Monday, 14 May 2012

Organic Banquet

Laverstoke Farm burrata, which unfortunately I didn't get to taste, they made it specially for me, but I hope my guests liked it. Pic by Bellaphon

Toynbee Hall. Pic by Bellaphon.

On May Day I was asked to create an organic banquet to be held after a debate about organic food at Toynbee Hall in East London. Named after Arnold Toynbee (the political writer Polly Toynbee is a descendant), an economic historian who coined the term 'industrial revolution', Toynbee Hall was originally a place where scholars who were interested in improving the lives of the working classes could reside. Samuel and Henrietta Barnett (she also started her eponymous school in North London and Hampstead Garden suburb) founded it in the poor East End of London, as a place to attract educated people, to encourage the different social classes to mix. Social inclusion continues to be promoted. The Citizens Advice Bureau and one of my favourite organisations, Child Poverty Action* were started at Toynbee Hall.

Therefore Toynbee Hall was an interesting and relevant pick of location to host this debate because organic food is often viewed as something poncy for posh families to waste their money on. Unless you grow your own, organically grown or reared food appears to be almost the opposite of socially inclusive. The recession has hit 'luxuries' and organic food has been pushed out of the family budget: sales of organic food have fallen over the last three years.
I couldn't attend the debate, hosted by John Craven, given that I was cooking. The 'againsts' were performed by Oliver Thring and James Ramsden, (although how can anybody be against organics?) while the 'fors' were represented by Speech Debelle and Craig Sams of Green and Blacks organic chocolate amongst others.

I try to use organic food whenever I can. For home use, I get a weekly box from Riverford Organics which makes it more economic. How can we afford to eat organically? Actually the question is how can we afford not to? If you spend a large percentage of your income on what you eat, this might be one of the choices you make. The British spend less of their income on food than the Europeans (France spends double what we do). But our children are going blind, getting fat, losing their teeth, getting ADHD and leukaemia from pesticides, because they are eating and drinking crap. We need to get out of the house, get off the damn computer, the magic box of light and tricks, and do some exercise, get some daylight. Ultimately, though, the most important thing is to make sure we eat the boring old '5 a day', organic or not.

Here is my menu:
Salmagundi: a 17th century salad dish, featuring vegetables, herbs, flowers and dips.
Hand made Burrata from Laverstoke farm with tarragon salad and pomegranate seeds.
Asparagus mimosa with pansies
Dover Sole en papillote with kumquats from my garden and samphire.
Tricolour tofu (smoked, basil and beetroot marinated) en papillote (v)
Ginger and mint new potatoes
British cheese selection with biscuits, organic walnuts and almonds, chutneys.
British iced 'fancies':
Chocolate and beetroot cake topped with candied beetroot
Courgette and poppy seed cake topped with candied courgette
Carrot cake topped with candied carrot.
All the organic wines, beers and soft drinks were provided by Vintage Roots. The wines were mostly British.
Most ingredients were provided by Abel and Cole organics.
The vegan salmagundi. Pic by Bellaphon
Salmagundi pic by Bellaphon
The freshest Dover Sole with lemon grass, samphire and kumquats from my garden. I encased the fish in parchment and baked it.
Tricolor tofu: beetroot marinated, basil, and smoked. Again baked in parchment.
Hard to take great pix when you are getting the food out! The dover sole parcels with beautifully fresh and not too salty samphire. Have you tried samphire? It's a sea vegetable, a succulent, that grows near marshes and the coast. It can be used pickled, in salads or lightly steamed with butter. Every fishmonger in France sells it and you should be able to obtain it from a reputable fishmonger in the UK.
British iced fancies. These were a bugger to ice and cocked up my whole prepping schedule.
*Child Poverty Action write the manuals on the rules for welfare and tax credits claimants, what you are entitled to or not, which can be ordered here, only £10 for people on benefits. 


  1. It was a fantastic meal to round off an interesting and informative debate.

    The wines were amazing, considering how much I had drunk I am astonished my head did not hurt in the morning!

    I echo the faff of icing fondant fancies, I helped Sarah with her book shoot and we were icing the sodding things at 3am.

    Thanks again, and well done on such an amazing feast.

  2. Nightmare aren't they?
    I need to practise them.
    Thanks Helen for coming and glad you enjoyed the evening.

  3. They should make that burrata for EVERYONE.

    Thanks for a wonderful dinner!

  4. The fondant fancies look like they were worth the effort.
    I use to go to Toynbee Hall as a child to watch my cousin perform in plays/musicals back in the early 60's.

  5. Correction - most ingredients supplied by Abel and Cole..... eventually!

    Samphire was a revelation!

    4 hours icing cakes? Almost died. Being locked in the night before was quite amusing too - an eventful couple of days! :)

  6. Looks like a spectacular feast - particularly the burrata with tarragon and pomegranate- inspired combination.


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