• 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.

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.

Fruity fantasies

Domestic goddess rating: 50% (didn’t cook much but froze in swimming pool for an hour and a half so goddess qualities still intact) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: none

On the menu: porridge and juice (fortifying breakfast for day spent writing against crazy deadline); cornish pasty (lunch at desk); baked potatoes, salad from the garden, and ham (supper)

On the whole I’ve been finding this seasonal eating malarky a breeze. You get to eat all sorts of interesting things, cooking has never been so much fun, and every meal is a surprise discovery.

The only sticking point so far has been fruit. What do you do when there are no apples, no pears, and not even a berry to sink your teeth into? Rhubarb is delicious, admittedly, but a) you can’t munch on a stick of rhubarb on getting home from school and b) it takes a 15-minute drive to the farm shop to find any that’s not from Holland.

Princess the Younger, who is a bit of a fruit bat, has been howling for apples for weeks now. Can you believe it – I’ve been refusing healthy snacks to a five-year-old. It’s the only thing we’ve really, really missed. And I mean really missed. Whatever are we going to do until August?

Baking bliss

Domestic goddess rating: 90% (baking and super-mum… juggling supremo today) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: about 70

On the menu: Toast,  marmalade & juice (breakfast); coffee on the run (lunch); meatballs and spaghetti from the freezer (supper)

Back to school this morning so supper was the usual crazy revolving-doors affair, with hubby off at work and one princess out at gym. We managed OK – though it probably would have helped if I hadn’t put sugar in the meatballs (yeah, all right, I was cooking the rhubarb at the same time and forgot which saucepan was which – told you I wasn’t much of a chef…!) It didn’t taste quite as bad as it sounds. Which makes it still not brilliant. Younger princess made faces but ploughed through it gamely.

It was all in a good cause, though. The rhubarb was filched from another visit to my wonderful local farm shop – the only one around here which stocks proper Yorkshire-grown stuff – and I made the most of it with some utterly divine rhubarb crumble cake. Wow, this is such a great way to use the stuff. Can you get much better than a wickedly indulgent cake which supplies one of your five-a-day – and is in harmony with the seasons, too? Hah – and they said eating seasonally was boring!!

Self-sufficiency beckons

Domestic goddess rating: 10% (gardener not cook today) Five-a-day: 5/5 Food miles: about 40

On the menu: Toast,  jam & juice (breakfast); re-heated paper pie and peas  (lunch); roast pork, greens and roast potatoes (supper – mmm hmmm)

I’ve been down at the allotment all day today, drawing fresh inspiration from my new-found seasonal eating fetish. Until now things have been a bit ad-hoc on the grow-your-own front: I’ve just grown more or less what I felt like growing, the usual spuds, peas and beans plus a couple of tomato plants and a courgette or two.

But now I’ve realised I need to get serious. There are so many things which aren’t readily available in the shops that I should be churning out from the allotment by now – purple-sprouting broccoli is on its way, but my output of sprouts, savoy cabbage, spring greens, root veg and indeed anything that’s worth eating at this time of year has been pretty pathetic.

Not for long. I’ve already got a few seeds sprouting in the greenhouse, and for once I intend replacing the ones which either don’t germinate or get munched by slugs. I usually put up with the diminished harvest if I lose a few plants along the way: but this time I can’t afford to – the aim is to supply the amount that we’ll be eating. I’ve worked out roughly how many cabbages and parsnips we’re likely to get through in their season – yes, it really does get this detailed – though sprout plants and PSB is a bit more hit-and-miss, so I’m going to try a row of each and see if that gives us too little, too much or about right and adjust accordingly. And I will get around to planting out those rhubarb plants I currently have languishing in pots – next year I’ll be forcing one so that I’ll never have to miss out on those gorgeous pale pink shoots again.

Little did I realise that eating seasonally is one step along the road towards self-sufficiency. I’ve always been very sceptical of ideas that you can be completely self-sufficient: but the year I manage to feed my family from my own efforts is the year I’ll know I can be truly proud of myself.

Buying British

Domestic goddess rating: 10% (working too hard to cook) Five-a-day: 4/5 Food miles: none unless you count the oranges – if you do, it’s 700 miles

On the menu: Toast & juice (breakfast); cheese sandwich and a couple of oranges (lunch); tunafish pasta (again) and salad (supper)

One of those days when I race out of the house as soon as the kids are in school and work my butt off until I come home just before suppertime. Luckily my ever-patient hubby was home, so we didn’t all starve.

I’ve been a bit flummoxed lately by the trouble I’ve been having finding seasonal produce. Maybe it’s only this time of year, but I’ve had to really hunt for it. The other day I went to three different shops just to track down some kale. And as for rhubarb… I can forgive the local grocer for not stocking it, as he tries hard but suffers badly from supermarket competition. But when I went over to Waitrose yesterday, I discovered that despite flagging up their rhubarb as “Cook’s Ingredient Seasonal Rhubarb” – it was shipped in from Holland.

How can they do this when there are rhubarb growers (you can read more about one of them here) working nineteen to the dozen in Yorkshire to provide succulent stems of forced rhubarb at this very moment? In its heyday, there were 200 growers in the Rhubarb triangle. Now there are just twelve. Unless they get buyers from somewhere, this is another seasonal food we’re perfectly capable of growing here (and alot better, many would say) but buy in from elsewhere.

They do say that rhubarb is enjoying something of a renaissance in the UK. But if supermarkets, grocers and other suppliers refuse to support our domestic industry and carry on shipping in the stuff from Holland, what chance has this centuries-old tradition got? No wonder nobody eats seasonally when they don’t know what they’ve got on their doorstep.

Personally, I wouldn’t touch Dutch rhubarb with a bargepole. I don’t often get all patriotic, but in this case I’ll stand up and be counted. It’s a British fruit. Let’s keep it British.

Rhubarb, rhubarb

Domestic goddess rating: 90% Five-a-day: 3/5 Food miles: about 200

On the menu: Cereal & juice (breakfast); a couple of cups of coffee (lunch – yep, working again); tunafish pasta and rhubarb fool (a supper to die for)

rhubarb.jpg

Here it is… the fruit du jour for the next couple of months.

We’re out of everything except rhubarb by February, and that’s the way it’s gonna be until the first berry fruits start appearing in about May. So this is a fruit (or, to be technical, a vegetable) which we’re going to have to get to know really well.

The rather delectable looking stalks in the picture are of course forced rhubarb (the only kind you should be able to get at this time of year). This is a method of growing which involves excluding light from the plant so that stems grow elongated, pale and very, very sweet. It’s a true delicacy for early spring.

This lot is from the “rhubarb triangle” of England in Yorkshire, between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, one of the only areas in the country where they still force rhubarb commercially. I found it in my local farm shop (the grocer’s did rhubarb but it was shipped in from Holland – what a travesty!)

I made some rhubarb fool with this lot for this evening’s pudding. If you think you don’t like rhubarb, try rhubarb fool using forced stems. Oh my… this is a taste to die for. It’s one of those dishes you take one mouthful of and then go off into rapturous exclamations over. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does… ohhhh, is it worth it.