Here in Canada, after what seemed like an interminable winter followed by a very unsettled spring, June arrived bringing a searing heat-wave and the long, sunny days that we have all longed for. At last, millions of householders dusted off the garden furniture and long-forgotten Barbie with their optimism soaring for those long-planned outdoor celebrations.
Strawberries and cream, seaside excursions, al fresco meals on the patio, countryside picnics, and kids cooling off in an inflatable pool in the garden, are all memorable events to treasure.
Suddenly the trees and hedgerows burst into bright green life and the smell of new mown grass and scented petals concoct a heady evening cocktail of perfume as the garden celebrates the advent of Summer. Overhead, acrobatic swallows, having made their incredibly long, annual trip to our shores, are frantically busy raising a whole new generation! All this epitomises some of the best things about summer in the British Isles.
Back in early spring while we still needed warming, hearty, food to see us through the cold days, the Christies kitchen printed organic recipes using, wherever possible, locally sourced ingredients. Now, with summer entertaining in mind, we are ready to cool the temperatures and look at vitamin-rich organic recipes that are no less nutritious, but lack the calorific stodge of the winter food. All the following recipes can be adapted to cater for larger or less amounts.
We all have our favourite sources when it comes to buying our food. It might be a supermarket, it might be our tried and tested local shops – we may even have chosen to go ‘Organic’ and buy only food that displays The Soil Association logo, thereby assuring ourselves that the product meets stringent production criteria.
If you are unsure about what the word ‘organic’ means, it is food and meat that has been raised and grown without chemical fertilisers, insecticides or pesticides. In the case of animals and poultry kept and reared for meat, the animals are given more time to develop slowly and fed a healthy natural diet, untainted by meat by-products or fast-growth hormones.
Why eat organic?
The benefits of eating organic food, which tends to be more expensive than non-organic–unless you grow your own, are obvious once you try it. Organic produce may not be so perfectly shaped, or totally unblemished as inorganic, but the flavour is fuller and there’s peace of mind in knowing that you are consuming healthy fruit and vegetables devoid of a coating of insecticide on the skins.
If you eat meat, it’s good to know that generally calves and piglets stay longer with their mothers and there is the assurance that although ultimately they will be killed for the table, they have longer in which to live pleasanter and more natural lives than those animals which are intensively reared.
Many people don’t have the necessary amount of land to be able to cultivate their own organic vegetables and even if they do, lack of time often prevents them from growing salads, herbs and vegetables – especially, taking into account the need for a regular supply of these throughout the changing seasons.
One way around this problem is to locate an organic farm within your own area and ask to be included in their vegetable box scheme. This means that every week a selection of seasonal produce will be delivered to your door. The vegetable box scheme usually extends to fruit as well, and if the farm also has a shop, you can request organic items from the shop to be included with your weekly delivery.
I have had personal experience of the organic box scheme for about five years and for me it works well. Okay, so I do grow some vegetables, and lots of herbs but if, for instance, I have grown a great crop of potatoes that might last three or four months, I just ask the farm not to include potatoes in my weekly box. Last year our red onions were marvellous, there were mountains of runner beans from just three wig-wam supports, and the elephant garlic was so elephantine I asked that none of these items be included in my box until further notice. The farm responded by putting in the box other kinds of salad and vegetables that I hadn’t been able to grow myself.
Increasing numbers of us are growing at least some of our own food if we have space in our gardens or access to an allotment. This is easy now due to the huge selection of magazines, books and television programmes that help us to see how to do it.
One potato, two potato, three!
Many people begin with a few potatoes, then find themselves planting up gro-bags with tomatoes and lettuce, Spurred on by success they dig over another plot for salads and the more enjoyment they get from harvesting their own food, the more sense it seems to make to grow even more. If space is a problem, even potatoes can be grown in deep containers, tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets, and salads in raised beds.
