The 150-year-old story of Sri Lankan tea-making

 

Two tea pluckers work on a plantation in Sri LankaImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE

Almost 5% of the population of Sri Lanka work in the billion-dollar tea industry, picking leaves on the mountain slopes and processing the tea in plantation factories.

The cultivation and selling of black tea has shaped the lives of generations of Sri Lankans since 1867.

Documentary photographer Schmoo Theune visited plantations in the country to explore the world of Ceylon tea production.

A tea plantation in Sri LankaImage copyright SCHMOO THEUNE

Tea bushes on mountain slopes are situated above the barracks-style housing which each plantation provides for its workers.

Tea buds must be picked by hand every seven to 14 days, before the leaves grow too tough.

This means the working location can change from day to day, depending on where the buds need to be collected.

The tea leaves are gathered in tarpaulin bags, which are lighter than the traditional wicker baskets that were once used.

A tea plucker in a plantation fieldImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

The leaves are weighed throughout the day and a tea-picker earns 600 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR), which is approximately £2.70, if they reach the desired quota of 18kg a day.

If they do not meet this target then they are paid 300 LKR (approximately £1.30).

Some plantations use different wage models, such as paying staff monthly and offering temporary loans to employees.

The majority of Sri Lankan tea workers are ethnically Indian Tamils, a people who were transported by the British to work on the plantations.

They differ from Jaffna Tamils who originate from Sri Lanka’s north.

A person travels down a road in a small sunlit valleyImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Dirt roads connect the workers’ housing to the tea plantations.

Tea bushes are grown on steep hillsides a metre apart.

Altitude affects the flavour of the tea, with higher altitudes producing a more delicately flavoured crop.

This is more highly valued than the robustly flavoured tea produced at lower elevations.

A tea plucker holds out her handsImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Veteran tea-pickers often have rough callouses on their hands.

The difficult physical nature of the work is causing a shortage of young tea-pickers.

Many daughters are choosing to work in garment factories, or abroad in domestic roles, rather than the fields of the plantations.

There can be four different levels of hierarchy on a small plantation, ranging from the owner down to tea-pickers.

Each layer supervises the level below it.

The sun sets over worker houses on a tea plantation near Kandy.Image copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Some of the houses the workers live in were built by the British during a housing boom in the 1920s when about 20,000 rooms were built for tea-pickers.

The buildings have changed little since.

Families raise their children in a village setting in colourful barracks-style houses.

Many buildings only have electricity or running water for a few hours each day, or do not have them at all.

Many daily tasks such as washing or bathing are carried out in streams and rivers.

Families walk outside their houses next to a tea plantation.Image copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE
The side of a tea plantation houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
A woman collects water in containers outside her houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Some areas of housing are supplied with water only once every three days which must be collected in containers.

Tea-pickers and other labourers start work at 7.30am.

In plantation communities, children often have to walk several kilometres to school.

Tea-picking earns relatively low wages, so some tea plantation families have family members who work abroad in the Middle East, or in other cities around Sri Lanka, who send money back home.

A tea plucker poses inside her houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Women who labour on the plantations also have household duties such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of children.

A shelf of food containersImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

The fresh tea leaves are taken to a factory near the plantation for processing, like the one seen below near the Sri Lankan city of Kandy.

A view of a tea plantation factoryImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

‘Withering’ is the first step, requiring the blowing of dry air to extract moisture from the leaf, which gives it a pliable texture.

A batch of 18kg of fresh leaves can yield 5kg of Ceylon tea after it has been processed in plantation factories.

A worker places tea leaves into a machineImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

A rolling machine then twists the withered leaves and begins the fermentation process, which starts to develop the distinctive flavour.

The machinery used in the tea processing is often up to 100 years old.

Finished tea is separated by leaf size, and packaged in bulk bags to be sent for auction in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

A machine processes tea leavesImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
A woman past a large pile of processed teaImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
Workers work in a tea shop in KandyImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE

Ceylon tea is not just an export, it is an essential part of Sri Lankan daily life, consumed by office workers, labourers, students, and everyone in-between.

A tea plucker works on a plantationImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE  
BBC News 10 April 2018

How cured meats protect us from food poisoning

But in many parts of the world, this is not such an unusual sight. Walking down a quiet street in Asia, you’ll often happen on slightly macabre culinary set-pieces – long, thick slices of pork belly, draped over a clothes hanger, slabs of fish, or even, as I did once, a whole pig leg dangling next to a light post, hoof and all. As unnerving as it sometimes is to come across, these al-fresco meat dryers are doing something that’s been done for centuries, if not millennia: air-curing.

