We rarely shop in supermarkets if we can help it. Personally, I dislike the atmosphere of them, and find the bullying tactics used to squeeze suppliers to maximise profits for shareholders rather distasteful. I prefer to buy as much produce from local suppliers where I can.
In Penzance we are lucky to have many shops that sell local produce. One every day essential that we always buy as a Cornish product is milk. Roddas, the company famous for their clotted cream, also sell milk in Cornwall (“the locals’ milk”). We can also buy milk from Roskillys, famous in Cornwall for their fantastic ice cream and fudge, as well as Trewithen Dairy.
Cornish milk from Roskillys, Roddas, and Trewithen Dairy
It’s not as expensive as you’d imagine either. Thornes on Causewayhead, Penzance, sell Roddas milk at 99p for 4 pints, which I believe is competitive with the supermarket milk. Milk from Trewithen Dairy can be found in the Costcutter at the bottom of Causewayhead (with lots of other local produce) at 89p for 2 pints, and Roskilly’s organic milk in Archie Brown’s on Bread Street at £1.19 for 2 pints.
So, if you’re looking to start buying more local produce, and you live in Cornwall, try looking into some smaller shops and see if you can find some Cornish milk. It’s delicious and good for all the right reasons. If you don’t live in Cornwall, see if you can hunt down milk from a nearby dairy, and help keep regional variation and choice alive.
Pressed and salted pilchards, Newlyn Pilchard Works
I had occasion to revisit some photographs I took back in Summer 2003 of the Old Pilchard Works in Newlyn when it was open to the public as a working museum. It remains one of the most memorable museum experiences I have had. The working part of the museum allowed visitors to get a feel for an ancient delicacy which the vast majority of Brits and Cornish would probably turn their nose up at. Salted and pressed pilchards, or Cornish sardines. Caught in abundance off the Penwith coast, pilchards landed in Newlyn would be salted and then pressed, then arranged in barrels ready for export to Italy (and sometimes Spain). Think anchovies and their growing status as a trend ingredient in British gastronomy, then think of a more rounded, almost sweeter flavour and you will have an idea of the wonder that is a salted pilchard.
The pilchard presses resemble book presses and there is something timeless about seeing military rows of fish lined up and piled up ready to have their life extended to at least a year through this processing. Barrels were marked with various marks according to the importer, one of them being ‘Cigno Bianco’ or White Swan as you can see in one of the photographs of a box of ‘salacche inglese’ –in future that would probably read ‘salacche cornovagliese’. Part of the museum experience was having the chance to do ‘brass rubbings’ of the copper stencils that marked the boxes and barrels. To my sadness, I can no longer find the one I did but I do remember it was of the Cigno Bianco mark. The museum also introduced visitors to traditional fish processing and the particular relationship between the Cornish and Breton fishing industries, especially those of West Penwith and the region of Concarneau.
As you will hear in this video, from Terry Tonkin who worked here, they were a particular delicacy of the Italian dish, spaghetti alla puttanesca. So prized were the Cornish salted pilchard that they were considered superior to the usual Italian acciughe or anchovy. This dish is a classic of southern Italy, particularly the south-eastern region of Puglia (Apulia) and parts of Sicily. It’s a brazen dish (possibly accounting for its unashamed name, ‘whore-like spaghetti’) made with fresh tart tomatoes, salty black olives, anchovies or other salted fish and capers. It’s time of year is from harvest time at the end of summer to Christmas when these preserved delights are made and put in store for the winter.
Some time in 2005-6 the museum closed, for various reasons, mainly financial, but also because the demand for the salted pilchard began to decline. As the Managing Director Nick Howell said in a statement regarding the circumstances of the closure, no amount of good publicity from TV chefs such as Keith Floyd and Rick Stein could persuade the British public to embrace this delicacy. The privately run museum was subsidised by the business which had also just begun to use traditional Breton canning methods to preserve Cornish pilchards and mackerel (in olive oil). You’ll be hard pushed to find a salted pilchard in Cornwall at the moment but thankfully you can still buy Pilchard Works canned fish all over the country. I hope we see salted pilchards in British and Cornish cuisine in the future.
Press play to view a slide show of my photographs.
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