19 Dec 2007
We have just received the sad news of the death, after a short illness of the writer and cook Sarah Freeman.
To remember this great champion of the Slow Food (Sarah was, among other things, a pioneer of the an Ark of Taste in the UK and a lecturer on journalism at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Colorno), we have decided to publish her last contribution to the Slow journal (58), in which she recounts an early Slow Food adventure, and an affectionate portrait, published in the same number, by the journal’s editorial secretary Simona Luparia.
My most lasting memory of Slow magazine is a lunch at Bra during the second-ever ‘Cheese’ event in 1999. Hardly anyone in Britain had heard of Slow Food at that time, but it so happened that a friend of my husband knew the then British editor Kate Singleton. It also so happened that my book on British and Irish artisan cheeses and cheesemakers had just appeared. Kate commissioned an article for Slow and encouraged us to go to ‘Cheese’. I can’t remember if we were invited as official delegates or not, but we were certainly invited to the lunch. There were eight of us, including Alberto Capatti and, besides ourselves, convivium leaders or cheesemakers from Greece, Spain, Portugal and Germany. Renato Sardo, at that time the international director, appeared at intervals. Nowadays, married to an American, Renato speaks almost perfect English, but that was not the case in the early days. No one, in fact, spoke any language but their own fluently. I sat next to Alberto. I hadn’t spoken French for 30 years but somehow we talked, eagerly, enthusiastically, sometimes passionately about cheeses and wine and food, the politics of food and everything in the world besides for four hours and understood each other perfectly. When I was stuck for a word, I kicked my husband under the table and he did his best to help out, while keeping up an equally animated conversation in schoolboy German. I came away feeling that a real European Union of sympathies, goodwill, and interests had been formed. Perhaps it was the power of good food, but it seemed that language was quite unnecessary to comprehension. I joined Slow Food immediately and have written for the journal ever since. I shall long mourn its passing. It was the only magazine in which different national standpoints could be contrasted and compared, and — which was important to me — it was brilliantly presented. The British claim to have humour: Slow had wit.
Even though their language can be wonderfully succinct, there are many talkative English people about. Of those that I know, Sarah Freeman is definitely the champion. I don’t know the cost of cross-Channel phone calls, but I’m willing to bet that the articles Sarah has had published in Slow all these years never covered her phone bills. From details of the article — or requests for a slight extension to the deadline — we would move on to talk of events organized by the London convivium, the books Sarah was publishing, writing or editing, and her attempts to learn Italian. And then the various efforts to reproduce an ancient recipe, rounded off with invitations (‘You really must come to London!’), the children, trips to Scotland, the weather, incidents. Every call — even last week’s for that matter! — ended with a promise to meet up. “See you at Cheese in September.’ It poured down on that Sunday in 1999…
Photo: the cover of Sarah Freeman’s latest book (written in collaboration with Sarah Leahey-Benjamin), The Borough Market Cookbook: Meat and Fish, Civic Books, London 2007.
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