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Jane Stevenson

Jane Stevenson


Allotmenteer and obsessive bean grower, Director of Bristol Food Network CIC and part-time environmentalist.

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7 May 2016

Seasonal challenge: Last post

I've been looking at the best websites for seasonal advice, and had really been favouring Eat Seasonably. It's colourful, easy to use and accessible, but it's limited in its range of fruit & veg and I'm not entirely convinced about its accuracy - Cucumbers in May? Really?! Instead, I think Eat the seasons and the BBC Food site may be good places to start. Both show you what's in season NOW, and what's going in & out of season, and offer recipe suggestions. http://eatseasonably.co.uk · http://www.eattheseasons.co.uk · http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/seasons · My last reflection is a positive one. Having not seen much great seasonality celebration during the week, I went for the first time to the Tobacco Factory's street food market, held on a Friday evening. It was packed with families with young kids being entertained in the TF yard, or sitting out & eating at the picnic benches provided. One stall stood out for me. It was selling wild garlic pakora & roasted pepper & kale pakora - how Southville is that? We bought one of each and headed for a walk along the Avon tow path and then up through Rownham Hill to the bench at the top, where we sat and ate our wild garlic pakora, surrounded by blooming wild garlic.
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6 May 2016

Seasonal challenge: In store

I was going to write a nice post about the Farmers' Market and some new season vegetable treats, but pickings were slim there too, as well as on our allotment… So, instead, I thought about what we'd be eating now if we had to rely on traditional preserving methods. There is only so much pickled veg you can eat, so that probably means using dried. This is what we have in stock - dried peas & beans, and the last of our hazelnut crop. The volume of hazels which we get off our one tree, and after the squirrels have had their "share", is usually enough for one celebratory New Year's nut roast - so growing enough to be self-sufficient, seems impractical. Peas & beans however, can be quite prolific and if they're good climbers, then they take up relatively little ground space. Peas as a crop go back to the Neolithic, and dried peas made up a substantial bulk of the poor person's Medieval winter diet in the form of a soup/stew. We make them into falafel - which in honour of the pea, we call "piffle".
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2 May 2016

Seasonal challenge: On the plot

Pickings are slim on the plot at this time of year. It really is the hungry gap, when last year's crops are bolting and sowings from the autumn or early spring are tantalisingly but not yet ready. At the moment, we have the last of the purple sprouting broccoli (it wouldn't make it into the greengrocers on size grounds, but we don't have to factor-in the labour costs of picking the stuff), plus we have the last of the spinach (which is desperately trying to bolt). We have some hardy overwintering lettuces which are either too bitter for the rabbits & pigeons to bother with, or like the Japanese Mustard pictured, they're a little bit too spicy for the native wildlife. We have some new growth herbs - parsley, parcel, fennel, sweet cicely, Greek oregano, sage & rosemary. But my favourite thing at the moment is the elephant garlic. You're supposed to grow it for its over-sized but surprisingly mild bulb, but we started growing it ornamentally for it's lovely tall allium flower, having seen this done at a garden called Sticky Wicket in Dorset. At this time of year, the elephant garlic stems are growing like miniature leeks, and as we've got so much of it, I'm cutting the stems to use as an over-pungent leek or a rather mild garlic. You couldn't really make a whole meal with these ingredients, but they're quite strong-tasting additions which can enliven some blander veg.
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29 April 2016

Seasonal challenge: Fruit

There are very slim pickings at this time of year when it comes to fruit that's genuinely in season. Apparently the UK strawberry season officially starts on 1 May, but I don't expect to see any on the allotment till June. Similarly, thoughts of other relatively early fruit - cherries, gooseberries & redcurrants - might as well be put-off for another month at least. We should have some harvestable rhubarb, but for some reason, it's got stuck at around 4" tall and is refusing to grow any further (can't say I blame it with the recent Arctic winds & pelting hail). And I'm refusing to pay Yorkshire forcing prices. So, where does that leave us with any attempted seasonal eating? - probably with fruit that's been prepared and stored in some way. Last year we invested in a dehydrator to process the deluge of windfall apples that wouldn't otherwise keep. The dried apple has been a breakfast addition since the stored apples ran out at the end of December. Verdict: it's better than I thought it would be! Today we'll also be eating fruits of the freezer - a mix of redcurrants, blackcurrants, raspberries & blackberries.
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20 April 2016

