Guest post by Steven Lamb
I am originally from Manchester, an urbanite and city dweller where on growing up there was a strong sense of community but there was little celebrating of who we were locally. The notion of people coming together other than in pubs, clubs and football stadiums was alien to me. Now that I have a ‘grown up job’ working in food, my summers are mostly filled with food festivals and fetes. The growing popularity of festivals where food rather than music is the main attraction is astounding. I have hosted, compared and spoken at several this year and despite the blistering weather have been washed out on 3 separate occasions! But my seeming ability to induce Armageddon at Festivals has not been my main surprise, rather it is the proliferation of artisan producers working their craft up and down the country trying to peddle their wares.
It made me think of the dedication and journey that Hannah Woodall would’ve experienced all those years ago when in 1828 she decided to make Cumbrian Ham. Born out of necessity and hardship, she began something quite unique in terms of British Food history. I imagine how Hannah would have struggled to get her product noticed and eventually to a wider market without the modern network of food festivals as a vast shop window and in particular at a time when food was seen as a means to survive rather than as a cultural celebration of a regional craft. From humble beginnings brought about by a terrible situation and then rise to the modern day version of Woodall’s makes that trajectory even more amazing.
Now that we are at the backend of summer and the excitement of the festivals is all but over, I look forward to the season ahead. I particularly like this time of year - the space between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. Far from being a grey area as it is alive and burning with the late burst of vibrant hues in the trees and hedgerow. It is the only season I can smell before it arrives as if my senses are calibrated to its arrival.
This would be the typical time of year that Hannah Woodall would be looking to store and preserve food ready for the colder and less abundant times ahead. Without the luxury of refrigeration and other domestic white goods, she would take advantage of the vagaries of the weather to air dry and mature her salted hams and early types of bacon. Today, at their Headquarters in Manchester, something similar is happening at Woodall’s. Instead of storing food for the barren months ahead, the curers at Woodall’s are taking stock ready for the Christmas rush. Funny how such a traditional slow food product needs to ready itself for when it will be flying off the shelves faster than mince pie on a sledge. Strange too that although Woodall’s is now a successful commercial business and available all year round that they still adhere to a traditional, artisan and seasonal calendar that mirrors history.
I’m the first person to complain when I hear Christmas music in shops in late September or early October and don’t get me started on the TV adverts which arrive just as soon as the sun cream ones have finished airing! However, thinking about my Christmas charcuterie at this time of year is a completely different matter and I might start writing my letter to Santa now, whilst it is still fresh in my mind.