When we stress about forgetting the chicken breasts on the counter for an afternoon, how is it possible to leave meat — in the Sun, no less — for days, eat it, and live to tell the tale?

The key is moisture. Inside a length of pork, or that whole pig leg, there’s a race going on between bacteria and evaporation, with those hoping for a nice bit of ham for lunch egging the evaporation on.

Chinese pork sausages (Credit: Getty Images)

In China, pork sausages are also often dried in the air (Credit: Getty Images)

That process usually begins with salt. Coating a piece of meat with salt draws the water within the tissue out to the surface, where it evaporates, in much the same way that salting a slice of aubergine or courgette will get rid of its excess water. At the same time, the salt makes the surface of the meat and some portion of the interior inhospitable to microscopic bacterial beasts. That level of saltiness will strip them of their water as well, leaving only harmless microbe jerky.

With a large piece of meat, however, the evaporation race cannot draw out water fast enough to keep the interior safe. Injecting the salt, mixed with a tiny bit of water, deep into the muscle every inch or so, helps take care of that. This treatment often includes small amounts of sodium nitrite, a preservative that halts microbial growth at the same time that it clings to proteins in the muscle, in a chemical reaction that turns the meat a gentle pink. Water might encourage bacterial life, but in this case it also allows the cure, as the salt and nitrite mixture is known, to trickle further. That’s why, in many recipes for dry curing, the first stage is to leave the meat in a cool, moist environment, says Antonio Mata, a meat scientist and an adviser to the food website AmazingRibs.com.

If you draw out moisture too quickly, the surface of the ham dries out – Greg Blonder, Boston University

Once the cure has seeped into the meat, it’s time to turn the temperature up and play the evaporation game again – but gently. “If you draw out moisture too quickly, the surface of the ham dries out,” says Greg Blonder, a professor at Boston University and another scientist for the same site. Traditionally, the exact details of the process vary according the local climate – “Ham recipes depend on terroir,” Blonder notes – but someplace warm with carefully controlled humidity is key.

In China, as in many other places, home-cured meats ranging from preserved pork belly to wind-dried pork sausages are usually made in winter, when the climactic conditions allow meat to dry safely, and are considered a festive food. (Humans aren’t the only ones with a taste for cured meat, however; home curers should beware the cheese skipper, larder beetle, and red-legged ham beetle, warns a Virginia Tech pamphlet on curing ham. These whimsically named insects will lodge themselves and their growing families in a drying piece of meat.)

Dried ham (Credit: Getty Images)

Salting the outside of the meat draws out moisture, making it harder for bacteria to survive (Credit: Getty Images)

Even if you can dodge the cheese skippers, it can take months for a dry-cured ham to reach a tasty equilibrium. But many cultures around the world have proven themselves ready to wait. China’s famed Jinhua ham usually ages for at least six months; Italy’s culatellogoes for 14-48 months. The most expensive ham in the world, from Spain, ages for six years, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The longer a ham goes, the funkier it usually tastes, as the fat eventually begins to go rancid. But for some, it’s all part of the taste adventure.

These days, the evaporation process takes place in carefully controlled chambers and can be stretched out for a surprisingly long time

Desiccation is also important to making dry-aged beef, that mainstay of high-end restaurants, where letting a cut of beef gradually lose moisture and grow a protective rind of mould, which is sliced off before cooking, produces a stronger flavour. These days, the evaporation process takes place in carefully controlled chambers and can be stretched out for a surprisingly long time, given that in dry-aging there are no preservatives to keep the meat from going off. In fact, Mata once worked with a chef in Chicago to produce beef that had been aged for 71 days.

In the past, however, home cooks had a decidedly low-tech approach. “Let it hang in your cellar as long as you can bear for the stinking,” reads one recipe from 18th Century England, “and till it begins to be a little sappy.”

Try running that one by the neighbours.

By Veronique Greenwood 9 April 2018

Portuguese missionaries brought bread to Japan in 1543, and today it’s more popular than rice

Featured image

Certain foods seem inextricably linked to their countries of origin: think pasta in Italy, curry in India, teff in Ethiopia, baguettes in France, rice in China. Say Japan, and you probably conjure sushi, sashimi, yakitori. But bread? Not so much.

Brace yourself. Bread consumption in Japan has risen faster than a yeast-laden loaf. In 2011, the Japanese spent more on bread than they did on the more tradition-seeming staple rice.

