• 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.

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!

Seasonal sarnies

Domestic goddess rating: 50% Five-a-day: 3/5 Food miles: about 40

On the menu: Toast, jam ‘n’ juice (breakfast); omelette (lunch); cheese and salad sandwiches (supper)

We have a swimming marathon after school on Tuesdays which involves spending two hours at the local  baths with a lesson each end and a lot of splashing about in the middle. They don’t tell you when you sign up for having kids that a big part of it involves spending unfeasibly long amounts of time freezing your bum off in a public swimming pool and dreaming about what else (that’s warmer) you might be doing.

Anyway… another little problem about our swimathon is how to manage food. We have to take a picnic with us – Princess the Elder eats it while Princess the Younger is doing her lesson, and then they swap over. I now discover that while wearing my seasonal eating halo sandwich making in winter becomes a real challenge. No tomatoes, no cucumber, and since the girls don’t like pickle we’re down to plain cheese which is as boring as anything as well as not very healthy.

I resorted to salad leaves, unfortunately not from my garden as we’ve been clobbering my patch faster than I can grow new stuff lately – it’s taking me a bit of time to get up to speed with the extra demands on it now it’s about the only green leaf we can eat that’s not cabbage. Apparently the packet of salad I panic-bought this afternoon comes from Kent, though, so not too bad. And all’s well that ends well – both kids wolfed them down and pronounced them “yummy” – so that’s sorted out our sarnies till cucumbers come back!

Normal life

Domestic goddess rating: 20% (back to normal chaos of work, school and no time) Five-a-day: 2/5 – lousy… but also normal Food miles: 0 (wow!)

On the menu: Toast and juice (breakfast); umm… coffee (lunch); bean stew, salad and pitta bread (supper)

So now you get to see how I really live. The kids went back to school today, which meant I was back at work so the halcyon days of being able to spend 40 minutes cooking a chicken casserole in the middle of the day are gone, gone, gone….

Lunch has stopped trying to pretend it’s a real meal at all, and fruit & veg consumption has gone through the floor. This is what I’ve been trying not to do by starting this experiment, and so far I’ve failed dismally.

The one saving grace today has been the salad this evening: entirely picked from my little patch of home-grown salad outside the back door. No chemicals, no food miles – just how it’s meant to be. The really wonderful thing about growing your own salad is that if you’re clever, you can have some ready to pick pretty much all year round. I use a seed mix – usually I buy off-the-shelf (there are some great selections these days) but I also mix my own, buying packets of seed of different herbs and lettuces, then mixing them all up in a bowl and putting them back into packets. I sow a row or two every couple of weeks from late January through to late August, and that keeps the family pretty much supplied all year. And the slugs, of course (those I don’t massacre with alarming satisfaction). If you dno’t grow anything else – grow this.