• 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.

Salad days

Domestic goddess rating: 50% (haven’t exactly pushed the boat out today but since I’m GYO queen I’m happy) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, marmalade and juice (breakfast); pasta and tinned tomato sauce (lunch); bacon, potatoes and salad from the garden (supper)

I’m so proud of my salad patch. I started it in February with the first sowing, in a module tray, of a salad mix from Seeds of Italy – fantastic company, the packet was crammed full of seeds and I’m still only halfway through them.

I germinated the seeds inside, then put them in the (frost-free) greenhouse as soon as they’d poked their noses above ground. Then I’ve been sowing a tray every two weeks ever since, and it’s worked a treat.

I have a little space about two or three feet by around six feet right outside my back door, which decided it didn’t want to be a herb garden – so I devoted it to salad leaves and haven’t looked back, especially this year. We’ve just started picking that first February sowing – the plants are around 15cm (6″) high and bursting with health. And the taste… you’ve never eaten salad till you’ve eaten it with seconds between picking and the plate. Crunchy, sweet, juicy… I’m afraid it’s spoiled me for supermarket salads forever.

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A season in Italy

Domestic goddess rating: 20% (seriously working mum just lately so the house has gone to pot… managed to find some great new recipes though) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, jam & juice (breakfast); sardines on toast (hastily cobbled-together lunch); pub grub (supper with a mate)

Have been shamefully remiss on the blogging front just lately as my workload has just catapulted from a bit on the heavy side to bloody ridiculous. What with kids and non-existent housework too it’s just been a joke. As a result my house is descending to the point where it’s tricky telling the difference between the kitchen floor and the garden, and we’re having to dust the telly before we can watch it.

But – I’m still eating seasonally! I have my husband to thank for this, as I’ve nicked his favourite cookbook. It’s called Recipes from an Italian Farmhouse by Valentina Harris, and it’s not your usual Italian cookbook. It’s packed with really good, simple but healthy dishes, and loads of them use what we think of as unusual veg – so you can find recipes in here that use spinach, cauliflower, and even turnip tops (the first recipe I’ve ever found that uses these!)

I’ve always found Italian cookbooks to be stuffed with more tomato-based pasta sauces than you could eat in a lifetime, so it’s so refreshing to find one that has something a little different, too.

Anyway, I was hunting down a recipe that used cauliflower the other day, and my hubby said he thought he remembered one in there. That’s when I discovered this yummy, yummy recipe for cauliflower in red wine – we had it with a delicious crusty French bread and salad. After that I moved on to Swiss chard and pine nuts (using more chard from the allotment – doing seriously well and looks like cropping for another month at this rate) the following evening, served with sizzly pork chops, and now I think my poor other half has lost his lovely cookbook forever. Kind of like the look of Christmas Eve cabbage, too…

Veggie abundance

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (the cookfest continues) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, jam & juice (breakfast); can of coke – oops (lunch); chard pasta and rhubarb crumble (supper)

Howzat for a home-grown supper. The chard I used for this easy-peasy pasta sauce came from the allotment – I’ve had a couple of pickings now and it’s still going strong – and so did the rhubarb I used in the crumble, my first stems pulled from a very robust and healthy crown which is currently threatening to burst out of the raised bed it’s planted in.

I’ve suddenly realised what the secret is to successful veg growing – abundance. By which I mean, whatever you grow, you need to grow buckets and buckets of it so you don’t feel like you’re even a little bit restricted as to how much you can pick. There’s something so satisfying about pulling armfuls of rhubarb, or stuffing a carrier bag to bursting with home-grown chard. Veg growing is about generosity, about plenty, about celebrating everything that’s best in life. Time to double the seed order.

Always in season #2

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (am beginning to think goddess status may be beyond me, unless you count my undisputed reign – in my house anyway – as gardening goddess) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, marmalade and juice (breakfast); cornish pasty from the garage (lunch); roast free range chicken, home-grown PSB and potatoes (supper cooked by hubby, grown by me (apart from the chook)

I’ve been finding out about the esoteric subject of watercress just lately. It’s one of those things that has a slightly exotic reputation – visions of streams bubbling merrily through pristine pastures, that kind of thing. Most of us think it’s well beyond us to grow our own.

In fact, it turns out, the watercress you see in bubbling streams and the like will probably give you a nasty parasite called liver fluke which kind of eats you from the inside out (well, I think I’m overstating it there, but I don’t think it’s very pleasant). So in fact you’re better off growing your own in a pot where you have control over the water supply and can guarantee there are no cows or sheep pooing in the water, or water snails delivering liver fluke grubs onto the leaves of your plants. Apparently one solution is to drill holes in the bottom of a children’s rigid paddling pool, fill it with a sand-and-topsoil mixture, and place it under a drainpipe through which rainwater dribbles from your roof. That way the water runs in one side and out the other – simulating stream conditions – but you don’t have to worry about the local livestock. Hmm… must try it some time. The simpler way is just to grow it in a big pot sat in a deep tray of water and change the water completely every couple of days – though that sounds like a lot of work to me.

