A very British taste of a very M&S summer…

The most iconic porcine rivaled only by Farmer Hoggett’s Babe, Toy Story’s Hamm or Jim Henson’s leading lady…

A caterpillar birthday cake requested by as many big children as small…

That chocolate pudding…

There can be no denying that M&S has created some of the most iconic foods available on high streets across the globe and everyone has their favourite, be it the sweetest of Jaffa laden spheres, the juiciest of posh puppies or the most virtuous of tropical kale juices.

Willy Wonka sang that there ‘is no world I know that compares to pure imagination’ and where M&S cooks, tastes & creates, others follow which is why the Summer Foods Press Show was one of the hottest, most salivatory tickets in town recently. With over 300 new lines due to hit stores from April 2015, this is the biggest launch outside of Christmas and promises to deliver on every count from flavour to value and quality to style.

A Taste of Britain can be found in every dish from the fantastically creative – Battenberg Biscuits – to the heart-warmingly traditional – Black Pudding Scotch Eggs – to the must-haves for your sunshine soaked summer parties – that’d be the delightful & ready to drink Mint & Cucumber Gin & Tonic. So step this way and let’s get started on the only shopping list you’ll need for the coming months…

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If you’re looking for something from the ocean to kick off a fresh, flavourful season of dining, how about the most beautiful Atlantic black cod? Giant, curly-feelered prawns that dwarf your hand? Gorgeously peachy & plumply sitting-in-their-shell scallops? Any one of these would be stunning served with nothing more than a zingy squeeze of lemon & a leafy green salad…or big, fat, triple cooked, make-your-mouth-water-with-the-scent-of-salt-&-vinegar chips – who am I to dictate the best way to gorge yourself on fish this summer?

M&S has always striven to lead the way in how it sources its fish, using the most sustainable fisheries possible, working constantly towards ensuring that the percentage of fish coming from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries rises & collaborating with Fishery Improvement Projects the world over that that are designed & run with the sole purpose of improving the sustainability of fisheries that aren’t quite yet at MSC standards. In a world where half the time it’s entirely and scarily possible for people to have no idea what they’re eating or where it’s come from, this transparency is important and reassuring for both consumers and suppliers.

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For the more carnivorous among you, there was a superb selection of meat on show as both a 100% British ingredient for you to channel your inner Jamie and Nigella with – Bloody Mary Rub anyone? – or as a finished & hugely innovative product for you to take home and enjoy savouring with a glass of red.

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The BBQ range, which boasts more than 50 new products this year, runs the gamut from innovative & vegetarian friendly chipotle chilli burgers to classic & perfect for the grill or oven (we are talking about a British summer after all!) farmhouse sausages.

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I’m hugely passionate about learning where my food comes from & how it’s made and I love any opportunity to try putting something together myself so the chance to make my own pork and Blacksticks blue cheese sausages was something I jumped at, despite the potential for multiple ‘Carry On’ style, double entendres to be made by observers…

The purest, most natural of ingredients were brought together in a fusion of meat (pork belly & pork shoulder), herbs (parsley, chive & sage) and seasoning (salt & cracked black pepper) with gluten free breadcrumbs thrown in to help with both the binding of the product and the appeal of it to an ever-growing gluten free consumer base, and a generous amount of rich & pungent Blacksticks Blue, a cheese that hails from Lancashire and a family of cheese lovers who’ve been creating fantastic products since the 1930’s. Sunday Brunch-ers among you might like to know that Simon Rimmer called Blacksticks Blue ‘the Daddy of all blue cheeses’, a fine recommendation by any standards.

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I can personally & selflessly attest to the fact that the Cheese & Pickle burgers pay hugely successful homage to the Ploughmans lunch with the succulent & ridiculously well flavoured meat superbly cooked by the suppliers on the outdoor, 7th floor, sweeping-views-over-London patio; they proved juicy enough to run down your chin in the way that only the best burgers do and were gone in a matter of minutes.

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And to go alongside your BBQ’d fare this summer, how about one of several hearty looking accompaniments such as Barbecue Sauced Pasta Salad, Ultimate Burger Onions, Cornish Cove or Blue Cheese toppers or a Fully Loaded Potato Salad which comes happily burdened with cheese and crispy bacon pieces?

