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Prized for centuries for its pungent aroma and golden colour, saffron commands the highest price of any spice. Shoppers may wish to query its purity and quality, though.
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I'm in my office in Saffron Walden. If I peer out, which I often do because I'm quite nosy, I can see people sitting in a coffee shop below – a source of material!
Seafood stew with chickpeas and saffron
Hindu pilgrims carrying holy water from the River Ganges make their hurried way to a sacred temple near Allahabad in India's north west. There the pilgrims, wearing saffron dyed clothes and known as Kanwarias, will offer the water to Shiva, the Hindu deity.
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We know that "foreign" food swept into these isles in the Elizabethan age of exploration. Walter Raleigh and others who went forth brought back tomatoes from Mexico (love apples as they were then called), sugar, spices like paprika and chilli, almonds and other exotic ingredients used for ever-more-thrilling, outrageous feasts for the rich. In truth, many favourites thought to be quintessentially British – tea, potatoes – were brought in from elsewhere and naturalised. As Rose Prince writes in her book, The New English Kitchen (2005): "This is a country ... with a five-hundred-year-old history of food piracy, borrowing ideas from other shores, importing their raw materials and learning to cultivate them on our soils." Brits were suckers for wild and new tastes, continuing an irrepressible national characteristic.
Serves 4 as a main course
Our neighbours, Judith and Gerrard, often bring us their freshly dug and picked produce from their allotment and it's such a pleasure to cook with; we often end up swapping food – something from the land for something that I have cooked or prepared. Our last exchange was a selection of Judith and Gerrard's heritage potatoes for a side of my De Beauvoir smoked salmon. There were five bags of delicious spuds containing relatively unknown or forgotten varieties with names such asUlster Sceptre, Lady Balfour and Rooster.
Less money for the weekly shop? That might be a culinary blessing in disguise, says Skye Gyngell, as she shows how to make delicious dishes on a budget