It wasn’t always so. Bread first landed on Japanese soil along with the first Europeans, Portuguese traders, in 1543. Subsequent ships came bearing missionaries, weaponry, and unusual food, namely bread and wheat. The Portuguese, who looked, smelled, and sounded so different, were called “Southern barbarians.” But the Japanese, in the midst of a civil war, tolerated the outsiders for a time because they were keen to purchase Portuguese firearms.

That tolerance ended, and the last of the Portuguese missionaries were banished from the island in 1639, but before they left, they traveled inland trying to convert more Japanese to Catholicism. (The missionaries were remarkably successful, which is what got them banned. Historians estimate there were 500,000 converted Catholics in Japan.) They carried with them their unusual foodstuff, that is, bread. Interestingly, the Portuguese Catholics also introduced to Japan the concept of batter-frying food coated in wheat. Today tempura seems as synonymous with Japanese cuisine as sushi.

With the Sakoku edict of 1635, Japan famously closed its borders to outsiders, becoming an insular and isolated country. For more than two centuries, trade was severely restricted and nearly all foreigners were prohibited from entering the country.

Most Japanese lived on rice, millet, and barley, supplemented with vegetables and the occasional bit of fish.

Bread fell off the Japanese table until the Opium War in 1840, when it was mass-produced as a convenient field ration to feed hungry soldiers, under the recommendation of a military science researcher, according to LiveJapan.com.

Even among the military, bread was not universally admired. When the Japanese Navy tried to introduce Western-style bread and a dry wheat cracker called kanpan in 1890, the servicemen went on strike, according to Slate magazine.

With its borders opened to the rest of the world by the late 1800s, bread and other wheat products came back to Japanese menus, though in limited quantities. Working-class laborers ate wheat udon noodles; aspiring middle-class salarymen went to Western-style cafes, where they sampled unusual treats like pastries, cakes, and anpan, a sweet cake filled with black bean fudge.

During World War II, rice was reserved for soldiers. Civilians subsisted on rations of crude bread, dumplings, kanpan, and udon noodles. The situation got worse after the war, and Japan was on the brink of starvation when the U.S. sent in emergency rations of wheat and lard. As they already were in the U.S., sandwiches became a staple in subsidized school lunches in urban areas, a practice that lasted until the 1970s and that normalized sandwiches as a part of daily lives.

“In demographic terms, the reason the Japanese diet has shifted so markedly toward bread consumption in recent years is that those who have grown up with bread as part of their everyday diet now constitute a majority of the population,” as Iwamura Nobuko recounted on Nippon.com.

The Japanese government encouraged a Western diet of bread, meat, and dairy products in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Nobuko, as a way to build strong bodies, and set up policies to encourage wheat farming. Bread soon became emblematic of a trendy Western lifestyle.

Today in Japan, as in other parts of the industrial world, contemporary busy families are dependent on quick, portable, individual meals with easy cleanup. Rice traditionally requires the preparation of at least three side dishes; a bread sandwich is easier to prepare and to customize for various family members’ tastes.

Between slices of bread, however, you’ll find something more indigenous than ham and cheese. Popular Japanese sandwiches include Yakisoba Pan, with fried soba noodles and pickled ginger; a Toyko favorite called Katsu Sando, deep-fried pork, with pickled cabbage and barbecue sauce; and Kurama, a fruit and cream filled dessert sandwich. Yum! What’s for lunch?

 E.L. Hamilton

The golden age of in-flight dining: Scandinavian Airlines photographs make one’s mouth water for airplane food

 

Featured image

In the last few years, we’ve all been witnesses to the steady emergence of so-called food photography. It developed quite steadily and now has almost reached the point that it could be considered its own thing, a new kind of artistic expression. It’s like that old saying: You eat with your eyes first.

Posting snapshots of one’s meal on social media has become everyday occurrence. And if you ask yourself why, you surely wouldn’t come up with an exact answer. There is no logical explanation, but one thing is for certain–everyone does it. It is the first thing that many people do when the dish is served. They take a photo and post it on Instagram or Facebook, adding a comment. Then and only then, the feast can begin!

However, if you use Instagram on a daily basis, you have most certainly noticed one tiny detail concerning the food photography phenomenon. And that is the lack of food photos taken at airport diners or during flights. Why is that you may ask? The answer is actually quite simple: airplane food just doesn’t fit the Instagram standards. No one would want to share a photo of a dish that is plain-looking and in many cases, quite unsatisfying. It is a common problem among air travelers, and when asked randomly what is the thing they hate the most about flying, nine out of ten would probably say it is the food.

