Tag Archives: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Fish4Ever challenges big brands

As a journalist and food campaigner, I help Fish4Ever with its communications. I cannot work for a cause or company I don’t believe in.

So, I have the privilege of asking nosy questions and learning about the politics of fish.

Lunch: a fried-medley of Fish4Ever sardine fillets (Steenberg’s Organic online £1.60) on a bed of organic rice vermicelli.

Medly: I fry sliced shallots/onions, garlic and chilli in the organic oil in which the fish are canned – Fish4Ever uses 100% organic land ingredients.

I add the sardine fillets, mashing them (was that respectful?). I snip-in fresh parsley .

Fish4Ever canned fish is in a class of its own, fished traditionally (70% MSC-certified, the rest artisan) and quickly-conserved for freshness.

I am a real food lover and here’s why: you do good – it tastes good.

Why is it important to look after the fish?

Fishing technology is too effective. Desired species are being hunted to extinction.

Its hunting methods are indiscriminate, killing turtles, sea birds, dolphins.

There are too many factory boats and not enough fish. Regulations to control catches are insufficient and often ignored. Out at sea, where no one is looking, rules can be flouted. Poor countries suffer from foreign piracy on an industrial scale.

Hugh’s Fish Fight on Channel 4 earlier this month focused on changing the fishing methods of the big tuna brands and own-label supermarkets.

The food corporations’ proposed changes are far better than nothing.

However, although the big brands may well promise a “pole and line” range, their primary business remains likely unchanged.

Each Fish4Ever can has a story – including the smallest tuna fishing boats in the world.

This is not an eco-add-on. Fish4Ever’s raison d’être is care of land, sea and people.

That’s what I call an ethical company.

Homemade yogurt


I made this yogurt. If I can do it, so can you (I am not known for my technical expertise). It tastes wonderfully-different from anything I can buy in a plastic pot. And ’tis joy-supreme not to be adding to the plastic-pot recycling mountain in my hallway.

I stopped making yogurt after being diagnosed as lactose-intolerant last autumn, but I missed all those zillions of friendly bacteria in my gut. I know I could have made it with soya milk, which I do love (in tea and on oats) but somehow could not bring myself to embrace in yogurt.

So I figured I would experiment with my lactose-intolerant boundaries. For surely my fellow lactose-intolerant eastern-european/middle-eastern ancestors ate yogurt? As a fermented food, yogurt is pre-digested so must be easier to tolerate. Is there a nutritionist in the house? What do you think?

Anyway, on a gut level (so to speak) all I know is my intestines smile when yogurt comes its way, saying hi in a welcoming way. Unlike with milk, which feels too viscous and hard work for my sensitive insides.

Now let me introduce you to my friend, the yogurt-maker. This fairly low-tech device that costs about £20 to buy and pennies to run has enabled me to become yogurt-literate.


You can’t see from my pic but the plastic yogurt-maker has a plug. That’s how it works: switch it on and the yogurt-maker keeps the warmed-milk-that-will-be-yogurt at an even temperature.

Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall says a wide-mouthed warmed thermos flask does the trick and ditto, a towel to wrap it up in and a radiator – but it’s the nifty yogurt-maker for me.

I say low-tech because it does not switch itself off after the regulatory eight-hours. So it does take planning. I have to ask myself before starting: will I be here in eight-hours to turn off the device?

Here are the ingredients you need to make longevity-boosting yogurt:

1.5 pints (850 mls) of organic milk

2 teaspoons of of natural, bio-live, organic yogurt (or from your last yogurt batch)

You have to boil the milk until it bubbles to get rid of bad bacteria and then let it cool down to blood-temperature i.e. I stick a clean finger into the cooled-down milk  and it feels pleasant and warm – not scalding-hot or, at the other extreme, brrrrr on the chilly side.

I found this operation the most taxing because after the novelty of testing too-hot milk wore off, I then forgot all about the cooling milk and by the time I remembered, it was stone-cold again. So my top tip is: try to keep conscious of time as the milk cools.

Once the boiled milk has cooled to blood-temperature, I put it in the yogurt-maker (that I’ve switched on five minutes beforehand to warm up). Then I stir in two teaspoons of yogurt, which always seems too measly to do the job but that’s all it takes to start the fermentation process. Amazing.

