The freezer is a modern miracle. Go back even a hundred years and the idea of a home-based way to keep many foods fresh for months on end would have been mind-blowing. After all, previous methods of preservation had drastic effects on the foods that were subjected to them. Smoking, salting and pickling would change the flavors and textures of whatever dishes they were applied to. Fish, meats and certain vegetables held up well; however, the idea of keeping something like a raspberry fresh for so long that it could be used in a spring tartlet was simply beyond even the wildest imagination.
When the first domestic freezers hit homes in the 70’s, they did so to aplomb. For many, these devices were the future and they served as hefty status symbols. Those that were truly passionate about food would, of course, have to get one. The idea of eating spring lamb in the autumn, or fruits in the winter was simply too good to pass on. Frozen food was often considered the height of luxury, as was being able to produce ice on a hot summer’s day to amaze one’s guests and chill one’s drinks.
Today, an enormous bag of ice is available in the supermarket for a pound and frozen food has been replaced at the top. In fact, many consider fresh, seasonal produce far more luxurious than year round spring veggies and readily battered fish. The change was natural; after all, fashions come and go. Yet there were two great innovations that radically changed perceptions in the decades since the arrival of the freezer.
The first is the power of modern transportation. Why freeze a bag of blackberries when one can simply go down to the supermarket at any year and pick up a selection of imported fruit? Ethical issues about food miles aside, the convenience is often far too tempting for most.
The second change is one that is much more to do with perception than it is with convenience. Fresh food is often considered far better than anything that is preserved; this notion is part of a greater movement that encompasses organic produce and the increased popularity of provincial culinary celebration. Frozen food seems to have found itself grouped together with those dishes that use manmade preservatives and chemicals in order to prolong their shelf life. Whilst it is true however, that Vitamin C is often much higher in fresh produce, the impact is mild.
In fact, many are actually convinced that the stats so long used to champion fresh produce may actually be to the benefit of frozen food. It is true that the highest nutritional value is to be found in totally fresh food, however food frozen at this point often has a far higher value than food that is harvested, transported and then sat on a shelf for a day or two.
It’s why companies like M&S and Waitrose have begun to really to invest in the area once again. Many of their best dishes are available frozen, as they set out to improve the standards of the nations freezer by replacing fish fingers with real fish steaks and frozen breadcrumbs. The likes of Beef Wellington, slow roasted salmon and minted pea ice cream can all now be found in the freezer compartment of supermarkets.
FarmFoods, a retailer of frozen foods based in Scotland, grew 44% last year to become the UK’s fastest growing grocer. Popular chefs and even some restaurants are beginning to dare: with some even stating that frozen produce is back on their menu. Perhaps the time has come for another shift in the perception of frozen foodstuffs, one that may see it return to the lofty heights it once inhabited.
Do you believe that frozen food can become respectable once again?