Nowadays, the food that’s usually offered by air companies can’t be considered comfort food. In most cases, it is something that closely resembles the famous TV dinners and those other similar single-serving, bland, pre-packaged foods.  In layman terms, it’s not something that leaves people wanting more. But it wasn’t always like this.

Let us take you several decades into the past when in-flight dining was at its best and flying was truly a thing to be experienced.

Now, thanks to some vintage photos released by Scandinavian Airlines to celebrate their 70th anniversary, we are able to get a glimpse of the golden age of in-flight dining, when lobsters, fresh salmon, and caviar being served in front of you were a regular thing, followed by a mouthwatering dessert and a glass of some of their finest champagne or wine.

Judging by these captivating photos, we can confirm with utmost certainty that every passenger who booked a flight with Scandinavian Airlines was sure that he or she would be taken care of in the most extravagant way one can imagine.

Scandinavian Airlines seems to have treated its passengers like royalty, and the food (always prepared by professionals) was not just perfectly cooked, but a visual delight as well.

If this weren’t enough to convince you, just have a look at the photo in which the airline’s chef is personally carving the ham in front of starry-eyed passengers.

Unlike today, when silverware is not served on the coach class in commercial flights and passengers have to rely on plastic, back then their meal was served on a real plate and they could freely use a metal fork and knife.

In retrospect, the one thing we can take away from all of this is how much today’s airline companies are lagging behind. And it is not just regarding the food, it is the whole package.

It seems that today they sort of forgot that the most important thing in the airline business is to keep your passengers happy and satisfied.

If nothing else, the photos released by Scandinavian Airlines proved and continue proving that there is still so much we can learn from the past and that there is always room for improvement.

 Goran Blazeski

Scots haggis exports to Canada to resume after 46 years

Scots haggis exports to Canada to resume after 46 years

haggisImage copyrightPAImage captionHaggis producers have been working on new recipes to get around regulations in Canada and the US

Scotland is to start exporting haggis to Canada for the first time in 46 years, it has been announced.

Canada lifted a ban on imports of red meat from Europe in 2015 but still does not allow imports of offal.

This has left Scottish producers, including Macsween of…

View On WordPress

Scots haggis exports to Canada to resume after 46 years

haggisImage copyrightPA
Image captionHaggis producers have been working on new recipes to get around regulations in Canada and the US

Scotland is to start exporting haggis to Canada for the first time in 46 years, it has been announced.

Canada lifted a ban on imports of red meat from Europe in 2015 but still does not allow imports of offal.

This has left Scottish producers, including Macsween of Edinburgh, working on new haggis recipes to meet local regulations there and in the US.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown welcomed the news during his tour of the US and Canada.

Scottish food and drink exports to Canada are now worth more than £94m, following increases in recent years.

‘Iconic symbol’

James Macsween, managing director of Macsween of Edinburgh, said he was “delighted” that his family’s firm would be the first to sell haggis in Canada for almost 50 years.

He said: “My grandfather, Charlie, would be very proud to see how far we’ve come from his original butcher’s shop in Bruntsfield, which he opened back in 1953.”


Selling haggis in Canada

Simon Bentall
Image captionThe authorities will raid shops to look for illegal imports, according to Simon Bentall

Simon Bentall, at the Scottish Loft in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme he was delighted about the change in the rules.

“We had haggis from the States, which was OK, but it’s not the same is it?

“We pride ourselves in having Scottish stuff; something from the States is not Scottish.”

Simon said there is an established demand for haggis in North America.

“The other day I sent it to California. Two tins of haggis to California.

“Florida once too. Sent a can to Florida. That was last November.”

The regulations can be rigorously enforced. Another shop specialising in imported goods was recently raided by the authorities.

“The Customs check all the time. Not my shop, but a friend has a shop about 20 miles away and he got raided.

“Some of the stuff was thrown away. Probably about £1,000 to £2,000 worth of stuff.”


Mr Brown, who is currently in Toronto promoting Scottish food and drink to Canadian buyers, said haggis was “a truly iconic symbol of Scotland”.

He added: “After waiting 46 years, I’m sure there will be many Canadians and ex-pat Scots looking forward to having Scotland’s national dish at the centre of their table at the next Burns’ supper.

“This development is an indication of the increasing interest in, and love of, Scottish food and drink produce in North America.

“As a government, we have supported Macsween to grow their business and will continue to support Scottish companies in unlocking the significant opportunities to be found in this fast-growing market.”