• 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.

The S word

Domestic goddess rating: 10% (lazy daisy curry night :D) Five-a-day: 3/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, marmalade and juice (breakfast); hummus and crackers (lunch); curry (it must be Friday)

I have kind of mixed feelings about celebrity chefs. Sometimes they hit the right note (Jamie Oliver on both school dinners and not eating battery-farmed chicken, for example) but sometimes they miss it by miles – how many celebrity chefs have you seen trying to convince you that you too can whip up a roulade a la blah blah with a cranberry jus? I mean – we don’t all get paid to cook all day, you know… (chance would be a fine thing!) And as for Delia and her abysmal “How to Cheat at Cooking” series…. well, I used to call her the sainted Delia but her halo has crashed and burned with this stunt.

However: today Gordon Ramsay is my top of the celeb chef pops. Why? Because he’s the one and only one to stand up and say “we need to eat seasonally”, with the honourable exception of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – though he doesn’t quite put it like this and besides he irritates everyone half to death.

I suspect Ramsay’s idea that we should fine restaurants who don’t offer seasonal food might be pushing it a bit – but I’m assuming he’ll put his money where his mouth is and make his own restaurants seasonal.

You can get the full story here, including his interview with the Beeb. We need more high-profile people like this speaking out for seasonal eating – the sooner it becomes a mainstream topic of conversation, the better if you ask me.

Advertisements

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…

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.

A fishy business

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (restaurant sluttery continues) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: as yesterday

On the menu: Yet another cholesterol-packed fry-up – saturated fat and Easter go together like Bonnie and Clyde…  (breakfast); popcorn and sweeties (yep, lunch at the cinema again – well it’s snowing, there’s a limit to what you can do on days like these); wonderful mussels-and-halibut extravaganza at swanky restaurant (supper)

I continued my tour of the region’s restaurants yesterday – this is actually my post for yesterday evening as I was less than capable of coherence when I should have been writing it. This is so wierd – it’s like no. 67 buses, you don’t go out to eat for months and months and then you start practically living in restaurants. Mind you, I could get used to this…

We had a rare evening off last night and made the most of it by discovering our local Loch Fyne restaurant. I adore fish, but generally (and sadly) steer clear of eating it because of the trauma of having to contribute to the efforts of monster Spanish trawlers sweeping seabeds clean and the like.

However, at Loch Fyne you can eat fish with a clear conscience: their tuna is short line caught, they never buy from factory fishing operations, and they’re generally right-on and sustainable. What’s more, much to my surprise, the word “seasonal” crops up right through their menu.

I was hazily aware that fish was a seasonal food – something about mackerel in early spring – but did you know halibut is the fish du jour at the moment? I had a quick look around and discovered this very handy guide to which fish are in season when – the basic principle is that you avoid eating fish caught during their spawning time so that they have time to renew their numbers. So right now, cod, coley and plaice are definitely not in season, while brown trout, halibut, haddock, mackerel, lemon sole and seabass are. Great – fish are on the menu again!

Tripping over what’s on my doorstep

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (am total restaurant slut) Five-a-day: 3/5 Food miles: none (that we racked up personally, anyway)

On the menu: Fried egg and potato (sinfully indulgent breakfast); caesar salad at the restaurant by the cinema (ditto lunch); Chinese meal with friends (ditto supper)

It’s been the Long Good Friday as far as food’s concerned today. Didn’t cook a thing: hubby made breakfast, then some nice people in a Tex-mex restaurant made lunch and the lovely Chinese family in the village cooked us our supper in their restaurant. Actually it’s all been pretty seasonal: since we weren’t eating English (i.e. pub-grub) we managed to avoid the ubiquitous tomato-and-cucumber combo that seems to land on your plate whatever you order. There has to be a seriously profound paradox in there, though I’m damned if I know what it is.

I found a great website today for finding out where your nearest local food producers are. I’ve got really into this idea of sourcing everything from within a 10-mile radius or so – it’s almost always seasonal, and you know exactly where it’s come from (almost as good as growing it yourself!)

