• 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.

It’s ready when it’s ready

Domestic goddess rating: 50% (am having work-fest at the moment so hubby’s cooking, but I’m still growing) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, marmalade and juice (breakfast); pasta and pesto (lunch); chops, chips and home-grown swiss chard and pine nuts (supper)

I found a great article today, by a recent convert to seasonal eating – she liked it so much she left work and set up her own veg box scheme (even more extreme than me, then).

You can read it here. The bit I like is the comment from a local veggie farmer where she lives, in Bedfordshire, who when asked when his spring carrots would be ready said “When they’re ready.”

A man after my own heart. One of the nicest things about eating seasonally is that it’s the ultimate in slow food – you can’t hurry anything. The chard isn’t ready until it’s decided to grow: there’s not much you can do to hurry it up, so all you can do is wait a bit longer. All that anticipation makes it all the more delicious when it arrives. Too much instant gratification makes life very dull sometimes…

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.

The darling buds of May

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (it’s my birthday 😀 so a day off goddess-dom today) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: bacon sandwich, greek yoghurt and honey (all-Sally’s-favourite-things breakfast); half a tuna sandwich (post-breakfast recovery lunch); fillet steak, asparagus and pommes nicoise (very posh birthday tea from hubby – who’s a lucky girl then)

What a great day – just kicked back and took it easy. And my first asparagus of the year, too. It doesn’t get much better than this!

So – here we are then. I feel like I’m emerging out of a long dark tunnel into the light – summer is just around the corner and there’s a hint – just a hint – that such undreamt of gorgeousness as fresh peas and beans might be on the way, too.

We’re still not quite clear of the hungry gap – but we’ve crossed the worst bit and are in reach of the other side. It hasn’t been quite as bad as I feared: I developed a bit of a thing about cabbage (am now a true connoisseur – can now tell a savoy from a cavolo nero at a hundred paces), and the advent of purple sprouting broccoli and chard really meant it wasn’t that long an endurance test after all.

As I’ve said before, apples are sorely missed – dried ones just aren’t the same – and I’ve also slipped a bit over the issue of cucumbers. Both are down to Princess the Younger’s very particular tastes: she does like a bit of cucumber in her sandwiches, and I can’t always fob her off with salad leaves. But since my salad patch is excelling itself at the moment (of which more later) I might have more luck this month. We’ll see!

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…

Post-holiday comfort food #2

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (baking goddess despite frantic family day – ha!) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, jam & juice (breakfast); chicken soup (lunch); spaghetti bolognese and salad (supper)

Back to life, back to reality… spag bol on the menu again as rushing around after the kids. When did they invent after-school clubs? And when did we suddenly think they had to go to one every single day? Actually we’ve been quite draconian compared to some parents by limiting it to two a week (it’s suffered mission creep even so – Princess the Younger is on three now, and Princess the Elder is waging a cunning campaign to up her quota with tales of athletics prowess, only slightly diverted by my lack of time to make the relevant phone calls).

Anyway, I baked myself happy this afternoon, with another armful of rhubarb from the allotment. I came across the recipe for rhubarb cake while wandering around Waitrose a while back, and was quite intrigued, never having heard of baking rhubarb before. Well – we had the result hot with creme fraiche for pud – lovely, light and spongy in the middle, with just the right amount of squidginess where the rhubarb meets the cake mix. And the combination of sweet sponge mixture and tart rhubarb is just amazing. I intend to sneak a slice cold later on, as I don’t think it’ll last the week. Mmmm-hmm. 

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.