Saturday, February 28, 2015


Here are a couple of very quick and simple meal ideas which I'd forgotten about until I found these photographs on my memory card.

Recipe 1: Chicken Wraps
  • Marinate thin strips of chicken in Capsicana burrito sauce over night.
  • Fry chicken.
  • Add strips of pepper to pan and fry.
  • Warm re-fried beans.
  • Place beans, chicken and peppers onto soft tortilla wrap.
  • Roll up.
  • Serve with salad and sweetcorn (optional).
  • (Optionally) Take very bad photograph really quickly in hurry to commence dinning (see below)!

Recipe 2: Fish Wraps
As above. Replace chicken with white fish.
I actually preferred the second version. The lime flavour in the burrito sauce was much more prominent with the fish, and rather lovely!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Introducing Birch Syrup

Last week I met Ross, a tree tapper, amongst other things. He owns a forest in the Voru region of Estonia, and uses traditional methods to extract the sap from his birch trees to create a delicious birch syrup. At the moment he is the only person in Europe to do this commercially. It is hugely labour intensive, but Ross clearly loves it and the resulting product is worth all the effort involved.

Birch syrup is made in much the same way as maple syrup; rising sap is extracted from the trees in the spring and converted into a syrup using a process of evaporation and reverse osmosis to remove the water. Ross powers his equipment by burning the wood from naturally fallen trees.  He believes the other carbon emissions from his production (transport, bottles etc) is less than that which his forest absorbs, making this a carbon neutral or possibly even carbon negative product.

The finished product is unique and delicious.  Depending on when the birch sap is extracted from the trees, the resulting syrup tastes quite different. The early syrup is ideal on pancakes, porridge, or anywhere you might use honey or maple syrup. It is delicate and sweet, with an intriguing woody, caramel, liquorice like flavour.  The syrup extracted later in the season (and by later I only mean a matter of weeks) is used more like a savoury condiment. It has an even greater depth of flavour, is more robust, though still sweet, minerally rather than woody and more savoury than a maple syrup.  Late birch syrup can be used in sauces, dressings and gravies, to flavour home made beer, mixed into gin for a dirty martini or as a substitute for good balsamic. Late birch syrup is almost entirely fructose, giving it a very low glycaemic index. It also contains lots of minerals including calcium, thiamine and magnesium.

It takes around 120 litres of birch sap to create each litre of birch syrup (far far more than with maple syrup which requires only 30-40 litres) and the sap can only be collected for a few weeks each spring, when the birch trees are using sugar to produce new leaves. You can see why this, one of the oldest sources of sugar known to man, is rarely harvested nowadays! Ross only taps his trees every three years and only extracts around 10% of the trees sap each time. This way his forest continues to thrive.  It is coming up to harvest time right now, and Ross is readying himself for a frantic period of tapping. But before he heads back to Estonia, he delivered some birch syrup to Tastes, where it is now on sale. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Philosophy of Best

Last month's awards season inspired blog post was one of the best yet in terms of stimulating conversations with customers and suppliers alike.  Customers have delighted in seeing some of their favourites mentioned and some have been tempted to try new things. The lovely people at Stockans, were so pleased to have been most popular savoury biscuit that they are sending me a box of goodies so I can offer samples to customers soon (I'll let you know when).

What I enjoyed about writing the post was that I got to mention a surprisingly large number of  products we've been selling for years and years. Things which were new before I started announcing new and exciting things on facebook and twitter. It was a great opportunity to mention some old favourites, but also showed how hard it can be for new products to "break through".  Which could be seen as a downside of a loyal local customer base. Once they find something they like, customers return again and again and again. Usually extending their shopping to other non-competing products, but never replacing the original. Fortunately the compact size of the shop means I don't really have many competing products, everything I have is the best in its (sometimes very small) field!  Which reminds me...

Each summer we are visited by lots of Japanese students, who almost without fail will ask "what is the most popular ...". Which is a question I've only ever been asked by the Japanese students or people wanting to source lines for their own deli. I'm not sure if that is a Japanese cultural thing, or just because most of the students I see come from the Eton College Summer Schools where they are learning English from the same people. Or maybe they are all aspiring deli-owners!

At first, I didn't think they were asking the right question. Why would they want the most popular tea? Why not the best tea? Or the smokiest tea? Or the most refreshing tea? Or the lightest tea?

But they might have the right idea. Best is so subjective and we rarely have more than one version of the same thing; we think they are all the best they can be. I couldn't objectively answer "which is the best".  Describing exactly what you think is best in a foreign language is tricky. So why not choose the most popular. Hundreds of local shoppers can't all be wrong! Its taken me years to realise this, the value of the crowd.

I shall update you on the 2015 best sellers next year. To see your favourite product excel just come along and buy lots of it ;) Online sales count as well!