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The hugely successful & diet-destroying Gastropub range celebrated it’s 10th birthday last year and shows no sign of slowing down in terms of re-inventing & re-popularising some of our favourite British culinary icons. A giant Pulled Pork Sausage Roll rocks in at 540g which sounds like a decent size for sharing but when I tell you that it comes topped with piccalilli & pork crackling crumbs and is made with red onion jam & Batemans ale rarebit sauce, you may just find yourself re-thinking that whole communal eating idea…

…and if the weather isn’t quite playing ball yet for the summer dishes to be brought out, how about retreating to the most kingly of British comfort foods, the pie? A Coronation Chicken option comes cooked with masala onions, desiccated coconut & dried apricots while the Hog Roast muscles its way onto the scene with decadent cider-gravied pulled pork snuggling side by side with apple compote, pork stuffing & cracking under a flaky and sublimely golden pastry lid.

I know, I know, let’s just take a moment shall we…

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…before we stick with pastry but move into the more portable versions with some of the amazing picnic offerings on show. Hog Roast is clearly a signature flavour for M&S this year and illustrates how well they not only spot but deliver current trends with handcrafted sausage rolls boasting it as their filling while close at hand, one of my personal favourites, Bubble & Squeak Sausage Rolls, sat basking in quiet, confident glory.

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For those who love their meat rich & dark, the Black Pudding & Pork Sausage Rolls might just satisfy those cravings while the regal Coronation flavours appeared again, this time to be found wrapped around the most perfectly & squidgy yolk-ed Scotch Eggs and amorously saucing up that most Abigail’s Party of snack foods, the Prawn Cocktail…

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The trend for all things teeny seems set to continue long into 2015 with the sweetest little Piccalilli Topped Snack Pork Pies imaginable on display while at the other end of the scale, fantastically giant wedges of deeply veined & gloriously stinky blue cheese sat comfortably lording their sizeabley delicious girth over their petite neighbours…

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Dishes of fervently spring coloured dips invited maximum scoopage with crisp, water-dropletted carrots & radishes and perfectly portioned cups of Coronation mayo ensured that everything savoury this summer could be adorned with creamy blobs of this delicately spiced mayo.

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Sausages weren’t the only things available to take home freshly prepared & ready to be baked with customised sausage rolls on offer – there really is nothing so satisfying as seeing every single thing that goes into making your food so fricking delicious – and for the pork pie lovers among you, have no fear. If you thought the mini versions mentioned earlier were in no way a fair match for your appetite, try a wedge of the enormous Ploughmans version, bursting with meat and ribbons of cheese and pickle…

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Nestling in cool, soft earth were barrows full of Cornwall grown baby new potatoes while the very-essence-of-summer-flavoured Kentish strawberries – supplied by the same family for over 40 years – and vine tomatoes from the Isle of Wight – picked at dawn to avoid excess condensation – were piled high nearby…

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…and a vast bowl of potato salad appeared as light & British a dish as you could ever wish for using one of the quintessential flavours of summer – asparagus.

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Every statuesque spear sold in M&S comes from one man and his farm in the Wye Valley; John Chinn, a lovely, unassuming & justifiably proud man, has created & perfected techniques to ensure that M&S stocks the first & last asparagus for its customers each year, extending the season from February until October. Apart from the fact that it tastes much better than its flown-in-from-Peru rival, it also ensures the support of British farming and the reduction in the CO2 emissions every time we enjoy one of these stalky bundles of beauty smothered in Hollandaise and melted butter.

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The grocery range at M&S now rivals any of its worldwide competitors when it comes to creativity & value; the Cucumber, Gin & Mint Relish would be the perfect plate-partner to a sunset-hued salmon fillet while any of the sauces – Smokehouse Tomato, Old-Fashioned Barbecue or Brown with Black Ale – would make those burgers we lusted after earlier on sing with extra flavour.

