When you walk into the veg isle in the supermarket it’s pretty much impossible to know what time of year it is (except at Halloween when the pumpkins wear witches hats). How bizarre, in a country in which there are a good few months of the year when the veg patches will be little other than first sprouting weeds and young garlic shoots. When this stark contrast actually sinks in it’s very easy to think that it is impossible to live a full year on seasonal veg alone, but with a few tricks and careful planning now it can definitely be done.
Eating seasonal is not to say that tomato soup in winter is an impossibility. Just that it takes a little forethought and planning. Ok, so most years my tomato crop is not going to get me through the summer, let alone preserving enough for the winter too. But pretty much every year I can preserve enough of something. And each year I get a little better at it too. The tips and tricks are endless, as are the cooking books that are willing to teach them. And you can always find a good one on a charity shop book shelf (or a web search). Cordials, jams, syrups, jellies, fruit leathers, chutneys, pickles. Brining, bottling, jaring, drying. Oils, wines, vinegars. And then of course the fermentations. Kimchi, sauerkraut, kumbutcha, kefir. Hopefully that gives enough search terms to get started.
2) Exchanging ingredients
Most recipes you’ll read ask for very specific ingredients: 1 corgette, 3 cherry tomatoes, lots of summer ingredients and no root vegetables. The deceiving idea that you should follow recipes to the letter actually renders half my recipes useless… apple and gooseberry? They’ll never be fruiting at the same time!
But recipes are made to be modified! Here are some simple rules of thumb I use to adapt my recipes:
– Any root veg can be swaped for any other with slight variations on cooking times (celeriac longer, beetroot shorter)
– Onions, leeks, chives, welsh onions, spring onions can all be used interchangably, again with variations on cooking times (onions will take much longer than the others)
– The ‘greens’ are all as delicious as each other in a meal. Spinach, nettles, chard, beetroot leaves, kale, cabbage, fat hen, dandilion leaves… use them all.
– Grating root veg means it can take the place of lighter veg in pastas, salads, burgers, pizzas, patties etc. We made a delicious seasonal pizza in January with grated beetroot, celeriac and parsnip.
In the height of summer foraging can provide an abundance that’s rare through cultivation. Elderberries, hawthorns, rowan berries all grow in large clusters, make brilliant jams, wines and cordials, and can provide enough to keep you in fruit and health throughout the winter months. But even better is the wild greens that abound while the fields and plots are bare. In the hungry gap the wild greens are at their best. You can easily find enough nettles to fill every meal, from a quiche to a stew to a stir fry. And trust me, after a few meals you’ll agree they are the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten. Hawthorn shoots, chickweed, dandilion, yarrow and cleavers. Stir fry, add an egg, some beans or a cut of pork and some noodles and you’ve got a filling, nutritious, seasonal meal in the height of the hungry gap.
As the year continues we’ll be adding all kinds of seasonal recipes, tips and tricks to try help you get through the year on seasonal food. And our links with local growers mean we can help you take advantage of the gluts to preserve for the winter months. Stay tuned!