Thursday, 15 December 2011

the Yogi Vegetarian gets 4 awards....




A huge thank you to Anisha of "Life on the go" and "Flavours" (really good blogs) who made my day today by giving me these awards :)

Gluts of fruit and vegetables are natural part of our diet

I was listening to a programme on BBC Radio Four the other day in which a guest was explaining that today, with our customary trips to the supermarket to buy produce from all over the world and the demise of the small greengrocers, we have lost our sense of the seasonality of food. She talked about how much greener (because of "food miles"), cheaper, more nutritious and tastier it is to eat fruit and vegetables in the proper season for where you live. Apparently, most people nowadays aren't even aware that produce has a season at all, and we expect strawberries in December, peaches in January and fresh tomatoes in March!

I'd rather spend an hour picking these than an hour in the supermarket!

Well, that got me thinking, and feeling very fortunate indeed. I grew up on my Dad's homegrown vegetables, which he cultivated without pesticides, and fell in love with their textures and flavours, looking forward to summer's broad beans, French beans, marrows and tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes and carrots in the Autumn, and succulent purple sprouting broccoli in Spring... oh and those magical Summer evenings in the garden and orchard, wandering from bush to bush, grazing on loganberries, gooseberries, redcurrants and plums...as a child, my whole conception of fruit and vegetables was automatically tuned in with the seasons. My mum being a thrifty sort of shopper, any produce we bought from abroad such as tangerines would be in its season too, as it is cheaper that way. It was a taste I never lost, and endeavoured to pass on to my daughter: even when, in my years as a single mum, I did not have a garden, we would visit the local pick-your-own farm and go for blackberrying walks. Now I am lucky enough to have a husband who is happy to spend time in our allotment to grow loads of veg and fruit, so we eat mainly seasonally (although we tend to buy tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber in Winter when ours have gone, and I will usually pick up some bell peppers every shopping trip). I think this blog reflects that well, if you look at the dates I posted the recipes. I've even found a good website about seasonal foods in the U K: http://eattheseasons.co.uk/index.htm which shows the seasonal foods for each week.
Hand- in hand with growing your own food and eating seasonally is the glut: a glut is when a particular fruit or vegetable is in peak season, and producing prolifically. It can get boring (runner beans every day for a month, then every other day for the next month...) but remember that fresh produce, picked in its prime and consumed immediately, is packed full of nutrients. Yes, a glut can stretch your culinary creativity to the max- but that's actually rather fun! Our ancient ancestors would have relied on berries in Summer and Autumn for vitamins and sugars, and roots and leaves at other times of the year. They would have had to know where to find these things at the right time, and to fill up on them while they could. Certain times of year meant certain types of food. For them, a glut must always have been a good thing- these days, in our throwaway world of supply and demand, most of us have lost any sense of appreciation for plenty. The Vedic scriptures tell us that in Satya Yuga (the Age of Goodness) plants grew more easily than they do now, and the people just had to pick and eat all they needed.
In our more recent history, various ways of preserving glut produce to eat in the coming months were developed; drying, salting, pickling, making jam... and now we have the freezer, which means that we can preserve most fruits and vegetables for at least a few weeks, with most of their vitamins intact. But freezers have limited space, and here in the UK the climate is certainly not conducive to sun-drying anything, even in Summer, so it is preserving by making chutneys, jams and pickles which has traditionally been used most. This we experienced a very good year for broad beans, runner beans, plums, damsons, apples and tomatoes, and our pumpkins and potatoes, as always, were harvested all at once, leaving us with good stores for the coming months. But not all produce is as long- lasting as potatoes and pumpkins, so we froze as many of the runner beans as we could, made crumbles, jam and chutney with the plums, juiced or dehydrated as rings the apples which were not so good for eating fresh and even made apple sauce for the freezer. The tomatoes were a delight to have to use up; we had the luxury of fresh tomato sauces and purees, and tasty little cherry plum tomatoes with every salad; I also "sun-dried" a few batches in the dehydrator, which were an absolute luxury! There was a bowlful of green tomatoes too, which I made into chutney (recipe will be posted soon). Those are just a few examples of what you can do to use up gluts of fruit and vegetables.

A few weeks ago, I met Nigel and Eleanor, two enterprising people who also appreciate nature's bounty and hate to see it go to waste. Along with food campaigner Theresa Haddon, they have formed a social enterprise, Urban Harvest, here in Birmingham, http://www.urbanharvestbham.org/  which you can contact if you have, or know of any fruit growing wild or in your garden. They will come and harvest the fruit. If it's from your garden you pay them a small fee, and after they harvest it, they will give you back a proportion as juices, cordial, jam or chutney. The rest is sold to raise money. What a brilliant idea! Even in England's second city, there is so much to pick. As for me, I'm trying hard to be inventive about how I use our produce in glut times, and take the trouble to preserve some for the coming Winter. There is something very satisfying about growing and then gathering the harvest then cooking with it and offering the food to Krishna which really helps me feel closer to Him and to appreciate the way He looks after me, and all of us...

PS: Take a look at my posts from this summer to find recipes for jams and chutneys (18.9.11 springs to mind) and back about a year ago for pumpkin curd/ chutney. Many of my recipes feature vegetables or fruit which I have had plenty of, and needed to find new ways of cooking. Hope this gives you some inspiration!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Seitan how-to; an amendment is on its way!

Sorry folks- something appears to have gone wrong with my last post; I'll change it as soon as I get the chance to include captions on all the pictures and I'll get rid of the strange blank bit halfway through... :)