Tuesday, 31 May 2011

"Cream Tea Wars" - What Does EU Protected Status for Foodstuffs Mean?

Via the BBC website, an article has appeared on the rather intriguing subject of "protecting" certain dishes and the business and politics behind such lobby movements.

In particular, the Devon Cream Tea is the latest British culinary foodstuff to seek EU protected status. I have previously blogged on the pleasures of the cream tea, making reference to the classic Devon cream tea but failing to point out the singular status which its supporters accord it. The Devon clotted cream, of course, is particularly special, but as others would argue many counties produce equally appealing versions.

Photo from the BBC Story

The substance of the story focuses on the very idea of "protected status," how it is accorded, and what it means for business, cuisine, and how we conceive of national and regional foods. Protected status accords its recipients legal protection from imitators. The most famous legal example is the famous Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) system that strictly dictates how French wine and champagne may be labelled and marketed. Champagne may, of course, only be labelled such if it is produced in the region of Champagne (otherwise it is "sparkling wine"), Burgundy in Burgundy, and so forth. The whole notion is predicated on a very French notion of "terroir" - literally meaning "of the land," and the particular characteristics that a region lends to its farmed commodities.

The awarding of EU protected status to British foodstuffs has followed much the same notion, which to some critics rings untrue, prejudicing certain areas over others in ways that do not allow for change over time. It is a static conception of cuisine and food production. As the article explains, some "complain the scheme is illogical and bureaucratic, encourages cartel-like behaviour, sets regions against each other and stifles innovation." Most of the protected foods are distinctly regional, as listed (below), and the question becomes why and how such designations are decided upon and what effect this has on culinary innovation, quality control, and open competition.

British foods with EU protection status:

  • Kentish strong ale (PGI)
  • Cornish Clotted Cream (PDO)
  • Welsh Beef (PGI)
  • Arbroath Smokies (above) (PGI)
  • Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb (PDO)
  • Traditional Grimsby Smoked Fish (PGI)
  • Scottish Farmed Salmon (PGI)
  • Isle of Man Manx Loaghtan Lamb (PDO)
Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Oh, I do Like to Be Beside the Seaside: An Edwardian Day Out

The Edwardians loved their amusements, socializing, displaying fashion and wealth, and exploring exotic ephemera and the natural world. Seaside resorts provided an outlet for these desires for all classes and segments of society. Seaside holidays - long or a mere day trip - would thereafter feature in many happy (or perhaps not so happy) childhood memories.  

Brighton, still an important English seaside resort due to easy traveling distance from London, has been fashionable since the late eighteenth century, and was made particularly famous by the Prince of Wales (in due course the Prince Regent and then George IV). He commissioned the famous - and spectacular - Brighton Pavilion over the course of many years, spending an exorbitant sum on his own personal pleasure palace.

A Classic Edwardian Pier (at Weston Super Mare)

The seaside holiday for the middle classes really came into its own during the Victorian era, particularly for the theraputic effects of salt water and fresh air on the many ills thought to be caused by modern urban life - including the lung ailments which accompanied life in coal-fired industrial cities. Brighton also flourished during the reign of Edward VII, when posh terraced housing was built along its long coastal stretches, and with the construction of the Palace Pier in 1899. With an influx of some 50,000 tourists each year, the seaside town reflected the mania for coastal visits during these years. According to historian Juliet Nicolson, by the year 1911 55 percent of the British population took at least a one-day trip to the seaside each year (for many labourers, both rural and urban, one day a year might have been their only outing away from home and work).

Seaside resorts such as Brighton were THE place to observe royalty, aristocracy, and members of "society" in a more accessible environment than London:
Kings and queens, princes and princesses went frequently to the sea-side and to spa towns, and their presence was a recommendation to and attraction for visitors... The promenade was the place to be seen, and the place to watch those wishing to be seen. Ladies floated past in white summer gowns... The rich promenaded on foot, in carriages or by motor-car as humbler onlookers played the game of identifying them as they passed by. (Juliet Nicolson, The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow, p. 221)

During the era of Queen Victoria, bathing had been strictly segregated and, furthermore, ladies were often shielded from view within the strictures of the cumbersome bathing-machines that were rolled out into the tide for the process. But by the turn of the century, mixed bathing at beaches was making a cautious, and at times quite controversial, appearance on some British beaches.

On the shore visitors were greeted by a cacophony of sound, distraction, and entertainment which is still an essential part of visits to major seaside resort towns - Punch and Judy shows, ice-cream, fish and chips, sweet hawkers, show animals, singers, a wide range of "street theatre," along with psychics, phrenologists, and the inevitable "freak show" of one stripe or another.

An authentic Edwardian (hence, scratchy) version of "I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside" (1909), with candid snaps from the era:  

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 
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