The Sustainable Food Story

Last weekend I was lucky enough to join a supper club with The Sustainable Food Story, held at Borough Market’s Cookhouse. This team of scientists, chefs, farmers and foodies connect people to the origins of food through supper clubs around the country. The majority of the menu is made from home-grown, foraged or locally sourced food, with particular attention to reducing waste and making use of every bit of the plant or biproduct.

Run by excited and inspiring founders Abi and Sadhbh, who collectively have knowledge of meat science and sustainable development, the supper club explored how grains can be part of a healthy, delicious and environmentally conscious way of eating. Dishes included:

– Rye levain crispbread with salvaged bean dip

– Root-to-fruit beetroot with goat’s curd and sprouted grains

– Carrot, sage, einkorn and gouda croquette on a bed of leafy greens

– Spelt and rye homemade sourdough

– Botanical panna cotta with heritage grainola and foraged fruit compotes

– Wild cocktail with London distilled gin

Alongside the mind-blowing flavours, Abi and Sadhbh structured the evening with a series of anecdotes and explanations behind their mission and interests between each course, talking about their previous careers and lessons through their sustainability journey. The other diners had links to boutique food start-ups, farming, gardens and environmental causes, making for interesting conversation across the sprouted grains and animal-blood macaroons.

What did I learn from the evening?

  1. The need for cooking and eating more mindfully, considering where ingredients come from and the environmental impact
  2. The shocking extent of food waste, and how less popular cuts or parts of plants can be used to create delicious dishes
  3. The possibilities of ‘growing your own’, fuelling my existing interest in home-grown produce

Following an evening with Abi and Sadhbh, I’m making an effort to make more sustainable choices, and use the inspiration to make tasty and colourful meals from the unexpected. I’ll also be re-vamping my growing list, incorporating more unusual veg with many elements (roots, flowers, leaves) which I can use every part of and encourage others to do so.

Read more about The Sustainable Food Story on the websiteFacebook or Instagram: @thesustainablefoodstory, and look out for supper clubs near you!

Incredible shots of the evening by Ben Peter Catchpole.

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Indoor salad & herbs for winter

We’ve reached the depths of winter, and nature has moved into a more dormant period. My recent house move means that last year’s over-winter veggies, such as cabbage and spinach, have been left behind. So there’s not much in the way of edibles going on in my new space at the moment.

To fill the gap until we can start growing more veg early next year, I’ve planted some herbs and salad, which will be kept inside in a light and well ventilated place to encourage growth in the warmer temperatures.

For indoor greens to use in the kitchen, follow these easy steps to growing your own:

1) Choose a pot or container for growing indoors – this requires some thought. You need drainage holes, but also be aware that watering could result in brown liquid all over your windowsill / table, so make sure you’ve got a saucer that fits under the pot. A small plate will be fine, or just remember to move the pot to the sink when you water it. If you don’t have a pot, recycled food/milk cartons can be cut down and given drainage holes.

2) Fill your pot with a general multi-purpose compost, leaving a few centimetres at the top to ensure water doesn’t overflow when giving plants a drink.

3) Choose your seeds. Herbs and salads are all really easy to look after, so pick things you like eating and can share if you get too many. I’ve planted basil and coriander in my herbs tray, and have a container with mixed salad, mustard and lambs lettuce. If you’re planning to sow different seeds in the same pot, check online or the back of packets to check they like the same conditions (but generally salad and herbs are very similar).

4) Sow your seeds as per instructions. Usually around 1cm into the soil, and scattered finely. Add labels or write what you’ve planted on the pot. I always think I’ll remember and tend to forget exact varieties by time they’re seedlings.

5) Water gently (until the surface is moist but the compost is not completely saturated) and place you container in a sunny and well ventilated spot, such as windowsill or kitchen table. Adding a lid or sandwich bag to the top of pots can create an even more moist environment and speed up germination, but even if you don’t do this you should expect to see seedlings appear within 1 week to 10 days.

Time to plant Tulips

November is a time to stay inside and let your garden do its own thing, right? Wrong.

A bit of thinking ahead goes a long way in the garden, and one of many things you can do now to make sure you’ve got a stunning display in spring is PLANT TULIPS.

