Fine knits but woolly thinking

I was taught to knit as a child by my grandmother.

I was taught to knit as a child by my grandmother. I must have been about five or six-years-old.

It wasn't terribly successful in that the result was just one grey scarf. I'm not clear if it started out being grey - five-year-old boys are not known for their cleanliness - and I don't think anybody actually wore it on account of it being too short, too wide and a horrid colour.

But the experience has stuck in my mind and, as a result, I've never knitted another thing.

My wife, when first discovering she was pregnant, decided to knit some item of clothing for her forthcoming offspring. However, it took time and what started out as a baby-grow ended up as a school jumper.

And it was still too small for her daughter to wear. She never knitted again.

I remember my mother being roped in to knit something for charity. But my recollection is of discovering, in various cupboards, under coffee tables or pushed down the back of sofas, a tangled ball of wool, two needles and an unidentifiable shape made of knotted wool. She never finished whatever it was.

This is obviously a sad indictment of the Oldfields' craft skills. But what the exercise taught each of us was that we didn't know our weft from our warp, that knitting was not for us and we were never going to bother again.

We were clear and unequivocal about this. Even at five I didn't need persuading by somebody else and the world was saved from further wonky woollies.

Knitting always comes to my mind when clear thinking is absent because if the thinker doesn't think it through they're accused of woolly thinking.

And of all the bodies that could do with avoiding such an accusation, of all the organisations that work hard to promote thoughtful back-to-basics methods for many good reasons (but not, I understand, knitting), after all the stick they've had to put up with, the Soil Association exactly fits the bill.

I've always rather liked the Soil Association.

They've always seemed a well meaning bunch, have made us think about our food more, supported Prince Charles when he's challenged the norm and they've given us big stickers to put up in our restaurants to tell people how considered we are.

But they've recently released some publicity asking whether people think that food grown organically abroad and then flown to the UK should be classed as organic - which to some people seems logical but to me seems as clear thinking as asking if a cuckoo in another bird's nest is no longer a cuckoo.

Come on, it may be a parasite but it's definitely still a cuckoo.

It may be that I'm missing it, they're acting remarkably clever and have raised the debate to generate publicity, but it rather appears that they're just going to confuse the public and put back years of good work.

Let us, here today, think clearly about this.

If I understand it correctly, organic food is that grown or reared without conventional pesticides, artificial fertilisers, unnecessary antibiotics and so on.

The case is based on the precept that there is always the potential for added chemicals to do us harm - via the soil, air, water or the food itself.

It isn't necessarily definite proof but, using clear risk analysis, it's worth considering. And there's the added bonus that some consider it tastes better.

The argument for avoiding produce flown in to the UK from abroad is that the planes use carbon-based fuels, the burning of which results in carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and possibly contributing to global warming by enhancing the greenhouse effect.

There. Two different subjects: the former about the quality of our food and the latter about global warming.

And the Soil Association appears to be undoing years of well thought-out argument by mixing the two and confusing us all with their woolly thinking.

Organic may be good and carbon emissions from planes may be bad. However, there are those who argue that there's less carbon dioxide emitted by those planes than that from heating greenhouses to grow fruit and vegetables out of season in the UK.

So, if that worries you, and you want organic food, you have only to make sure that you buy it from local sources and during its traditional season.

Clear and concise argument that's uninhibited by knitting. There's no need for confusion - but could the Soil Association see it like that?


(Serves two)

FOR this week's recipe, try to use lamb from our region.

Both Northumberland and the Durham Dales produce some of the best lamb in the UK. A rack of lamb is mini chops still connected together. Sometimes chefs like to display the meat with a technique known as French trim where the meat is scraped back to leave the ends of the bones clean, as shown in the picture here.

You might remember having sometimes seen these joints with little paper chefs' hats on the ends of the bones. It's not essential but, if you really want it, your butcher should be able to do it for you.

Two three-rib racks of lamb.

Four slices of Parma ham.

Two 1cm-thick slices of goats' cheese.

One tablespoon of rough chopped sun-blushed tomatoes.

One tablespoon of pitted black olives.

A handful of wild mushrooms - chopped.

A few leaves of basil - torn.

Four spring onions - roughly chopped.

One tablespoon of chopped chives.

Olive oil.

Preheat oven to 210°C (gas mark 7).

In a frying pan, heat a little oil and seal the racks on all sides. Remove from the pan and place the slices of goats' cheese on top of their layer of fat. Then use two overlapping slices of Parma ham per rack to wrap the cheese and the lamb in such a way as to leave the bones protruding. The ham should hold and not need securing.

Return the lamb to the pan or place on a baking tray and bake them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes for rare to medium meat. Allow an extra few minutes for the lamb to rest at the end.

Whilst they are cooking, heat another frying pan and add a splash of olive oil. Gently sauté the mushrooms, tomatoes and olives for two or three minutes. Add the spring onions and chives for another minute and the basil leaves at the end. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper but watch the level of salt as the olives, tomatoes and the goats' cheese all add a high degree of seasoning themselves.

To serve, place the lamb on warmed plates with the salsa over and around. A few new potatoes would work very well alongside.

For other recipes of ours go to

Oldfields Restaurants: 18 Claypath, Durham, (0191) 370-9595 and 9 Osborne Road, Jesmond, Newcastle, (0191) 212-1210.


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