I came across a story a couple of weeks ago by Bee Wilson who writes for the telegraph and forgot to post it. It's interesting reading, and for me its a perfect justification as to why we all should be growing the herbs we want to use in the kitchen. Bee Wilson talks about the high cost of those little pre cut herb packs from the supermarkets and how the potted supermarket herbs don't last, and explains why, but she doesn't mention the airmiles, which with the current cost of fuel is one reason for the high cost of these herbs.
If you look at some of the supermarket packs of fresh herbs you'll find the herb comes from Spain, France or further afield, how is that fresh, once picked how long until they get to the supermarket and then to the shoppers final culinary masterpiece? Most of Asda's 'fresh' herbs come from Kent, but how long have they been on the shelves leaching their precious oils and fragrance, not to mention any medicinal goodness? Not a patch on wandering out into the garden and picking your own chives, tarragon, mint etc and using them seconds later. I'd be interested to know from people who shop at Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose etc where their 'fresh' herbs come from?
Once upon a time I would have agreed that having a wide range of herbs at our fingertips any time of year was our right. But the more I think about it, eating 'in season' and the benefits of seasonal produce and eating what we naturally have to hand each month makes a lot more sense. Look how excited some of us get when the first nettles and wild garlic appear, or the delight that the blackberry and elderberry season brings! It's fresh seasonal produce that we enjoy for a small section of the year, then we move on to the next seasonal goodie. It worked for our ancestors and it hasn't escaped me that Britain as a nation has become more unhealthy the more 'out of season' its diet gets.
I fear we're losing the taste for traditional British herbs, vegetables, fruit and other produce and their ensuing dishes, as the wealth of foreign ingredients we can now choose from continues to be shipped in from overseas. Don't get me wrong, I don't think having a diversity of ingredients to choose from is a bad thing, but we're experimenting in the kitchen with all the new ingredients that culturally we seem to be forgetting about our native goodies. Should we have herbs on tap provided by the big supermarket chains, or should we be demanding fresher, local, seasonal produce? What does everyone else think?
The story that sparked the above train of thought can be found here:- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wine/main.jhtml?xml=/wine/2008/03/23/st_beewilson.xml