You can get hold of tulip bulbs very easily (they’re in big Sainsbury’s at the moment), both online and in shops/supermarkets. By planting them at this time of year, the cold weather reduces the spread of disease to the bulbs, and also provides the conditions for them to grow roots.

Simply choose your variety (there are hundreds of colours, shapes and sizes) and find a well-drained but sunny spot in the garden or border. You should then dig holes around 10cm deep and at least 8cm apart, then gently push the bulbs in with the pointy end at the top. If your ground is particularly hard or shallow, you can dig in / mix multi-purpose or specialist bulb compost to boost the quality of the soil.

If you’ve just got a patio or concrete space, you can also plant tulips in pots. You’ll need to make the planting more dense to create a good display, so can plant bulbs at different depths to give enough space. Try layering up your pot with different varieties, placing the tallest varieties at the bottom. You can also work out the approximate blooming time of different tulip types and plant accordingly, making sure they flower in succession and your pots are filled with colour throughout the spring.

Sarah Raven has a super ‘bulb lasagne’ idea for planting in pots, based on the idea that different layers of bulbs will build to give an impressive effect.

Once your tulips are planted, give them a water and then you can almost forget about them. Keep an eye to make sure dogs and hungry garden visitors don’t dig them up! Mice helped themselves to mine last year, but wire mesh or protective covering can be added if this becomes a problem. Blooms should appear in early spring, and will reappear each year (if you’ve planted them correctly).

My top tulip varieties: Black Parrot, Burning Heart, Lilac Wonder, Fancy Frills and Red Riding Hood. (they sound like expensive nail varnishes and are even more impressive)

Grow your own Superfood! Kale

Kale is having a moment, with its health benefits being rediscovered by foodies are gardeners. The ‘superfood’ is low in calories and very high in fibre, as well as containing many nutrients and vitamins that are said to reduce heart disease risks and lower blood pressure. It has been listed as one of ‘the world’s healthiest foods’, but kale is also easy to grow and very versatile in the garden.

As a leafy green vegetable, kale is coming into its own as winter approaches, being used in stews, soups, roast dinners and alongside other hot dishes as an alternative to broccoli or cabbage. It’s also popular in the colder months as it’s in season, and will happily grow and be harvested throughout winter. In fact, it’s even tastier after a frost, as the cold causes it to release sugars. On top of all of this, it’s also a very striking ‘ornamental vegetable’, creating visual interest in the garden when other plants are dormant, growing happily in pots or directly in the ground.

To grow kale you’ll need to get hold of some seeds, which can be bought online, in supermarkets, or the garden centre. Sarah Raven’s Kale ‘Nero di Toscana’ is a favourite of mine because its dark, crinkly leaves look super and taste great. There are lots of varieties available, so check which best suit your garden’s conditions before you buy.

You should then sow these in a tray or propagator from February to May at 1cm deep, and when the seedlings are several inches tall and sturdy, you can transplant them into a pot (giving each seedling at least 7cm) or directly into the ground. They should then grow well if watered regularly and kept out of direct sunlight. They really are that easy to care for!

To harvest, remove the tender baby leaves when they are 10 – 15cm long. You should be able to do this from about October, and continue into the new year. Only pick a few leaves at a time and always leave the plant with enough to continue to grow, meaning you’ll have an ongoing supply and tender leafy veg. Any older yellow or brown leaves should be removed with a knife and thrown away.

The baby leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or sautéed with olive oil and lots of seasoning. Kale works well treated like cabbage, and can be boiled, steamed or added to hot dishes.

Tips for moving gardens: boxes and broken terracotta

Moving house is known to be emotionally draining, and moving gardens is no easier! My pretty South West London patio garden has been fairly fundamental in feeding my love of gardens and growing things in the city. It was also where I decided to start my blog and Instagram after noticing the benefits of gardening and seeing how much London friends enjoyed learning about and eating things I’d grown.

After several years of nurturing the little space and many hours of enjoyment, sunbathing, dinners and garden parties, we moved out when our tenancy expired. With an outdoor space being the top of my priority list, we’ve now found ourselves a gorgeous home with a small patio front garden and large back garden, complete with decking, a flower boarder and a big lawn (for London)! I’ve only had fake grass before so this will be a learning curve…

As sad as it was saying goodbye to my previous garden (where every plant either has a story, was a gift, collected from a special place, or has other ridiculous sentimental value) it’s so exciting to be in a whole new space, faced with new challenges and inspiration.

