food and cooking has made to his family.
I cannot tell you how impressed I have been by the imagination and ingenuity with which people from so many organisations have embraced British Food Fortnight – from shop owners, market managers and chefs, to Girl guides and Youth workers, all under the inspirational leadership of Alexia Robinson.
As the Hairy Bikers have said, we must all work together to make 2012 the year we show the world that British is up there with the best.