Produce Awards 2018: London & The South East judging round-up
The setting for the third regional round of the delicious. Produce Awards 2018 was Cressing Temple Barns in Essex. It’s a historical venue that dates back to 1137, when it was given to the Knights Templar, and where some of the few surviving Templar buildings in England still stand proud.
With food stalls, demonstration kitchens, wine tastings, marquees and tents weaving in and around the Grade 1 listed barns and the Tudor Walled Garden, for the 7th year in a row this location has hosted the very popular Essex Festival of Food and Drink, and last weekend we, delicious. were delighted to be a part of it all.
Our judges were Rosalind Rathouse – founder of Cookery School at Little Portland Street, food and travel writer Christine Smallwood and Chef Chris Galvin. All of them settled happily into their places on the Fisher & Paykel trailer to taste their way through all 40 entries.
The weather was hot and the Festival was busy with thousands of excited visitors, all enjoying a perfect foodie day out in the most glorious of settings, with Tom Kerridge’s unmistakable voice booming out from the main cookery theatre.
They carefully tasted everything from coffee to pork rillettes, drinking chocolate to gin, cheese, steaks and peppermint tea. Diligently, they gave us their comments and scores. The range of different products was extensive and the standards extremely high, so this was not a judging round for the indecisive or the fainthearted.
But there were some real highlights that seemed to tick all the boxes in terms of the four main judging criteria: Quality and Appearance, Taste, Provenance, and Passion.
The future is bright, the future is… tomato?
One of the brightest entries, in terms of colour and freshness, had to be The Tomato Box from The Tomato Stall, Isle of Wight Tomatoes. It gave us so much passion; a clear understanding for the need for conservation; painstaking quality control; and initiatives that involve the local community. For example, including school trips to the farm to reconnect local children with food and how it is grown; and a fabulous, enormous range of sweet tasting tomatoes that all have their own unique flavour.
A legendary story
Among the green, dark red, orange, pink, striped and misshapen tomatoes was a big yellow tomato shaped exactly like an apple, and the same size.
Holding it in my hand, it reminded me of the legend of the origin of the tomato from its arrival in Naples in the middle of that most miserable of periods in Italian history: the Spanish Gloom.
It is a story I like to tell whenever I see someone cover their food in ketchup…and now I’m going to tell it here.
A potted history of the tomato
In a time when bible reading and thrice daily church attendance, dark coloured, all-enveloping stiff clothing and a grave demeanour had somehow replaced the joy and sparkle of the Neapolitan people.
Dancing and singing was not permitted, bright colours and laughter were off the menu along with the simple enjoyment of food – and then the tomato arrived from the new World to be presented at Court.
It was yellow, shiny and apple-shaped, so it was given the name Pomo d’Oro: The Golden Apple.
Understandably perhaps, it was eyed with horrified suspicion in a world where black and grey misery seemed to dominate. The courts’ clerics said it was the evil apple from the Garden of Eden, and therefore a direct route to Temptation, and all the ills that befell Adam and Eve could be wrought upon Naples if anyone was to let even a sliver of this glowing golden fruit to pass their lips.
It became a banned substance. Although it is said that it became the Viagra of its day – after all, if it worked for Adam…!
More than 200 years were to pass before the simple tomato, in the more familiar red form that we know and love today, finally made its way into the kitchen as a simple sauce for pasta, which was first sold as street food in the backstreets Naples.
And back to the business of judging…
Thanks again to our wonderful judges. Huge congratulations to all our worthy producers going through to the final in London (see them here), and my deepest commiserations to those who didn’t quite make it – better luck next year!