It generally takes a whole lot of research and a good dollop of luck, though – unless you have BigBarn behind you. I just typed in my postcode and – bingo! Unbelievably, I discovered there’s a whole country market ithat takes place in the next-door village every Friday, with over 450 outlets all selling local produce, and I never even knew it existed. I’ve lived here 7 years, and I thought I had my ear to the ground where local food was concerned. I also found I had a local cheese-maker about 5 miles away, not one but two vineyards, and more farm-gate meat suppliers than you can shake a stick at.

Wow… time to go discover what’s on my doorstep, I think.

Everybody’s doing it #3

Domestic goddess rating: 10% (hubby roasting again tonight) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: about 40

On the menu: Scrambled eggs and bacon (second cooked breakfast this weekend – yum!); pasta and pesto (lunch); roast pork, parsnips, kale and roast potatoes (supper)

I discovered Sustain today – it’s a group campaigning for “better food and farming”. It was formed in 1999 and is a charity which advises and lobbies the government – it’s made up of organisations involved in farming and food production.

Now this is amazing – it might as well be called the Campaign for Seasonal Eating.

One of the main planks of its philosophy is the idea of “sustainable food”. Which means:

  • local, seasonally available ingredients
  • environmentally-friendly farming practices
  • cut down on meat and increase vegetable production
  • choose fish only from sustainable sources
  • avoid bottled water
  • eat more fruit and veg

Recognise a few of these themes?

This won’t be the last time this organisation appears here – recent reports they’ve published include one on how the food industry is abusing terms like “local”, “seasonal” and “farmers’ market” – as I found recently, it’s not hard to come up with examples of this kind of thing happening, even among those who should know better. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one to notice!

Pulling the wool over our eyes

Domestic goddess rating: 10% (being right royally entertained tonight so someone else is having to do the goddess bit) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: about 40

On the menu: Toast, jam and juice (breakfast); cheese sandwiches (lunch); a mystery surprise, but it’s sure to be a) vegetarian and b) healthy (supper at the in-laws’)

waitrosemagazine.jpg

Looks good, doesn’t it? Picked this up from Waitrose yesterday, thinking how fantastic that they’re giving away a free magazine to promote seasonal food.

There’s a clue to the rant that follows on the cover. The veg featured here – bearing in mind this is the March/April edition – are pears, beetroot, lemons, peas and rocket. Not one of those things is in season right now. You might make a grudging exception for the rocket, which you could conceivably grow under glass at this time of year. But peas?

Inside it’s no better. The first two features are about bananas – maybe in season, but only in the Caribbean – and sugar snap peas (in my book, they don’t arrive till late May at the very earliest).

 The first mention of anything seasonal doesn’t come till page 12, with a recipe for sautéed greens.  Sounds good, you might think? But as well as the greens (Swiss chard, which is fine) the ingredients include spinach (June), watercress (May) and beetroot stalks (June/July).

Nowhere, anywhere in the otherwise beautifully-produced magazine, is there a mention of purple sprouting broccoli, kale, savoy cabbage, spring greens, forced rhubarb, jerusalem artichokes… or indeed any of the fantastic and very tasty things which are in season at this time of year.

Now, if you read this regularly you’ll know I have nothing against supermarkets: they often can take loss leaders better than smaller shops, which means they can stock “unusual” seasonal veg like kale, so they’re actually a very good place to source seasonal veg.

But this continuing tendency to try to pull the wool over uninformed consumers’ eyes makes my blood boil. It’s bad enough calling rhubarb from Holland “seasonal” when we produce whole sheds of the stuff ourselves. They also make sure the information that tells you your bagged salad – supposedly in season in the UK at the moment – comes from all over the world (“produce of several different countries”) is in very small type.

But this one takes the biscuit: promoting a magazine with the title “Seasons” and the strapline “packed with inspirational and seasonal recipes” but filling it with downright unseasonal food. This is misinformation at its worst. I hate this deception: I hate this undermining of what ought to be a wholly positive and constructive movement.

Waitrose should be ashamed of itself. They profess to support small producers in this country, and have won more Soil Association Organic Food Awards than you can shake a stick at. Yet they’re engaged in the kind of cheap trick that gives supermarkets a bad name.  I’d expect this kind of thing of the T place – but I choose to go to Waitrose because of their links with local production and good-quality food. It’s just not good enough.

Rant over. For now, at least.