Call me a Rationing Baby (if you're brave enough!), but I confess to being appalled by recent revelations that British families regularly throw out as much as 30% of the food they purchase. It seems that our profligacy as a nation stems largely from serial overpurchasing, stimulated by the twofor- one deals and 'super-size' marketing tactics which have become commonplace in our food shops, and to blind faith in best-before dates.
That an imaginative nutritionist could 'retrieve' from the wastebin of a family of four enough grub to feed them for the best part of a week certainly made good television, but when did we become so gormless? When did it become acceptable to chuck out perfectly good ingredients in this way? How did we forget, or fail to learn that some of the tastiest meals we'll ever make consist of the random contents of a fridge in need of sorting, swept creatively into a pan? What are freezers and cookers for, apart, of course, from storing and reheating ready-meals?
Somewhere between the last war and the current credit crunch, Britain has clearly lost its bottle, and we now face the privations of the latter without a trace of the thrift and ingenuity learned during the former. Our woeful ignorance in the kitchen has fuelled a celebrity cook-book industry, in which ground-breaking instructions on how to boil an egg are commonplace. Our children marvel at the sight of real carrots. We have no idea, as a nation, how to convert today's leftovers into tomorrow's dinner and we are phobic about day-too-old rocket.
Fortunately, wine and wastefulness do not yet go hand in hand, but before the rot sets in, I am launching my ownTaste Not Waste recycling campaign. Here are a few of my manifesto points:
- Pour assorted bottle-ends of any colour through a sieve, lined with a paper towel, into a saucepan. Boil gently down to half its volume to concentrate the flavour, cool completely, freeze in an ice-cube tray and minimise waste by defrosting to order: for example, five 15–20ml cubes for a recipe demanding 100ml of wine.
- Transform tired Sherry into an excellent cooking liquor and sauce for baked chicken or fish. Intensify the Spanish vibe with roasted and ground cumin and coriander seeds, a squeeze of lemon, or Seville orange juice and some smoked paprika. Freeze for an effortless evening's entertaining some time in the future.
- Leftover Port, combined with meat or fish stock, makes an excellent sauce base for a peppered beef or tuna steak, and the dregs from a decanted vintage bottling, strained through a coffee filter, makes gravy gastronomic.
- Save leftover rosé to make sensational summer-fruit jelly, its gorgeous colour toning with raspberries, strawberries and redcurrants.
- Champagne which is more than a day old can and should be poured over a whole salmon or sea-trout and baked in foil. Around 250ml will do it, and the results are nothing short of sparkling.
- Never discard anything really good. I am often thought eccentric by colleagues at tastings for seizing dozens of all-but-spent bottles of fine Burgundy with two inches of wine left in each, but I defy anyone's boeuf bourguignon to outclass mine!
- Stock up on useful gadgets, like the Wine-Preserver or Vacu-vin – both available at www.thewinesociety.com – to keep cooking wine fresh.
So what can you discard with a clear conscience? It is sound practice not to put a wine into the pot that you wouldn't put in your mouth, but even a slightly oxidised bottle is fine for cooking, especially if you are adding spices and aromatics. A cork-tainted wine, on the other hand, will get even worse as it boils down. Even so, please don't just throw it away – get your money back first!
We stand by our guarantee that any wine bought from The Society should be a pleasure to drink, so please report any cork-tainted, or otherwise faulty bottles to us as soon as possible.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor