Best of British…?

As those of you who know me personally know, whilst DS3 is studying in Chile, I am making use of the space he isn’t using to try to earn the money to go out to visit him. To that end I’ve spent the last few weeks emptying his room of all the shop & other debris that had come to rest there & redecorating it. As the lovely old sash window in there doesn’t “fit” properly any more following a doomed attempt at revamping it, I also made up a roman blind from two inexpensive remnants of rather-exclusive furnishing fabric, an old slatted blind & some leftover calico. Although I didn’t get the slats quite straight, I’m really quite pleased with the result (for £11.50) & hope it will make the room far more pleasant in winter as it’s 3 layers thick & fits the window recess very snugly.

So now we have a young German student staying for 2 weeks in there. He’s a lovely studious lad who DS3 would have got on with very well. This is the first time we have played “host family” as we’ve never had any spare rooms until now, and I’ve been perplexed by some of the instructions I’ve been given; to start with, the organiser told me, “Don’t go to any great trouble with food; they don’t like British food anyway, so just get in some extra pizzas – you know, the sort of thing teenage boys like.”

Hmm – here we are, in the middle of some of the UK’s finest farming country, with easy & relatively cheap access to some of the best fresh food that Britain has to offer. Surely we can do better than additive-laden supermarket pizzas? And these kids come from rural Germany’s agricultural heartland; I was saddened to find that his parents had sent him with a suitcase full of vitamins & fibre supplements. They had evidently been forewarned that British food was awful… it seems it’s a self-perpetuating situation! They don’t like British food, so only offer them the very worst of it because they’re not going to eat it anyway. Bless the boy, he’s tucked happily into pasta, rice, potatoes, pancakes, chicken, eggs & vegetables, which is the sort of thing he likes best & we eat all the time, and hasn’t cost us a penny in extra pizza rations!

I’ve had many friends who have tried doing this in the past, and I’m well aware that we have been very lucky in “our” undemanding student, but one constant complaint has been that they’ve cost more to feed than you’re paid to have them. This is definitely not going to be the case with ours! I’m also aware that I’m very lucky to be in a position to make huge economies of scale when it comes to catering; I can scoop up a big bag of parsnips, say, for £1 towards the end of Sunday’s market, and know that I will have no trouble at all using them up before they become inedible. Though if there were only one or two of us, I’d still buy them, and preserve the ones I couldn’t use straight away.

And the preserving season is going into full swing now; hardly a day goes by when I’m not out foraging for more wild food, making jam, jellies, butters or curds, loading my dehydrator or trying to hollow out more space in the freezer. It’s an awful year for apples & figs down here, but the cherry plums are so laden that we’re in danger of losing more branches, the quinces have done OK, the Japanese Wineberries have exceeded all expectations, the raspberries seem to have got a second wind, and if the weather stays reasonable for a couple more weeks, it promises to be a bumper blackberry crop. So I shan’t repine for my missing Blenheim Oranges, but will make the most of what I’ve got, and be utterly thankful for the freedom to get on with it this year!

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