Having learnt a few things along the way, here are my tips for moving gardens:

  1. If you’re renting and likely to move house often, plant as much as possible in containers, rather than permanent fixtures or in the ground, as this will mean they can be loaded into a van and positioned on your new patio.
  2. If you have favourite plants, take cuttings from them and start them off in your new home. It can be messy and often kill plants if you try to take everything with you, so only move essentials and leave the rest for the next person to enjoy.
  3. Before you move out, wash pots, containers and equipment thoroughly. It will avoid spreading pests and diseases between gardens, ensure everything doesn’t get covered in soil, and give you a fresh start in your new home.
  4. Get someone to help you. Boxes are heavy, so are terracotta pots. Not only will you save your back, but getting a few people to share the load will mean less cracked pottery and snapped stems.
  5. Take advantage of a clean slate! Every garden is different and you will have new soil types, pests and shady spots to learn about. Embrace it, and rather than trying to make it look like your old garden, take some time to watch its natural behaviour and work with the plants and conditions you’ve got.

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Apples: nutrients & new research

I like my apples cut into slices and eaten with peanut butter. As one of the UK’s favourite fruit they’re healthy, convenient and make a great snack as well as cooked in sweet or savoury dishes.

However, a new study by Cranfield University and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew found that older varieties have significantly more nutrients than the ones we regularly eat. Today’s supermarket apples have been bred to be sweet, crisp and shiny, but in the process much of the genetic diversity and nutrients has been lost. According to the research, older varieties contain more of the chemical phloridzin, which helps regulate blood sugar and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

So rather than buying these depleted fruits, growing your own apples and choosing older varieties means increased health and flavour, and as usual, a better understanding of what we’re eating. Don’t zone out if you don’t have a large garden or orchard, there are plenty of smaller trees available that can be grown in pots on patios and city gardens. If you’re looking to plant something different this autumn or introduce a focal point in your outdoor space that will produce year after year, consider an apple tree.

There are hundreds of varieties to try, which all come in different shapes and sizes of tree. If you’re looking for something small to plant in a pot, ask a garden centre about ‘dwarf’ varieties, or just do a bit of research online. Some heritage apples that are very old and therefore nutrient rich are D’Arcy Spice, Devonshire Quarrenden, Golden Pippin, Pitmaston Pine Apple – but there are so many more available, each with unique flavours and qualities.

When it comes to eating your produce, don’t peel off the skin! This part of the fruit has the most nutrients. If you end up with more fruits than you know what to do with, try juicing them or adding to smoothies, baking with sugar and serving warm with ice cream, or blending them into apple sauce to freeze.

There’s so much more info available online, and I got this Autumn’s apple inspiration from October’s Gardeners’ World Magazine, where my hero Monty Don talks about planting and growing his favourite types!

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Hey there Heucheras…

Ever grown a Heuchera plant? As my new favourite, these colourful beauties should be top of the list for both beginners and experienced gardeners.

Heucheras are little evergreen clump forming plants that have stunning coloured leaves and look super all year round in pots, beds and window boxes. They are known for their resilience and being easy to look after, as well as their magnificent peppering of little flowers come summer. With names like Midnight Rose, Blackberry Jam, Marmalade, Mahogany, Cherry cola, Liquorice and Blondie in Lime, you can see how these hardy little specimens are stealing the limelight as autumn closes in.

Where to start?

If you’re planting them directly outdoors, find a partially shady spot with free draining soil (basically nowhere damp or waterlogged). Dig a hole twice the width of the plant, then place it in gently, filling the surrounding space with multipurpose compost. Ideally the crown (very top of the root ball, below the stem) should be slightly higher than ground level to avoid rotting in winter. Firm in and water well.

What about pots?

Heucheras work extremely well in pots. The conditions suit them and their striking foliage make them great plants for either side of a front door, on an urban patio, etc. They should be planted as above, ensuring the pots have sufficient drainage so there’s no wet feet. The plants have shallow roots, so depth isn’t a problem, but ensure the containers are wide enough to allow them to spread as they grow. Regular watering is essential with potted Heucheras, especially in warmer months, as they can dry out quickly.

Anything else?