Anyway, I digress. The other point about watercress is, it’s an evergreen, more or less, which means it can be picked all year round. So for our purposes, it’s another thing you can rely on to always be in season (the others I’ve discovered so far have been mushrooms and salad leaves, but I’m sure there’s more – just need to find it).

Strictly speaking you should only eat cooked watercress leaves in the winter – they’re tougher and the flavour more peppery at that time of year so don’t do so well in salads. But I reckon you could probably get away with it. And since I love watercress (and it’s outrageously good for you) I’m just happy I can eat it whenever I want.

Where to get seasonal food #2: The allotment

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (slogged through four hours of gardening in a thunderstorm, I deserve a break) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: sausage and egg (breakfast); cup of coffee and rain (lunch); curry and rice (supper)

allotment_mar08.jpg
Well – I know it looks a bit wild and woolly at the moment, but I thought I’d introduce you to my allotment.

This is where I hope I’ll get most of my seasonal food this year – it doesn’t yet supply us all year round because I haven’t cracked how to grow a constant supply (am constantly thwarted by a combination of pigeons, slugs and appalling weather). But I do my best – you can make out the Savoy cabbages I’ve just planted for next winter in the foreground, so you see I do plan ahead a bit.

Growing your own is by far the best way to get hold of seasonal produce. You don’t have any problems with your source, as you have control over what veggies are available when. Also things treated as rarities in the shops – forced rhubarb, salsify, purple sprouting broccoli, that kind of thing – are commonplace on allotments, so you start taking them for granted (I think this is why I’ve been so shocked how difficult it’s been to source seasonal food). And what’s more they’re very cheap – the price of a seed, in most cases.

It’s good for your fitness (you work up a real sweat digging over those beds), it’s good for your health as you get to eat lots of completely chemical-free, ultra-fresh veggies – and it’s good for your pocket. What more can you say than that?

Jarman season

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (am highly frugal and resourceful: the leftover queen would be proud of me) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: muesli and juice (detox breakfast); ravioli with tinned-tomato-and-leek sauce (lunch); leftover shepherd’s pie and frozen peas (supper)

Back to normal after one of the most over-indulgent Easters I can remember for a long time. Still, managed to make the most of yesterday’s roast and recycled it (not literally, you understand) into a rather scrummy shepherd’s pie.

My husband is reading a book by the late, great film director, artist and gardener, Derek Jarman. It’s called Modern Nature, it’s very beautiful, and here’s what he’s written for February:

“Daffodils ‘come before the swallows dare and take the winds of March with beauty’. When I read these words they are tinged with sadness, for the seasonal nature of daffodils has been destroyed by horticulturists who nowadays force them well before Christmas. One of the joys our technological civilisation has lost is the excitement with which seasonal flowers and fruits were welcomed: the first daffodil, strawberry or cherry are now things of the past, along with the precious moment of their arrival. Even the tangerine – now a satsuma or clementine – appears de-pipped months before Christmas. I expect one day to see daffodils for sale in Berwick Street market in August, as plentiful as strawberries at Christmas.

“Even the humble apple has succumbed. Tough green waxy specimens have eradicated the varieties of my childhood, the pink-fleshed scented August pearmains, the laxtons and russets; only the cox seems to have survived the onslaught. Perhaps my nostalgia is out of place – now daffodils are plentiful; and mushrooms, once a luxury, are ladled out by the pound. Avocados and mangoes are commonplace. But the daffodil, if only the daffodil could come with spring again, I would eat strawberries with my Christmas pudding.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. I think Derek Jarman would have approved of the seasonal eating movement. For some reason this lovely book has gone out of print, but if you can get hold of a copy, read it and enjoy.

Pick’n’cook

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (back to normal goddess-like state today) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: Porridge and juice (breakfast); coffee and a biscuit (lunch – uh-oh); Italian chard pie and mash (fabby home-grown supper)

Got to the allotment today and found the chard bursting with health, so couldn’t resist snipping off my first proper harvest. The leaves are still on the small side – about 6″ long- but that’s when they’re most tender. I filled a whole bagful and there’ll be more in a week. This is when you can see the point of all those hours of slog in the mud and rain!

Brought it home and found a lovely Italian pie recipe to use it in. Deee-licious.