• 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.

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.

I heart filo pastry

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (ah I am truly excelling myself this week) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, jam & juice (breakfast); cheese sandwich (lunch); chicken paper pie and roast veg (supper)

I love the school holidays. At last I have the time to cook, properly, and find lovely new recipes like the one I tried out this evening. This scrummy concoction of chicken and – yet again, but I can’t get enough of the stuff – purple sprouting broccoli was yet another use for filo pastry, a recent discovery of mine (can’t think why I didn’t use it more before).

It’s so easy – you just buy a packet from the shops and hey presto – instant piecrust. It’s cheap and you get enough in one small packet to make about five big pies, and what’s more you can freeze it, defrost it and use a bit more, and then freeze it again. And it looks fab once it’s cooked, too, just like crumpled brown paper. It’s even kid-friendly. So paper pies have become part of our staple diet just lately – and I for one am not complaining. 

Unhealthy (but tasty) eating

Domestic goddess rating: 100% (I stay off school – therefore I cook) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: about 10

On the menu: toast, jam & juice (breakfast); chicken soup (lunch); cheesy leek and PSB bake, spring greens and mash (supper)

This evening’s supper was a bit of a heart attack on a stick – cheese, milk, eggs, butter, all in abundance and its artery-furring qualities only slightly cancelled out by being full of lovely leafy green seasonal vegetables. As my husband pointed out, all the ingredients except the PSB and the leeks were on his red list (that’s the list the doctor gave him of foods he should avoid to save himself keeling over from excess of dairy products). So I’m kind of hoping he’s still alive to tell the tale in the morning.

It did taste quite spectacularly yummy, though, so if you’re not that bothered about your cholesterol levels, go for it. Nobody ever said seasonal eating had to be healthy…

A warm welcome

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (taking it easy after hectic birthday weekend with grandma) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: croissants and jam (luxury grandma breakfast); beef casserole and mash (welcome-home lunch from hubby); curry and rice (blimey we’ve eaten well today)

Good old head chef. I mean hubby. I’ve had a truly hectic weekend of it so far – Princess the Younger turned six on Friday (happy birthday sweetie!) and that meant ten six-year-old girls descended on us to rampage around our house and eat jelly for three hours. By the time we’d waved them all off, sponged the jelly off carpets, sofas and curtains, and calmed down the Princesses until they were in a fit state to go to bed, we were hardly worth talking to.

Then Saturday it was off to Grandma’s for the Princess’s birthday treat – a visit to an amusement park where they discovered a previously undetected mania for large rollercoasters. Fortunately I’m responsible for the rollercoaster gene, so I happily joined in and Grandma watched unenviously from the sidelines. All in all, a great birthday, but exhausting – so I was more than delighted to arrive back to a welcome-home lunch from the Head Chef, which was not only utterly delicious but also entirely seasonal. He invented this rather wonderful beef casserole himself, for which I take off my rather threadbare goddess hat to him.

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.

Quarter of the way through!

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (have achieved official scavenging deity status with unashamedly non-cooking day again) Five-a-day: 3/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, marmalade and juice (breakfast); cheese sandwich (lunch); omelette and a slice of bread (supper in solitary splendour)

Here I am and it’s month four! That’s a quarter of the way through the year and I’m still eating seasonally.

That’s not, of course, quite as angelic as it sounds. I’ve been sidestepping the issue an awful lot – spag bol has been on the menu more often than it should have been, and as for my foray into the world of Fray Bentos yesterday… the less said the better.

Having said that, this is the most difficult bit of the year to eat seasonally. All the store vegetables are running out, but nothing else is ready yet. You’re having to fall back on the one or two bright spots in the veg-picking darkness – PSB and chard spring to mind – and on those things which are always in season (I’ve already touched on mushrooms and salad, but I’m finding more of these useful allies as I go along). It gets a little… challenging to find more than the usual handful of recipes for these guys. But I’m doing my best, I’ve found a load of excellent recipes along the way, and most important of all I’m having a lot of foodie fun. 

The geeky seasonal eating website awards

Domestic goddess rating: 0% (worshipping the gods of processed food this evening… it might be seasonal but it ain’t healthy) Five-a-day: 2/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: toast, marmalade and juice (breakfast); cheese sandwich (lunch); Fray Bentos steak & kidney pie, potatoes and PSB (sometimes a girl’s gotta eat processed… supper)

Well, it was Monday evening so everyone was all over the place. Good enough excuse for some serious bad eating. I did discover however that old-fashioned unhealthy food isn’t quite as full of additives as modern unhealthy food. Did you know that apart from a shocking amount of glucose, there isn’t actually very much that’s artificial in a Fray Bentos steak & kidney? Anyway – I love ’em and I don’t care who knows it.

On a healthier note, I was looking into this whole dried fruit thing today and discovered the second-geekiest seasonal eating website in the world (the first most geeky is the wonderful www.discoverkale.co.uk, devoted to the esoteric subject of kale and its relatives). Did you know that the UK has its very own Dried Fruit Association? Well, they’ve very kindly set up a Dried Fruit Information Service, complete with its own website. It’s got recipes and everything.

What it doesn’t tell you – probably because it’s run by dried fruit producers who don’t want you to know – is how to dry your own fruit. The search continues…