You’ve got lots of tonnes of tones to play with here, so either opt for some matching plants, or go as contrasting as possible. My favourite combination is Marmalade, Liquorice and Blackberry Jam, which include rich coloured leaves and silvery veins. You can also get creative with pots – ceramics with blue, black or red glaze are eye catching and brighten up a back garden in a flash. Whether they’re in containers or directly in the ground, they tend to look best planted in threes.

Spring and autumn are the best times to plant Heucheras, so October is bang on for a colourful winter display that will bring a floral surprise once the weather heats up again. Spring clean the plants around April by nipping off any tired or dead leaves.

Where can I get them?

Carbeth Plants is my top recommendation – a good quality little plant nursery in Glasgow. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to hunt round garden centres (or go to Scotland), buy online at https://www.facebook.com/carbethplants/ to get them boxed up and straight to your door – prices are super reasonable. Also have a flick through the new and colourful Carbeth Plants Instagram @carbethplants.

Carbeth Plants: Stockiemuir road, Glasgow, G63 9AY

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Caring for Cacti

The cactus is super popular at the moment. They look minimal and smart, don’t make a mess with dead leaves, and are very easy too look after – Londoners love them.

Even though they require little care, it doesn’t mean you can ignore them completely. We know it’s easy, but what do we have to do..?! Follow these simple tips to keep your spikes looking super.

1.The pot

You’ve bought a cactus, it looks great, but it’s in a cheap plastic pot that doesn’t fit with your Scandinavian decor. Can you re-pot it? Yes. As a rule, make sure the pot is the same size or slightly bigger than the one it came in. This allows the roots space to grow and won’t restrict them. Also make sure the pot is heavy enough so your spiky friend isn’t going to topple over and ruin the carpet. Check it has drainage holes, and re-pot the cactus using cactus compost, which is dry and gritty and looks like desert (available online or from most garden centres). Use gloves to protect your hands, and gently pull off the plastic pot while holding the base of the plant, if you can. Place inside the new pot, and firm down compost around it. Alternatively, you can buy a bigger pot that the original plastic eyesore will fit neatly inside.

2. The space

Now it’s happily potted, you need to decide where to put it. Like most plants, cacti are happiest in a sunny spot, such as a windowsill, that isn’t going to heat up too much and scorch the tender greenery. Make sure it’s a well ventilated area with natural light. Don’t forget to place a saucer or small tray under your cactus to catch water after you’ve given it a drink – or move it to the sink while you do so.

3. Watering

This is where most people worry, but it’s very simple. Cacti like to feel they’re in their natural surroundings, so the watering pattern should follow suit. April – September is the growth season, so it needs moisture to support this. Depending on the temperature, water every week or so, allowing the compost to dry fully in between. From September they enter a dormant period, so a sprinkling every month should do the trick. Cacti do like dry conditions, but it doesn’t mean they can be left to look after themselves. Neither do they like sitting with a damp bottom, so keep an eye and alter your watering accordingly.

If you want to buy a cactus, or just admire some succulents, drop in to PRICK in East London. Buy online at The Cactus Shop, or pick up from local garden centres or plant sellers, such as The Chelsea Gardener, Battersea Flower Station, N1 Garden Centre and Camden Garden Centre.

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Urban Food Fortnight: 8 – 24 Sept

Sustainable living, healthy eating and urban creativity have never been more popular in London, and the capital’s Urban Food Fortnight brings all these things together.

For the sixth year in a row, the forward-thinking and unique initiative by London Food Link – part of charity Sustain – will highlight the very best of food that is made, cooked, grown and foraged in the city, with events taking place across two weeks.

An eclectic mix of workshops, music and cocktail nights will show Londoners the power and excitement behind the urban food scene, and the people making it happen. New for 2017, the Urban Food Heroes award will find 50 good food heroes – the individuals, organisations and enterprises doing good for people and the planet through food.

So what’s going on and how can you get involved? Find all 95 events listed on the website.

Here are my recommendations…

8th, 9th, 15th, 16th, 22nd, 23rd September: Midnight Apothecary at Brunel Museum

The rooftop garden at Brunel Museum will host it’s sixth season of Campfire Cocktails, featuring seasonal botanical ingredients grown on the roof and foraged close by. This spectacular yet intimate event invites you to get cosy around the campfire and watch the sunset.

