There was, of course, a wider choice - of glorious vegetables and fruits from the then-Soviet republic of Georgia. But you needed a budget to match. When I told my husband’s editor we needed to renegotiate our food allowance because cauliflowers cost $20 a kilo, he messaged back the single line: “So don’t buy cauliflower.” Cauliflower was the only vegetable available at the time.
The girls were 4 and 6 when they hit American supermarkets and the fridges and store cupboards of their school friends’ houses, impressionable ages. One of the first products they encountered - and the most immediately seductive - was Nutella.
I was persuaded (by the underhand means practised universally by cunning children, of tears, stamping of feet and a refusal to eat) to stock our own supply. I kept it on the upper shelf of a high cabinet for special occasions, and in order not to expose them to their playtime friends as the victims of utter deprivation.
One afternoon, I reached up to fetch the full jar to make sandwiches for the next batch of after-school squealers. Lifting it off the shelf, my hand shot up and banged against the roof of the cupboard, a motion not unlike the over-counting of steps down a staircase causing the ankles to crumple on the floor. Confused, I opened the Nutella and found the insides completely hollowed out, but for a thin and unbroken smear that lined the glass that had convinced me, till I learned otherwise, that the jar was full.
No-one could disagree with children that Nutella is an ambrosia of total delight. Melted chocolate praline to spread on bread? What’s not to love. But it’s not one of the best foods to encourage a child to eat. Not only is it very high in sugar, but it’s very high in palm oil, modified to encourage its spreadability and containing a significant quantity of saturated fats. Palm oil is not the most healthy ingredient for children. But it’s also not a healthy ingredient for the environment. For years, it came from plantations whose management had an enormous impact on deforestation. The pesticides their management required released effluents into the soil and water, and endangered the lives of elephants, orangutans, rhinoceri and Sumatran tigers.
Following a wide public campaign, the makers of Nutella have now committed to a supply of palm oil from sustainable sources. That’s good news. But it doesn’t affect the amount of sugar employed in the spread’s creation.
Nutella’s deliciousness can’t be ignored, however.
We’re about to enter hazelnut season, so you can easily make your own spread, without using sugar and certainly no palm oil, sustainable or otherwise. Enough spread for a good sized jar will only take you half an hour to compose, start to finish. A supply of it is good to have around, not just to keep your children on side, but it makes a delectable icing for a cake.
- 150g hazelnuts (dried, not milky)
- 250g chocolate, broken up
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons good-flavoured honey
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 175C.
Melt the chocolate in a saucepan over simmering water and stir until smooth. Cool completely.
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet in the oven for 10-12 minutes until they’ve browned a little and their skins blister. Pour them into a kitchen towel and rub enthusiastically to get rid of as much loose skin as possible. If you take them outside, you can blow the skins off. Otherwise, just try to keep the skin bits away from the exposed nuts.
Cool the nuts then grind them in a blender or processor to form a paste. Add all the remaining ingredients except for the chocolate and blitz again until completely smooth. Then add the melted chocolate and blend again. Pour into sterilized jars. It will thicken as it cools.
Then store on the highest shelf you have.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the September 2020 edition of The Bugle.