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November 01, 2006

Digby Anderson thinks English food is awful and getting worse; Prince Charles is a champion of English food - but, Harry Phibbs asks, are they really on the same side? Duchy Originals Cookbook - Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Duchy Originals Cookbook
by Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler
London: Kyle Cathie, 2006
Hardback, 25

Prince Charles is a champion of English food - and launched his brand of organic produce, Duchy Originals, in 1992. Now a Duchy Originals branded cookbook extolling English food has been published. The Social Affairs Unit has just published Digby Anderson's The English at Table, arguing that England has no food culture and English food remains awful (Digby Anderson can be heard making his case on today's episode of the Today programme). But are they in fact on the same side, asks Harry Phibbs?

I am often puzzled by the way the Prince of Wales is portrayed - both by critics and sympathisers - as frustratingly waiting for his mother to die so he can have a job. Apart from the distasteful aspect of the proposition it also suggests that he is twiddling his thumbs doing nothing of any great consequence. Of course the causes he has taken up (such as the Prayer Book, homoeopathy and classical architecture), the official duties he carries out, the tours around the world, the work for countless good causes (not least his own Princes Trust), show that he is pretty busy.

Perversely, what keeps him so busy is his concern that the world should slow down a bit - that changes are sometimes rushed through sweeping away valid traditions without proper thought.

But it is the success of HRH as a grocer which is the most remarkable.

It wasn't an obvious sideline for him to have taken. There were risks attached should it have failed. It was launched at a time when the consumer was still preoccupied by cheap food rather than quality and before the organic craze had started. While the world embraced fast food, HRH praised slow food. It was a brave decision, although it did start modestly with a single variety of biscuit. An oaten biscuit made from wheat and oats grown at the Duchy Home Farm in Gloucestershire was launched on the market in 1992.

Writing a foreword to this recipe book, the Prince of Wales writes that he had:

become increasingly uneasy about the quality of soulless, mass-produced food that had come to dominate the modern diet but also about the long term future for farming in the UK.
He says:
I was particularly concerned by what we appeared to be discarding casually in the name of "progress", including rare breeds of livestock, time-honoured food production methods and any semblance of patience. In place of the prevailing attitude towards the natural world, I wanted to promote a sustainable approach to agriculture. It seemed clear that the way forward, for the sake of our descendants and the health of the soil, was to learn to work with nature rather than against her. So, flying in the face of the conventional wisdom of the day, I decided it was time to convert to organic farming methods.
Naturally most of the recipes specify a Duchy brand wherever possible. Duchy Originals don't produce mutton but this is surely only a matter of time given the crusade by the Prince of Wales to promote this long unfashionable meat. There is a recipe for stuffed Leg of Mutton. (The stuffing including some Duchy Originals streaky bacon.)

Recipes have a clear British bias and quite right too. Something called "flat bake" is included as "essentially a British version of pizza". Puddings are well represented, including Bread and Butter pudding and Balmoral Honey Cake. Alcoholic combinations are suggested for the wide range of Duchy soft drinks - most promisingly the Duchy Lemon Refresher which is regarded as key to Whisky Refresher, Duchy Iced Tea or Highgrove Strawberry Daiquiri.

Reading through these recipes at the same time as reading the splendid Social Affairs Unit book by Dr Digby Anderson, The English at Table, it occurred to me that multiple orders of each volume would probably resolve most Christmas shopping dilemmas. While the Prince of Wales may express himself more in sorrow and Dr Digby Anderson more in anger, they are on the same side. Their efforts represent something of a fightback. Prince Charles felt the food industry was the problem and has done his bit by becoming a growing part of the food industry. Anderson more provocatively blames us for our laziness and ignorance when it comes to shopping for, growing and cooking our food. Many of the jams and other products sold by Duchy Originals, Anderson would point out, we should be making for ourselves.

But Prince Charles would surely agree. There are some excellent Duchy Originals soups available in the shops - but also some recipes for soup in this book which by being home made end up with tenuous Royal connections, in one case relying on the croutons being made from Duchy Originals vintage cheddar bread.

You can buy a Duchy Cornish Pasty - or make your own Lamb and Madeira Cornish Pasties with the assistance of this book. There are plenty of contradictions in what Prince Charles is doing. He champions corner shops, but you are more likely to find his produce on sale at Waitrose. He resists excessive packaging for damaging the environment, but his biscuits come in lots of little packets within the card box to keep them fresh.

Yet despite such cheap shots Duchy Originals is an amazing idealistic triumph. It is easy to imagine the image advisors telling HRH to take a different line. Being dismissive of cheap food would look bad coming from someone so rich, they probably cautioned. Always taking a traditionalist stance won't "play well" with efforts to show the monarchy moving with the times. But Prince Charles is not standing for election - he doesn't need votes. He can consider the other elements of Edmund Burke's coalition, the dead and the yet to be, as well as the living. He has taken care to avoid Party politics but beyond that has taken the opportunity to use his clout to challenge the modern architects, the supermarkets, the progressive educationalists and others who deserve to be challenged.

Starting a business, Duchy Originals, was not done for the personal motive of making a profit for Prince Charles. The profits go to the Princes Trust. It was done because he genuinely cares about food.

This is a beautifully produced book - including some beautiful photographs of very well looked after pigs which unsentimental animal lovers will both appreciate and look forward to eating. Sensibly the recipes are divided by season - the globalised self indulged failure to discipline our eating by season is something that dismays HRH almost as much as it does Anderson.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.


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Comments

Prince charles is an adulterer and as such is not fit to become king of England. His ugly wife, an adulteress is not fit to become queen of England.
The royal family who seem to think they deserve something more than the general population of this country should be removed from any privilege and all monies and property they have gained from such privilege redistributed back to the people.
Make England a Republic.
Long live the Republic.

Posted by: mightymike at November 21, 2006 05:25 PM
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LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!

Posted by: simon critchell at October 24, 2008 10:02 AM
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