Tickets here. 5.30pm, Brunel Museum Rooftop Garden, Railway Avenue, London, SE16 4LF

Saturday 9th September: Aphrodite’s Table Brunch

Eat a morning feast of delicious, seasonal food and flavours at Aphrodite’s Table in a stunning railway arch nestled in Forest Gate, East London. The traditional Turkish spread of mezze dishes is a truly unique brunch club experience.

Tickets here. 10.30am, tickets £30, Arches 370-371, Station Road, London, E7 0AB

Sunday 10th September: DagenJAM festival at Dagenham Farm

For a different farm shop experience, explore the organic farm, drop into a workshop, and buy freshly picked produce and preserves at Dagenham Farm. The homemade cream tea is a must – complete with strawberry DagenJAM.

Free event, more details here. Dagenham Farm, Central Park Nursery, Rainham Rd North, Dagenham, RM10 7EJ

Friday 15th September: Disco Soup at Mercato Metropolitano

Not to be missed, a mix of cooking, disco and sustainable food practices, described as a ‘peel good’ solution to climate change! Go along and get involved creating a collective feast from food that would otherwise be wasted. Working in conjunction with Feedback and EFFECT, with music from Ministry of Sound.

Tickets here. 3pm, 42 Newington Causeway, SE1 6DR

Saturday 16th September: Foodival 2017

The 10 year anniversary of Tooting’s Foodival, organised by Transition Town Tooting, has a strong line up for it’s birthday bash. Market stalls, cookery demos, guest speakers and music by The Sound Lounge will help celebrate locally made cider, chutney, honey, cakes and much more.

More details here. 11am – 5pm, Mushkil Aasaan & Herewood Road, SW17 7EW

Saturday 23rd September: Clissold Market Garden Open Day

Take a taste tour around the oldest site in Growing Communities Patchwork Farm, Clissold Park – the home of award-winning Hackney Salad for 20 years. Sample free food and experience the taste of city grown fruit and veg – simple but devine combinations that demonstrate the best of real, locally produced food.

More details here. Growing Communities market garden, Clissold Park N16 9HJ

 

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Going ginger: Grow you own

Lemon and ginger tea, soy and ginger stir fry… there are countless uses for this fiery root, and it’s very popular with chefs and the health conscious. I didn’t actually mean to grow my own, but somehow I’ve got a new plant.

I usually buy my root ginger from the supermarket, and when left too long in the cupboard, the ‘eyes’ start looking like they’re going to sprout (a bit like when you forget about potatoes).

Rather than throwing it away, this time I put a sprouting piece in a shallow jar of water, and watched the roots develop quickly and tiny first leaves appearing in a matter of days. Having read into it a bit more… it turns out it’s really easy to grow!

How to grow ginger

  1. If you’re doing it properly, it’s best to choose a piece of the rhizome that has several eyes, which will sprout into the first shoots. Cut off a chunk with a knife, then plant it in multipurpose compost, in a pot, and water gently. You need to make sure that the eyes are just peaking above the surface.
  2. Since ginger is a tropical spice, it’s usually found in much warmer climates. So it’s a good one to keep as a houseplant (or put it outside during summer). Place the pot in a sunny spot, and water it every time the soil starts to turn dry. Don’t let it get too damp else your soggy roots will rot!
  3. You’re probably used to using root ginger, but stem ginger is a lot harder to get hold of in the UK, and absolutely delicious. As it’s enjoyed in Asia, the floral tasting stem ginger can be dug up and eaten fresh when the plant is younger (3-5 months) when the bottom of the stem swells. This gives a mild and crunchy addition to salads, meat dishes and drinks. Just pull up the plants gently and cut off what you need.
  4. If you prefer the hot root ginger, the rhizome needs to dry out (a process which gives it the fiery taste). In late summer at least 8 months after planting, the stems will start to die back, and if you stop watering completely the roots will develop in the soil. You can then slice as much off the root as you need, being careful to leave some so the plant can survive. Place the root on a warm windowsill to dry out.

Ginger is known for its health benefits and medicinal qualities. It can aid digestion, ease colds/flu and has antioxidant effects. Grow it at home for an impressive superfood that doubles as a houseplant – you don’t even need a garden!