Food & Drink: Don't shop for novelty value: Joanna Blythman applauds those wholesome and tasty new foods which respect traditional values - and rejects the produce of marketing men

Fancy a nice bit of kangaroo? Not tempted? You sweet, old-fashioned thing. You're just not with it. Kangaroo is one of the up-and-coming meats being promoted at major food trade fairs in Europe. If you believe the pundits, it is, like Aussie wine, about to take the market by storm.

The company that supplies it, Southern Game Meat, is doing business in Germany, Denmark and Hungary, and expects to be selling in Britain by early 1994. Nobody seems to be clear what kangaroo tastes like, although a would-be exporter described it as having a 'gamey beef flavour'.

The imminent arrival of this unknown quantity on our plates is just another example of the boundless ingenuity of the food industry. Kangaroo jumps in close behind other meats that made their debut in Britain in 1993. There is ostrich, which we are told tastes like a combination of beef, duck, and emu (which is like venison). Then there is the altogether more delicately flavoured llama, described by one northern England butcher as 'similar to milk-fed veal'. The selling point for all of them is that they are low, or lower, in fat than boring old beef and lamb.

However, I will not be rushing out to buy any of them. I have nothing against kangaroo, emu, ostrich, or llama, just a gut reaction that the endless quest of the food industry for novelty is missing the point. The way forward is backward; we should be returning to basics, to better, more natural means of producing the foods we already know.

An alarming amount of energy goes into the production and marketing of 'new' food products such as the two real horrors of 1993: banana- and-marzipan-flavoured cooked ham, introduced by Plumrose-Schorfheider, and 'Chumbelle', a 'trapezium-shaped' salami with a round of Camembert in the centre.

The problem is that the people with the right ideas tend to lack the big budgets to make them a reality. Fortunately, a few exceptional products break new ground each year, and 1993 was no exception.

The most impressive product from Britain was Duchy Originals, biscuits made from organic oats from the Prince of Wales's estate at Tetbury, Gloucestershire. In part, their success lies in the concept - a synthesis of the digestive biscuit and the oatcake - which is entirely original. The rest is down to rendition, which is in the hands of John Lister, the miller enlisted by the Prince to come up with ideas for the organic oats.

Duchy Originals is a fine example of what people with tenacity and clear goals can achieve. While received wisdom among biscuit manufacturers decreed, for example, that hydrogenated vegetable fat should be used, Mr Lister persisted in trying out healthier alternatives until he found a sunflower oil that gave the right results. This unwillingness to compromise has produced a delightful biscuit which is clean on the palate and has a delicious, wholesome richness.

In the past month these have been followed up with Duchy Originals Gingered Biscuits, made with malted wheat and chunks of stem ginger. Ginger-loving friends award them high marks. (Shipton Mill, telephone 0666 505050 for stockists.)

My one regret, having said goodbye to the nappies and highchairs, is the lack of an infant to whom I could feed the new range of dried, cereal-

based baby foods produced by Baby Organix. This is a brand driven by two impressive women, Lizzie Vann and Jane Dick, who are already familiar to Independent readers. They produce organic, ready-to-serve baby food in jars, which - by avoiding all the water, starch and other undesirables that had become ubiquitous in such foods - set a long-overdue, new standard in Britain.

This year, they pulled off another first by introducing a range of dried cereal meals for older babies without dried milk, cheap 'fillers', salt or sugar.

For breakfast, there is banana porridge or apple muesli. For tea, the choice is between rice with carrots and coriander, or oats, wheat and barley with tomato and basil, or potato and chives. Pretty yummy they are, too. Brought up on starter foods such as these, children should have the good taste to say no to flavoured hams and trapezium-shaped salamis. (Baby Organix is sold by Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury; for other stockists, telephone 0202 715156.)

Traditional foods, made as they ought to be, are sadly not all that common. So it was good news when, early last year, Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in Melton Mowbray opened again after it was put out of business by a serious fire in 1992. Despite ye olde spelling, this is indeed the only source of the real thing in the eponymous town, earning it a coveted 'special award' in Henrietta Green's new Food Lovers' Guide to Britain (BBC Books, pounds 9.99).

Stephen Hallam presides over the recreation of this mid-10th-century recipe, which calls for hand-chopped fresh lean meat and hot water paste raised round a wooden 'dolly' mould and then hand-filled with a proper jelly stock. He bakes the pies every day, and the good news for this year is that for orders of 10 or more he will send them by overnight courier for delivery next morning (0664 62341).

One sector of British and Irish food production that, happily, seems to go from strength to strength is cheesemaking. These days, there are a lot of impressive cheeses about, and competition is tough. But one that earned a place in the hall of fame last year is Berkswell. It is made from unpasteurised sheep's milk on Stephen Fletcher's farm, Ram Hall, near Coventry. Finding that his 500-year- old farmhouse had original cheesemaking rooms, Mr Fletcher, aided by a local expert, started making a hard sheep's-milk cheese to a Caerphilly recipe. It is sold when it is at least four months old, and bears no resemblance to the Caerphilly you usually buy. The consistency of a Cheddar and a full, lingering aftertaste mark this out as a new farmhouse cheese of which we can be proud. (For information, telephone 0676 532203.)

Two supermarket products also merit praise. Those of us who frequent natural-food stores have long known of the excellent yoghurt made by Rachel's Dairy. It was pleasing, therefore, to see it turn up at long last on supermarket shelves - in Sainsbury's early in 1993. Even more encouraging was that the subsequent success led to it becoming Sainsbury's own-label Organic Fruit Yogurt. This yoghurt manages to be mild and creamy, and to deliver the taste of fresh fruit.

The secret appears to be that Rachel Rowlands actually boils up the fruit in season along with cane sugar, instead of buying in commercial fruit concentrates and aromas as used in most fruit yoghurts. You can certainly taste the difference.

Finally, there is a lot to choose from at Marks & Spencer, which seems to have set itself the mission of bringing the best of Scotland to our tables. Its Aberdeen Angus beef and milk from Ayrshire herds set new standards for carefully produced, herd- and variety-specific products. But the jewel in the crown is Simply Fruit - surprisingly fresh-tasting raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and blackcurrant toppings made in the style of a French compote by the family firm Baxters of Speyside. This is just what you need to remind you of summer.

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