I’ve been thinking about tinned food since I made a smoked sardine putanesca and sardines on toast from my store cupboard stash of tinned sardines in the gap between finishing the contents of my veg box and a new one arriving. I also with stumbled across this podcast.
The podcast, an episode of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme talked about the dwindling market for tinned food in the UK and how our relationship with tinned food differs markedly from our European neighbours. It made me think about my own relationship with tinned food. Before lockdown, the only tins of food in my cupboard were an assortment of plum, and more recently, cherry, tomatoes, bought to make pasta sauce.
Growing up, though, tinned food featured regularly in family meals. Potatoes were always fresh, bought in half hundredweight sacks from the local potato grower, but other vegetables were not so sanctified. Baby carrots were deposited from the tin into a pot to heat through in their salted water while the potatoes were being mashed. Marrow fat peas (a favourite) careened across the plate, coming to a stop as they became embedded at the base of a pile of mash that had been sculpted into a volcano, cradling a pool of golden butter slowly melting in the crater. Pieces of lamb sausages were forked and used to scoop up a dollop of potato and pressed onto the peas to capture the perfect mouthful. Mouth open wide but still managing to smear mash around the corners of my mouth.
Tinned fruit were a regular dessert. For me, peaches swimming in syrup were and are still, way too sweet. Spoonfuls of tinned fruit cocktail were artlessly portioned out over vanilla ice cream and drowned in that toothache inducing syrup.
But soup, Campbell’s soup, was a school holiday lunch ritual. Cream of mushroom and cream of chicken were the only flavours I was interested in. I would empty the soup into the pot, topping the empty can with water and slowly adding it to the wobbly gelatinous lump that still held the shape of the tin until the water and the heat slowly dissolved it into a creamy bowl of salty, hot comfort, dunked with slices of buttered, white bread.
A box of mushrooms in this week’s veg box was a catalyst to try and recreate the memory and the familiarity of those bowls of tinned soup. I don’t think I managed to recreate the Campbell’s experience, but I did manage to find the warming comfort a bowl of velvety, umami rich soup used to provide and it is exactly what is needed when the cold snap seems like it is never going to end.
500g chestnut mushrooms, sliced 25g dried porcini mushrooms ½ white onion, chopped finely 1 clove garlic, minced 1L chicken or vegetable stock 50ml cream, vegan 20g butter
20g plain flour 1tbsp olive oil INSTRUCTIONS Pour boiling water over the porcini mushrooms, making sure to cover them. Soak for about 30 minutes.
Melt the butter in a pan and add the onions. Cook for about 5-6 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute.
Add the mushrooms and cook for about five minutes until softened and beginning to sweat.
Add the flour and stir for about 2 minutes until it is incorporated and cooked through.
Drain the porcinis, saving the water you have soaked them in. Add them to the pot with the stock and a little of their soaking liquid. Simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the cream and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Blitz with a hand blender or serve as is, sprinkled with some herbs (I used tarragon) and a drizzle of olive oil.