Just over a week ago, my sister and I made the trip to London from Liverpool. We had reservations at a hotel right at Heathrow and since I had an early flight home, we decided to get a bite of dinner at the hotel restaurant and call it a night. Once we got to our room, there were a few things that needed to be repacked so we turned on the TV and we happened to get something like the Food Channel. We turned it on right as Jimmy Doherty (a farmer & BBC personality as well as childhood friend of Food Revolution chef Jamie Oliver) started a Christmas Special he had been working on for months called “Jimmy’s Grow Your Own Christmas Dinner.”
I ended up so focused on the TV that I couldn’t do any of the travel prep I needed to do!
The one-hour special (just under 50 minutes in the YouTube version embedded below) was incredibly compelling. The reason? He was talking about growing his own Christmas dinner, you actually saw footage of him doing the hard work needed to produce that meal throughout the growing season and fall!
As a farmer, he says he is fascinated by where the food we eat comes from and he wanted to answer some questions:
- Why do we eat what we eat for Christmas dinner? (Please remember he’s English so he has different traditions than my family but a lot of it applies and the accents are fantastic.)
- How has that menu evolved over time?
- How have supermarkets and mass production agriculture changed Christmas dinners for all of us?
Understanding the Experiment
What strikes me is the length to which he was willing to go to try and reproduce a meal his ancestors would have had! He totally gets that producing food the heritage way is more expensive and time consuming. And he gets the financial information too…. pre-1950s a family would spend two weeks worth of salary on their Christmas turkey and today people spend just two hours salary on a turkey!
The understanding of production on the farm and processing through the system is covered fairly well for several of the foods that would go on to most British Christmas tables. He talks about the genetics that give the double-breasted turkey which has efficiency and increased productivity that brings. You see Jimmy visit a big, modern turkey farm. you see the butcher work on turkeys. The size difference is incredible as is the price difference — smaller turkey costs a good bit more than the larger modern one.
For an American, the idea of making a Christmas pudding would be different than what he undergoes! He’s got bees flying around as he fixes a pudding based on a recipe from the 1850s! The first on record he claims. He made the pudding in August (months in advance!) to let it age. The pudding was something that was a bit over the top. He even adds in the royal history and the family tradition of the foods!The fact that they put shapes into the pudding reminded me of Mardi Gras king cakes!
Jimmy goes to the extent of making apple cider, harvesting his apples, going to an apple cider maker who has a centuries old press that hadn’t been used in decades. Now mind you, it is a hard cider and today I guess the English tend to have Champagne.They age the cider but not before a goof up or two! As they look at the cider, they have explosive corks!
There is a great Q&A that will give you a feel for the video if you don’t care to watch it or have the option due to a technology break. The content is posted at Jimmy’s Grow Your Own Christmas Dinner – Interviews – Jimmy Doherty talks about his new show – Channel 4.
The Experiment’s Results
I think the folks he had at dinner were in a tough spot…. They had to compare the two. Imagine…. one is more familiar but the other one took a lot more time and effort (it was a FOUR MONTH EFFORT). He loses crop to bugs, lost potatoes to spoilage, etc. He knows there were setbacks and cosmetically… well, its just not up to today’s standards as the looks go.So as you can imagine, he’s got a bit of mixed reviews.
The main course (in this case the turkey), like most table is the centerpiece of the meal and the unveiling meets ooohs and aaaahs. With the difference in turkeys, he highlights how genetics and farmer production practices made such a difference. Selective breeding has changed both the vegetables and the turkeys.
The total meal cost for the “grow your own” version was 1500 pounds ($2352 via xrates calculator) vs buying it in a farm shop was 120 pounds ($235) but in a supermarket was half that amount, coming in at just 60 quid ($117)!
After reading and watching the video, do you think you want to grow your own Christmas dinner?
I’ve got to admit that I don’t, but my brother and Elizabeth raise virtually all their food so I think it can vary. For now, I’m thinking about having Jan and SlowMoneyFarm raise some of my meals for me as the farm expands and enters a blended coop – CSA structure. It will cost more but the taste may be better and I’ll know more about how everything is raised. Those seem like nice things even if they aren’t necessary. If you are in St. Louis, Nashville, Southern Ohio or the great state of Kentucky’s leading cities, you should look over the options as well and consider signing up. It looks like a great option for those of us who can afford it and who like some of the unique flavors on our plates. She has a neat overview on the program as well as greater detail on some of the food choices you can make with SlowMoneyFarm. Maybe that’s somewhere in between Jimmy’s drive and my current setup!
PS – The images included here were captured from the YouTube video. Thanks for getting that up cause I’ve looked earlier and didn’t find it!