• In season now: May

    New this month: Asparagus! The food of gods... and carrots are back.

    Still in season from last month: cauliflower, chard, green cabbage, salad leaves, main-crop potatoes (from store), salad leaves, sea kale, spring greens, rhubarb

    Goodbye till next year to: Purple sprouting broccoli (sniff, sniff), leeks, stored parsnips, forced rhubarb

  • What I’m doing here

    This all started when I picked the first strawberries from my new allotment.

    I'd never been so enraptured or so excited by food. It was a shock to find that anything could taste so good.

    So what - I'd never had strawberries before?

    No - all the strawberries I'd had were shop-bought, like as not flown in from intensive growers in Spain or Chile, and eaten in winter when strawberries should be a distant summer memory.

    It revolutionised my thinking about the fresh food we eat every day. I started to wonder if you got the same amazing taste from all types of food grown and eaten in season. And then I decided to do something about it.

    The Year of Eating Seasonally is my little experiment to find out what it's really like not to have it all. The only fruit and veg I and my family are going to eat in 2008 will be what's growing in the ground at the time (or, in winter, what I can get out of store).

    I want to find out if the hungry gap is really as hungry as everyone says it is: whether you're really eating nothing but cabbage all winter; and whether you miss strawberries in December.

    Along the way I hope I'll save a few tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere on my behalf, as I won't be requiring those French beans flown from Chile, thanks very much. And I hope I'll be rediscovering what food can really taste like.

    If you have any comments, please feel free to post them anywhere you like - or you can email me at sallywhite@hotmail.com.

Hotting up

Domestic goddess rating: 50% (hubby’s home) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: about 40

On the menu: Toast,  jam & juice (breakfast); omelette and green leaf salad (lunch); lamb chops, mash and spring greens (supper)

Following on from what I was saying yesterday about having to revise what’s in season when experience contradicts what the books say – I couldn’t help noticing that purple sprouting broccoli is also coming into the shops at the moment.

Now, this isn’t supposed to come into season for another week or two yet – and I do have several PSB plants up at the allotment which though they’re starting to form sprouts, are a few weeks away still. So what is it with these commercially grown types? Is it just that they’re an earlier variety than mine? Or are they being forced?

Or – and here’s something that will affect everything involved with eating seasonally – is the global warming I hope I can help prevent by eating seasonally actually changing the seasons of our food? Well – supreme irony that it is, this is in fact what is happening.

“Cool season vegetables could be good indicators of changes, since they can be more adversely affected by temperature extremes than some warm season crops,” says CABI, which I’m increasingly turning to as a welcome voice of reason amid the often heated (excuse the pun) debate over the environment.

They’ve been looking at the yields of a number of cold-season crops (that’s things in season in winter to you and me) over a period of the last 60 years. They found that yields per hectare have decreased markedly since the mid-1980s – coincidentally, the period of noticeably warmer climate. They conclude that yields of these crops decrease with warmer average temperatures and less rainfall.

Phenology – the study of the seasons – has revealed some telling changes, too. The asparagus season is starting three weeks earlier than usual: strawberries are in season from early May, not the end of June as it used to be. The UK Phenology Network, which collates evidence collected by ordinary people about what’s happening when, has found that spring is arriving sooner, and winter is setting in later. You only have to look out of the window at the garden full of daffodils in full flower in February – used to be late March until not so long ago – to realise things are changing.

That’s going to affect our food as much as anything: when the seasons are all over the place, it makes it even harder to know what to eat when. Looks like I’ll be revising my list for a while yet.

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