Imagine boarding an ark filled, not with every animal two by two, but with a vast range of foods from all across the world. This is the Ark of Taste, a virtual boat created by the Slow Food Foundation to publicise and protect foods that are at risk of extinction.
Foods like the White Tuni potato from Argentina which is being grown in fewer areas and could be lost to cultivation. Does that matter? Well, possibly yes. Apart from the argument that it’s worth conserving to maintain biodiversity and for its historical and cultural significance, this variety shows resistance to a nematode that can cause serious damage in potato crops. Genetically therefore, it may well prove to be an important weapon in the continuous fight against pests.
Then there’s Red Fife wheat. Grown on the Canadian prairies since the 1800s, this grain has a long history of cultivation from its origins in Eastern Europe, to Scotland from where it crossed the Atlantic. Hardy and disease-resistant, Red Fife has proved its worth in adapting to extreme conditions to produce good yields of high quality flour. Who knows how useful these traits might be in a world facing more extreme weather under climate change?
An entry into the Ark of Taste that has its origins a little closer to home is Goosnargh Cake. Although it’s called a cake, it is really more like a shortbread biscuit. But it does come from Goosnargh in Lancashire, where it has been baked (and presumably enjoyed) for hundreds of years. Rationing during the war saw a decline in the popularity of Goosnargh Cake – there just wasn’t enough butter available to be making luxuries like this.
Here’s my attempt at reviving these traditional ‘cakes’. After a quick search for a recipe, I used this one from Baking for Britain. I’ve changed the proportions of the flour, butter and sugar slightly, in keeping with the 6:4:1 that the Slow Food Foundation suggest. I did stray from the correct dimensions though. My biscuit cutter (… or empty Nutella jar, depending how you look at it) was 7cm, not the required 8cm, but I don’t think that affected the taste too much. The biscuits are a lot like shortbread – a little less sweet, and with the added flavour of caraway. They go well with a cup of coffee or a glass or red wine and, though I haven’t tried this yet, I suspect they’d be very good with a nice piece of cheese, (Lancashire, of course).
We can all jump aboard the Ark of Taste, in fact one of the aims of the Slow Food Foundation in creating this online resource is to encourage everybody to get involved. You can use the catalogue to find out about your local foods – then go out and buy them, eat them, talk about them and encourage others to do the same. The best chance of survival for many of the foods listed in the Ark is if people learn about them and start to eat them. There’s something for everyone – breads, vegetables, cheeses… even sweets. Why not have a look and see if there’s anything there you fancy trying?
(Makes about 16 biscuits)
230g unsalted butter, softened
60g caster sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top of the biscuits
350g plain flour
½ tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp caraway seeds
Weigh the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and cream together. Sift the flour into another bowl, add the ground coriander and caraway seeds and stir to mix. Add the flour and spices to the butter and rub in until you have a breadcrumb like texture. Use your hands to bring the mixture together into a soft, crumbly dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and roll out gently to about 1cm thick. Cut rounds out of the dough and place them on a greased or lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each biscuit with a generous pinch of caster sugar. Put the prepared biscuits into the fridge and chill for an hour or two.
The Ark of Taste suggests you bake the Goosnargh cake at 140oC, 275F, gas 1 for 30-40 minutes. I put mine in the simmering oven of the Aga, but forgot to put the oven thermometer in with them to check the temperature. Whichever way you choose to cook them, they need to still be pale when you take them from the oven. Cool on a wire rack before enjoying a piece of history!