Almost all of us buy tinned food, but not all tins are equal (cannellini beans good, peas bad). What's on the acceptable side of convenience for you?
Can we find ripe tomatoes in the dead of winter? In the words of that most irritating of builders, yes we can. It is Canned Food Week. Last year sales of canned food rose to £2.4bn, with nearly all of us - 99.2%, apparently - buying some kind of food in a tin. And not all of it is beans.
As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has pointed out, it is easy to be sniffy about food in tins. Its image is slightly low-rent, not helped by recent Smart Price shenanigans. When doomsday comes, the corned beef with added horse drugs will be the last thing left in the cupboard.
Tins can be poor quality; when Delia suggested using tinned mince and chicken in white sauce as shortcuts in How to Cheat at Cooking, the collective shudder at the idea of canned meat must have shaken all the tins in the Smith pantry. Tins can also cause finger injuries. You have to wash the bleeding things out before they go in the recycling. But as long as you don't try to lick the lid, there is plenty to celebrate.
In her book Kitchen Memories, Lucy Boyd uses tinned cannellini beans to go with grilled monkfish and recalls that the first dish her mother taught her to make was arrabiata sauce using Cirio tinned tomatoes. Boyd is the head gardener at Petersham Nurseries and her mum was Rose Gray, so I'm taking that as permission. By contrast, I still shudder to think of the mealy, grey tinned peas stipulated by Katie Caldesi in The Italian Cookery Course for an otherwise lovely dish of conchiglioni stuffed with beef, peas and parmesan.
Perhaps my mistake was to expect tinned peas to behave like fresh or frozen ones. As we embrace tins, we must accept that the contents will not have the same qualities as the corresponding fresh food. Why should it? It's been heat-treated and then confined to a small, dark space. But that's not a bad thing. Tomatoes are captured ripe and ready to collapse into sauce. Sardines are soft enough to be mashed on to toast. Anchovies are in the right borderline-melty state for pizza and roast lamb. And condensed milk is considerably more delicious than fresh - if less suited to muesli.
Americans like to confuse the issue by 'canning' food at home, in glass jars. We prefer to avoid botulism by having our food put into metal containers by someone else. But which canned foods are the acceptable side of gourmet convenience, and which give you the horrors? I'm saying "yes" to custard and "no" to pie filling. What's in your tins?
Plenty to celebrate: tinned tomatoes, oysters and sweetcorn. Photograph: Felix Clay/Alamy