Hodmedod is a local pulse and grain producer and supplier, working with British farmers to bring beans and associated products to the British market. They were founded in 2012 following the innovative ‘Great British Beans’ project, run by Provenance for East Anglia Food Link, which distributed British-grown fava beans via community groups and local shops, along with a call for feedback on the product. Response was ‘overwhelmingly positive’, leading to Hodmedod’s foundation.
And they’ve gone from strength to strength – and are now 2017 BBC Food & Farming Awards finalists in the Best Producer category!
The UK has produced a significant quantity of pulses for some time; but very few of these are consumed within the UK itself. Rather, they are exported to the Middle East and Northern Africa, whilst most UK pulses are imported from abroad. In terms of transport costs – both economically and environmentally – this seems absurd!
Fava Beans (perhaps more commonly known as broad beans) were Hodmedod’s first product, and have a long history in Britain. They are known to have been grown here since the Iron Age, but have fallen out of favour in recent centuries, perhaps with the arrival of more ‘exotic’ foods from the Americas and other parts of the world. They are well due a revival, due to not only their versatility and sustainability but also their lovely taste – take a look at some recipes.
Beans are not only good for your health but often good for the environment too. They provide a good source of protein (as well as other nutritional benefits), and are therefore strong alternatives to meats which tend to be very resource-inefficient, especially in terms of greenhouse gases, land and water. Beans also belong in the legume family of plants: this family has a unique symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil, so helping to replenish soil nutrients. This is why legumes are a cornerstone of crop rotation, as they allow rejuvenation of the soil once nutrients have been leached by other crops and agricultural practices.
Now Hodmedod works with British farmers producing a wide range of pulses and grains, many (currently) little-known. These include:
–Carlin Peas are firm-textured and nutty peas, first recorded during Elizabethan times. They are sometimes eaten traditionally on Passion Sunday (the fifth Sunday of Lent) in parts of northern England. Recipes include Lancashire ‘Parched Peas’ but the peas are hardly used in the rest of the UK. They reportedly make an excellent British substitute for chickpeas.
–Naked Barley is simply barley with grains that drop readily from the plant, thanks to a recessive mutation in their genome that first appeared around 8,000 years ago. This makes it much easier and more efficient to harvest, but the variety has become neglected due to poorer yields and lower germination rates, as well as being superceded by bread wheat during the Iron Age. It is now being revived thanks to its health benefits (for instance reducing blood cholesterol and risk of Type 2 diabetes), sustainability (requiring lower fertiliser inputs than wheat), and tolerance of adverse climatic conditions.
-Quinoa originates from the Andes and was domesticated 3,000-4,000 years ago. It has seen a sharp popularity spike in the Western world, leading to tripling of crop prices, but this has been controversially linked to disruption of local access to food supplies in the low-income areas where it is produced. Now quinoa is beginning to be produced in the UK, so avoiding both these potential ethical issues and also hugely reducing food miles!
-Lentils can be difficult to grow in the UK due to competition with weeds, reliance on good weather conditions, and low yields. However there is historical evidence for widespread lentil production in Britain, and pioneering efforts are being made to bring them back. The practice of intercropping, in this case growing lentils and cereals in the same field, has been found to overcome many of the aforementtioned production problems, and Hodmedod hope to be selling UK-produced lentils very soon!
The BBC Food & Farming Awards final decisions are made this month, but already it is a huge achievement that Hodmedod is putting these neglected British products back on the menu. We wish them them all the best in the coming years! Who knows what forgotten gems will be next to appear on our shelves?