Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Dig For Victory

Regular readers may have noticed that I've written a couple of posts recently about excursions I've been on with my class as part of our Development rotation at college. Our first expedition was an immensely enjoyable one to Smithfield, for a spot of lunch at Fergus Henderson's St. John. And the other week we headed off to Surrey for a spot of fly fishing.

Recently the BBC broadcast a news feature about the origins of food, based on an opinion survey that suggested many British people are unaware that the ingredients for produce such as bacon, porridge, bread and beer come from farms. The survey also found that 29% of adults questioned - including 42% of 16-24 year olds and 33% of those with children - had never visited a farm.

And a week before Christmas I posted a piece about Marguerite Patten, congratulating the 91-yr-old chef for producing a podcast showing today's busy young people how to make a quick and easy Christmas pudding. As I explained at the time, Marguerite is not new to teaching efficient food management. She was a special advisor to the British Government during World War II and wrote notes for war-time housewives on growing their own vegetables in back gardens and allotments.

So what's the connection between the three paragraphs above? Well, the final class trip on my recent Development rotation involved a visit to a very special allotment, to experience at first hand the growing of vegetables and fruits. What makes this allotment special is that it's in central London, not far from Churchill's War Rooms, and is dedicated to the campaign to get the British public growing their own food during the darkest days of World War II.

The Dig for Victory campaign was an inspired response to the problem of food shortages during the Second World War. It was launched to help combat shortages by using propaganda-style posters etc, promoting the planting of allotments in gardens and on public land. The campaign reflected issues still relevant today, such as access to fresh healthy food and being active and living in a sustainable manner. Marguerite Patten played a big part in advising the government on organising the campaign and telling housewives how to grow and cook their own food.

Now, nearly 70 years later, The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, in partnership with The Royal Parks, has recreated a Second World War allotment and a modern-day allotment side by side in St. James's Park. The project explores the themes of gardening, vegetable growing, healthy eating and sustainability, both in the context of WWII and today. They have their own website and their own blog.

The WWII allotment is focused on the kind of vegetables that would reflect the availability and sustainability of the time. These included beetroots, potatoes, beans, courgettes and marrows. And, to my excitement, I was surprised at my ability to recognise and identify most of the vegetables just by observing their shoots and leaves. I say this because at college, and at almost all restaurant kitchens I've worked in, most fruit and vegetables arrive having been prepared to some extent, so we're seldom able to see and familiarise ourselves with them in the their raw and natural state. The modern allotment naturally had a much wider variety of produce, reflecting the development and increasing sophistication of our cultivation over the years. Here we saw rocket, kohlrabi, lemongrass and even bok choy!

I took the camera, of course. So here is the photo set that I shot at the allotments. I hope you enjoy it.


Margaret said...

Hi Trig - I've got a small vegetable plot at the bottom of my garden and I'm having fun watching everything grow at the moment. Today I picked 6 strawberries and 6 raspberries, not a lot to jump up and down about you're probably thinking, but they are are the best strawberries and raspberries you could hope for!

Trig said...

I've got a very conventional city garden, but one highlight is the blackberry bush which will be coming into fruit any day now, having just flowered. We get enough blackberries to feed us for several weeks and, as you say, they are the best fruits I've ever eaten. It's the old boy scouts and girl guides "egg, bacon and beans thing", I guess. Everything you do yourself in the wild tastes great!

Vanessa said...

Trig, those photos are perfect...well done. I wish I could be there to see the gardens...we really enjoyed an exhibit at the Imperial War museum about food and life during the blitz.

I have to say whew! When you mentioned Marguerite I was afraid she had passed away...I love and admire her so!

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