I find yogurt very acceptable first thing in the morning because it is non-demanding and soothing. And I add freshly-ground health-giving spices, such as cinammon, cardammon and cloves for extra zing.

Now for my yogurt-award acceptance speech. Thank you, Martin Smith, ex-propriétaire of  Danescombe Valley Hotel, who demystified yogurt-making; my Indian food guru, Mallika, who has inspired me to use freshly-ground spices from scratch; Maninas, for adding cinammon bark and whole cloves to my repertoire. And finally thanks to Beccy and Hannah at the Spark for explaining how to use the grinder-attachment on my blender…

Who would you thank in your oscar-award speech?

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Guild of Food Writers awards 2008

Guild of Food Writers awardsJill Dupliex accepting her awardKatie Stewart and Elisabeth WinklerKatie Stewart and HughCookbook

The Guild of Food Writers’s annual awards party is a glittering must-go, this year held at Tamesa in the Oxo tower on the South Bank of the Thames. I was a judge of one of the awards but, shhhh, that’s all I can say about it.

Sustainability was a strong theme, from sponsors, the Alaska Seafood marketing institute and Bonterra organic wines, to the winners.

Listen, I rate the Observer’s ethical eco-hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for his animal welfare work. But he endeared himself further by making sure (see pic 1) that his fellow author, Nick Fisher, shared the award for The River Cottage fish book. (If you click on that link, read the Amazon review by Henrietta Green of Food Lovers Britain.)

I loved Jill Dupleix‘s wise words on accepting (pic 2) the Miriam Polunin prize for Work on healthy eating. She said: “I look forward to the time when there isn’t a special category for healthy eating and all food writing is healthy.” Yeah, sister, bring it on!

The sustainability theme continued with Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, which addressed food miles and provenance.

It’s always nice when you agree with the judges. Hattie Ellis won for Planet Chicken. It is a beautifully-written easy-read on a hard subject: how we treat intensively-reared chickens.

Then Bill Buckley announced that the winner (taratara) of the Lifetime achievement award was…Katie Stewart. I took this award personally (again) – The Times calendar cookbook with its seasonal recipes has been a favourite for decades. (See my beat-up food-stained version in pic 5).

An awards ceremony is such an emotional event, I was starving by the end. My hunt for food took me to a quiet part of the room where Katie stood with friends. I am afraid I could not resist asking to be photographed with her (pic 3). She said the Times cookbook was her daughter-in-law’s favourite too because people nowadays want the classics, like toad in the hole.

Then Hugh approached – clearly another Stewart devotee. (I must admit Katie looks happier with Hugh than with me but hey, that’s show biz).

Prue Leith OBE presented the awards. She explained how she gave up cooking to campaign. A champion of real food in schools, she is a woman after my own heart.

This became more evident later. There was a queue for the ladies’ and on Prue’s advice, I used the (empty) gents’ while she stood guard. I liked that – the way she encouraged an unconventional route to get results.

The Delia effect

Small bowl of salad (green leaves, carrots and purple radish sprouts)

When Delia spoke to the masses and decreed the poor can eat battery-farmed chickens, did their sales rise?

The “Delia effect” describes the unprecedented sale of certain ingredients after being recommended by TV cook Delia Smith. Her influence is so vast that “Delia” has entered the dictionary.

I am pleased to report that sales for free-range poultry have soared.

This follows the high-profile campaign on TV’s Channel 4 by two other famous cooks, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver. They called for higher standards of chicken welfare for all concerned, chickens and their eaters alike.

Sales of free-range poultry rose by 35 per cent in January (compared with January 2007) while sales of standard indoor birds fell by 7 per cent, according to market research company TNS. In response, Tesco doubled its order for higher-welfare chickens.

I mentioned what Delia said to my hairdresser.

Sharp intake of breath. “How can it ever be alright to eat a battery-farmed chicken?” she said.

Listen, she is an apprentice hairdresser so it was gratifying to hear being short of cash does not mean skimping on food quality.

Of course, you have to be a bit canny and cook from scratch. But that’s how most people in the world eat, and why so-called peasant food (such as pasta dishes, stews, curries) tastes so good.

Today’s picture is of a salad made by Chloe, with organic leaves, grated carrots and sprouting radish, that accompanied brown rice and lentils with fried onions, mushrooms and egg, that her dad Mike made. (PS the vase may be corporate but the beans were organic).

This princely meal that cost us about £1.50 each. I rest my case.