Seasonal exploration

For Food Connections 2016, I'm going to explore what a seasonal diet might look like. There has been household rebellion about the proposal that we ONLY eat seasonally (or to be blunt, concerns have been raised about the ramifications of eating too much asparagus in one week). So I can't promise to ONLY eat seasonal produce but I'd like to explore what an April-May diet might look like if we weren't dependent on vast Dutch & Spanish glasshouses to feed us. In practice, I think that'll mean looking at what might still be in the food store - dried, frozen, preserved & pickled things from last year's harvest - as well as seeing what can be bought that's UK-grown outdoors (or without extra heat & lighting).
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30 April 2015

Wasted food challenge

During the first Food Connections festival, I looked at trying to minimise my non-recyclable food packaging. I've maintained a few good habits from last time around, but the cat has not! - she's back on the single cat food sachets, environmental challenge that she is. Anyway, this time around, I'm going to be looking at minimising what I end up chucking in the compost bin. I'm pretty bad at finishing-off the last bit in the jar, and at buying odd ingredients only to use them once, or bargain veg which then turn into compost of their own volition. I think the first step is to audit the contents of fridge & larder.
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13 May 2014

Rubbish challenge: post-match analysis

This is my kitchen bin for the 11-day duration. And no, I don't shop in Tescos - I just find their bags to be a suitable place for putting my rubbish... The bin is a bit slimmer than usual, but there are still a couple of things that slipped through - a vacuum-packed cheese wrapper and a non-recyclable plastic chocolate tray. Also, someone caved-in to the cat and cracked-open a few plastic pouches. This is a valuable lesson for future challenges - you need buy-in from everyone in the house in order to succeed, and I'm not talking about the household pets... So, what's changed? I've remembered 3 times to take veg bags back to the greengrocers, I'm going to carry on getting my coffee ground to order (and sold to me in a paper bag), and I'll probably stick with looseleaf tea if I can find some which avoids the inner foil packaging. I think I've probably managed to instill the beginnings of some better habits over the course of 11 days of actively thinking about unnecessary food packaging, so I'm hopeful that this is something I'll continue to think about when I'm shopping.
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3 May 2014

Rubbish challenge day 3: some hits and misses

I'm lucky in that I live near to North Street in Bedminster/Southville - one of few remaining thriving high streets in our city. The Southville Deli and the Ashton Fruit Shop sell a lot of stuff loose - so it's down to me to remember to take my plastic bags back to refill them. I have felt a bit self-conscious about doing this in the past, producing crumpled bags from various pockets about my person, but today I have a good excuse. So I bought muesli, potatoes and tomatoes in pre-enjoyed bags. But new for this week, I had my coffee ground for me, and put into a paper bag (smells absolutely wonderful). And I bought loose leaf tea. The "misses" are the crisps (no way around this as far as I can see, unless you make your own), the cling-film wrapped cheese (see previous post), and the plastic-wrapped cucumber (why do they do that?!) The only things to go to landfill in the past 3 days have been the waxed paper from a marg tub which I'm pretty sure will rot-down, and some of the offending cheese-wrap. So really small lifestyle changes do seem to be slimming the bin.
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30 April 2014

Packaging: pre-match analysis

As the internet was apparently built for cats, let me be the first to include one here. I consider her to be one of my environmental blind spots, but as she can't really be held responsible for her carbon impacts, I guess I should take charge. Once upon a time, cat food came in cans, and cats were grateful - well, sort of. Now cat food comes in individual plastic sleeves within cardboard boxes. This is not progress. Today I've been out and stocked-up with aluminium foil-packaged, or canned cat food, so hopefully that's a bit less for landfill. I've also been on a recce to the Farmers' Market in Corn Street to see where I can buy non vacuum-packed cheese. Sadly, Homewood no longer offer their lovely haloumi and feta-style cheeses off the block. In Bath they do, but in Bristol they don't. Surely Bristolians can't be scared of loose cheese? So if I want my haloumi in waxed paper, rather than vacuum sealed plastic, then I'm going to have to pre-order and have it especially reserved for me. Is that cheating or just great personal service?

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17 April 2014

Rubbish challenge!

I am going to see if I can manage shopping for 11 days without amassing any non-recyclable food packaging. I think I'm pretty careful about this already, but I can't help but notice that there's still quite a lot in the wheelie bin which couldn't be transferred to the black or green recycling box. I suspect that the cat is the main culprit, but then again she can't really be held responsible for the environmental time-bomb that is the Felix pouch... Let's see if I can remember to carry reusable bags with me at all times, and if the house can survive any cat rebellion.

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