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London produced Summer Honeycomb makes for the ultimate in natural sweet treats while those conscious that swimsuit season isn’t too far off now – a thought that inspires both hope & fear in equal quantities – will be happy to know that the Seaweed Water Biscuits & Oatcakes have a lovely, subtle flavour that won’t leave you with that unsatisfied & dusty feeling that comes from eating other low-fat, plywood-esque crackers.

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If you’re one of the millions who depends on M&S for midday sustenance, grab your Space Hopper & get ready for a retro throwback in the form of Corned Beef & Pickle Sandwiches or British Ham & Pease Pudding Rolls. Hog Roast rears its piggy head again under a smothering of Bramley Apple chutney while individually portioned Strawberries & Cream Pots will allow you to enjoy that Wimbledon feeling all summer long even if the covers are on, Murray’s out & Cliff is singing.

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The Bakery at M&S has grown substantially over the past few years and this summer’s Victoria Sponge Muffin sit comfortably & lip-lickingly alongside the Jam Tarts of your Famous Five reading childhood and the Strawberry & Clotted Cream Pancakes of your lazy Sunday brunch.

A Potato & Thyme Loaf is nowhere near as weighty as it might sound and every bit as moreish as you might imagine when eaten warm & slathered with soft, salted butter whilst the Bara Brith Fruited Loaf brings a wonderfully welcome, Welsh flavour to the table.

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Battenberg Biscuits & Jam Roly Poly Pinwheels crumble sweetly with each bite and leave a lingering yet understated flavour of marzipan and strawberry while baby Eccles Cakes are generously dotted with sugar crystals and there are enough miniature slices & cupcakes to pass off the most magnificent of afternoon teas as if it were all done by your own fair hand.

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Eagerly anticipating the arrival of a sibling for chubby cheeked Prince George, M&S’ beloved ambassador Percy gets a royal makeover and one of my most favourite things in the world, a pick’n’mix bar goes gorgeously vintage but bang up to date with Strawberry & Cream Coconut Ice, Elderflower Raspberries, Earl Grey Almonds, Liquorice Toffee, Favourite Fizzy Drink Bottles and a Very British Chocolate Story almost too pretty to eat.

Almost…

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Over in a dessert corner glowing with the sophistication & elegance rarely seen outside of Michelin starred restaurants, the process of spherification was gently explained to those of us who still consider Angel Delight the height of fashion and an eagerly spooned up Vanilla Rose & Raspberry Dessert was bursting with the fruitiest of flavours and the prettiest of scents. Henry VIII allegedly loved Tafferty Tart – with 6 wives and a penchant for eating everything in sight there are just too many jokes here to be able to pick a single one – and now, not far off 500 years later, you too can succumb to it thanks to the ambitious & talented desserts team at M&S.

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Last but not least, let’s take a look at what you’ll be stocking your bar with as those summer evenings draw out and the temptation to sit outside with a glass of something cold becomes impossible to resist…

The refreshingly cool Garden Pea & Mint Vodka or the ruby flushed Summer Berry Liqueur would waterfall nicely down a mountain of ice cubes in a tall tumbler while for those who like something with a touch of sparkle, the Pink Grapefruit Mimosa Fizz or the Elderflower & Cucumber Gin Fizz will prove perfect for your flutes.

For the beer lover in your life, M&S has come up with 4 exclusive new craft beers (lager, pale ale, rye & British style IPA) while more traditional drinkers will be quietly pleased with 2 new Yorkshire& Kent originated beers and 3 new ciders will prove an excellent partner to whatever is grilling on your BBQ. Those who prefer their cocktails to be mocktails can also enjoy the light and vibrant flavours of cucumber, rhubarb, elderflower & blackberry in their glasses over the coming months.

It’s hard to pick one product above others because frankly, they complement and balance each other so well that it feels both stingy & silly not to indulge in all of them at some point over the next few months. M&S has once again shown that it can ensure your tables are bowing under the bounty of delicious, local, sustainable produce & products and I’d love to know what you’re most looking forward to trying! Is there anything you can’t wait to get on your plate and in your chops? I hope there is be it sweet or savoury and may the grass grow long under your feet, the sun shine warmly upon your face and the flavours of a Taste of Britain delight and gratify you this summer.

*Prices & availability are subject to change*

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