Canned food like baked beans, spaghetti hoops and one Texas favourite – pork brains in milk gravy – may be a useful addition to your Brexit food stockpile, says Stephen Jardine.
On the list of ‘first world problems’, locating capers must be pretty near the top. However that was the challenge I faced this week in the never-ending struggle to make a salad taste less of salad.
As ever, the supermarket was playing its favourite game of hiding things well away from where you might expect them to be. Near the anchovies? Of course not. Close to the olives? Don’t be daft.
Instead the salty buds were hidden in the wasteland that is canned goods. If the supermarket is a town, the tins are in a street around the back of the station where people fear to tread and sex and drugs are as freely available as loyalty points.
It didn’t used to be that way. Not so long ago, cans were a big feature of the weekly shop. Before fresh produce became as readily available as it is now, families relied on tinned goods to get them through the week.
From peas to pineapple, sweetcorn to soup, few meals made it to the table without help from the ubiquitous can opener. When I first went to a proper Italian restaurant, I was flabbergasted to discover ravioli didn’t just come from a tin drenched in a fluorescent orange sauce. That was the only way I’d encountered it before, scattered with dried parmesan cheese that smelled like sick on a sunny day.
We have Napoleon Bonaparte to thank for that. Concerned malnutrition was killing more soldiers than the actual fighting, the French Emperor launched a competition to find a way of keeping food fresh on the battlefield. A brewer came up with the answer and the army really did get to march on its stomach.
Two hundred years on, the process has been refined but the basics remain the same with food sealed and preserved by pressure cooking at very high temperatures.
However, the growth of modern refrigeration and logistics has sent canned goods into decline. Why buy preserved in tin when you can shop fresh and local? The answer is price. Fresh produce comes with a looming sell-by date which is always going to make it more expensive than canned counterparts. Hence fresh strawberries sell for twice the price of those in a tin.
So it is time for us to rediscover the joy of canned goods? Probably not. My caper quest gave me plenty of time in the tinned produce aisle and it isn’t somewhere to linger. I spent ages hanging around the tinned Fray Bentos pies waiting to see who actually buys them. I gave up as darkness fell.
Then we have the tinned asparagus and Spotted Dick sponge in a can. My personal favourite was the whole roast chicken, squeezed in and surrounded by the kind of liquid you find when you unblock a sink. However, we should think ourselves lucky. In Texas, pork brains in milk gravy is one of the most popular canned products available.
Perhaps we’ve become too snobby about how food is presented. After all, when Armageddon comes, only those with a tin opener will survive.
With a hard Brexit potentially just months away, perhaps it is time to stock up on the baked beans, spaghetti hoops and pork brains in milk gravy. Then again, maybe survival is overrated.