Many people are now switching to organic food and happily, unlike the bad old days of ten years or so, ago, the choice is endless. Supermarket chains have been forced to think far more deeply about the food they provide and where it comes from. Also, very importantly, the methods used in its production whether in terms of agriculture or the human issues involved such as fair wages for producers and labourers, abroad. Faced with these concerns they now devote more and more space to Organic, and Fair Trade produce as popular demand spirals upwards.
Organic farms provide seasonal selections of home grown vegetables and this is good news because our bodies are programmed to respond well to the foods that grow within their own boundaries of the changing seasons. Yes, you can buy strawberries in January but they are imported and however big and mouth-wateringly juicy they appear, nothing compares with strawberries grown in your own plot or even a large pot, with the warmth of the summer sun to ripen them to perfection. Ever grown them and then picked and savoured one ripe fruit in late afternoon after the sun has warmed it throughout the day? It’s incomparable.
That’s because you are eating fruit that has matured and ripened within our British seasons. It’s matured to give us a proper sweet, luscious strawberry, not a strawberry that’s been intensively farmed, drenched with pesticides and slug deterrents, picked and packed hundreds of miles away, lingered for days at airports or ferry terminals and then finally appears in a British supermarket in a punnet labelled ‘Fresh Strawberries’!
Can you live without strawberries in winter to help save the planet?
In your winter vegetable box you can expect lots of staple root vegetables like, swede, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beets. There will also be red and green cabbage, celery, Brussels sprouts, onions, cauliflowers, garlic, and leeks. You may get imported tomatoes until after Christmas, but their juicy fruitiness tends to diminish along with keeping-quality until they vanish altogether from your box until the new salad season. Peppers, courgettes, and fruit are usually sourced from organic growers abroad, and this is where we have to confront another very important issue.
Currently, around 90% of organic fruit and vegetables are imported. This means that although we love to include peppers, courgettes, squash, and mangoes in our favourite recipes, the planet pays a high price for these being flown from the country of origin to Britain. Air travel is bad news for the globe because of the CO2 gases produced during the flight. It’s a tricky issue. We may like to eat organic and we probably have the best interests of the planet in mind, but if we truly stick to our environmental guns it would mean giving up many favourite foods that are flown in to our island, and only buying those that our climate would normally be capable of producing throughout each season.
Are we prepared to do that? If we are, it means boycotting produce that has cost the planet too much in the way of CO2 just so that we can have lettuce, cucumber, peppers, courgettes, strawberries and mangoes on our tables in winter. Interestingly, there’s a theory that humans are healthier when eating only those foods that the successive, indigenous seasons provide. These foods all contain elements that we need to see us through the prevailing weather. In summer it’s warm and we enjoy lighter foods such as fresh, colourful salads enlivened with dressings of zesty lemon and lime, and cooling fruits to follow. But in winter and early spring when the days are short and cold we need to build ourselves up against seasonal illnesses like colds and flu, so we need to eat lots of vitamin rich foods like calabrese, kale, cabbage, sprouts and potatoes. Our fruit can be the orchard fruits, carefully stored, or made up into pies, and crumbles for the freezer, whole fruits packed into freezer bags for use in preserves and pies or home-made ice-cream – Yes, just the way it used to be – or so my mother tells me!
We have to accept that the further our food travels, the more its vitamin and mineral content diminishes over the miles.
Keeping it local
Farmers’ Markets are another source of fresh British produce which is gaining popularity. If you visit one in your area, you can be sure of top quality food that has been picked at ultimate freshness and not been transported hundreds of miles on a plane before it reaches your kitchen! You can talk to the farmer or producer about the food you are buying and choose your purchases minus the hustle and bustle of your average superstore. You will even be offered a tasting of some items.
Once you get to know the face behind the counter and become a regular customer you’ll find not only that your particular preferences will be happily catered for, but that you’ll also be able to chat to the grower or producer about the local scene, the weather forecasts (nobody knows what’s coming better than a farmer), political stuff, family stuff, and, if you are lucky, gossip as well! This method of sourcing your food is far removed from the faceless, remote retailing structure of chain supermarkets.