Mrs Ermine makes a rare appearance here on Simple Living in Somerset as her normally smooth white fur was ruffled by news of national salad shortages.
The Ermine Household is far from self-sufficient, unlike back in the day when this blog was Simple Living in Suffolk and I ran The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm. Despite this, old habits die hard and we have a large vegetable garden and I forage for wild greens on a regular basis.
So these days supermarket visits are a regular event, and wandering round Tescos last week this caught my eye.
An old friend lives in an area of Spain which is well known for horticulture, including for export to the UK, so I checked in with him. Our man in Murcia reported that there are no shortages there. Of course, they may ensure local supply by slowing exports, but it did make me wonder whether the difficulties of exporting into the UK these days might not be a factor? On the BBC Radio 4 News yesterday evening it was all put down to weather conditions, but this morning’s Guardian asked the same question, “Some suppliers said potential bureaucratic hurdles meant the UK was not the first choice for hard-pressed European producers, although others said leaving the EU was not a factor in the current supply issues.”
Regardless of all that, IMHO we’re putting ourselves in a very vulnerable situation (as a nation) by being so very reliant on imports of fruit and veg which are totally out of season here, and on increasingly expensive heated domestic greenhouse production. I honestly don’t know what the policy answer to all this is. If I was the one making the decisions I’d make it a priority to have a long chat with Professor Tim Lang https://foodresearch.org.uk/publications/horticulture-in-the-uk/ before doing anything.
On a household level growing your own veg is time consuming, many people don’t have access to a garden big enough to make a difference, and it may simply not appeal… if any of these apply to you then please feel free to disregard this post and wait for the next instalment here from Mr Ermine (though he adds a post script below).
But I wonder whether some FIRE folk might not be interested to learn how Ermine Towers is weathering the current salad shortage storm, which Radio 4 reports may continue for some weeks? Over the years I’ve found a decent veg garden to be great way to guarantee a supply of really good quality, utterly fresh seasonal veg, as well as saving thousands of pounds – I once read an estimate that a well-managed allotment garden could save a few thousand a year. My allotment certainly helped me to keep my costs down early on in my career in engineering, before I ran the farm, and my times outdoors helped keep me more or less sane through it.
Right now we eat a mix of bought and home grown veg, and salads are a regular feature on the Ermine Towers menu, so the shortages simply don’t affect us at all. I wouldn’t dream of buying fresh tomatoes in February as we eat more or less seasonally, and I focus on crops we both like that require the least work for maximum yield. My ten years as a market gardener (once I’d escaped working for the man) gave me the opportunity to hone this to a fine art.
Now, in late February, I’m harvesting the last of the winter leeks along with cut-and-come-again cabbage (variety Wintergreen- I sow them in late August, overwinter them in pots outside, then plant them out around now, they last over 12 months and I will still be harvesting the ones sown in 2021 for a few more weeks, harvesting the flower shoots like sprouting broccoli before clearing the bed). A more recent addition is perennial Kale, my variety is Taunton Deane, so far it is very promising and productive. Perennial leeks are to be this year’s experiment. My sprouting broccoli isn’t doing terribly well this year after the very cold winter, there are always winners and losers every year.
Right now our salads are a mix of:
- Home cooked lentils. I like the British grown green ones from Hodmedod’s – and just to prove I’m not getting a kickback, you’ll need to Google them 😉 I did meet the people who set it up ages ago and they were really inspiring, and it has been incredibly successful since then. Good for them.
- A mix of seeds, again from Hodmedod’s.
- One vegetable (ed: carrots) I buy organic as I am suspicious of any chemical that can bump off carrot fly. I can’t be bothered to grow them here, not least as we have clay soil which doesn’t suit them. I use a vegetable peeler to make strips of them, it is prettier.
- Chopped red onion. Again, bought – they are cheap and colourful.
- Home produced lacto fermented veg, currently a mix of last year’s home grown green tomatoes that weren’t going to ripen, last year’s surplus French and runner beans, and sauerkraut made from shop bought red and white cabbage. There is a lot of song and dance about how complicated it is to make home fermented veg – it isn’t. It is cheap and easy, I wouldn’t bother otherwise. It is also incredibly good for you. I store it in sealed jars in big plastic storage boxes buried in the garden to keep them cool.
- Mixed home grown, and foraged, salad leaves. The ones from the garden right now include claytonia and red veined sorrel from the greenhouse, broad bean leaves, dandelions, & cleavers: the mix varies through the year. I find most shop bought salad leaves insipid and stale – I’m convinced that home grown and foraged greens contain considerably more nutrients than most shop bought salads.
Our salads are cheap, good for us, and Mr Ermine, while not a huge fan of salad, admits they do “taste of something” unlike those in (most) restaurants.
It does take effort to do all this, a few hours a week, but I enjoy it for the most part and regard it as a way to improve our health and quality of life without spending a fortune. Audiobooks transform the experience, when I first started gardening I used a Sony Walkman (remember those?!) to play books from the library. If you’re interested in these gardening ideas, please do bear in mind that the UK climate is quite specific and odd: our growing season is short and the light levels are quite low despite fairly mild temperatures thanks to the Gulf Stream. So what works here in the South West of England may not work elsewhere, even in the North of the UK… but it is all about experimentation and asking local gardeners what does work, then taking what they say with a pinch of salt, everyone has a strong opinion when it comes to gardening, and there is rarely a consensus. A bit like the situation surrounding Brexit, but that is another story.
Welcome to the Brexit, sir
We were indulging in some decadence on the south coast today, fish and chips with a glass of rose and a view over the English Channel.
Which meant I missed DPD’s attempt to deliver a secondhand camera lens. DPD only attempt one delivery, then deliver it three miles up the road, to a Sainsburys concession outlet. I wanted to get to play with the new toy. And take the chance to substantiate this scurrilous rumour that Blighty is running low on toms and veg.
Seems a fair cop. There’s a Lidl nearby, so it’s time to load up on beer, and have a reccy on the presence of green things
On the upside, they had beer.
As the friendly Dutchman said, welcome to the Brexit, sir. A smaller market will experience more variability in supply. It’s not impossible to imagine better solutions within Brexit, but it takes strategic thinking and money, which seem in short supply with the crew that Got Brexit Done. I’m not even of the view it will take Jake’s 50 years. What is does need, is grit, determination and some attention to detail. Let’s take a look back in time.
As a child in London over fifty years ago, I recall there being some market gardens in the city1, as well as around it. There were many more allotments then, and even in the working-class area of London, New Cross where I grew up, many houses had respectable gardens. My Dad used to grow onions in the garden, I’m sure he grew other things as well but it’s a long time ago. These terraced houses had alternating apple and pear trees, on the assumption neighbours would swap. We had an apple tree.
Observant fellows will note that was before Britain joined the Common Market in 1972, we should note that times were very different. Once a week ISTR I would go along with my mother dragging a shopping trolley the two miles to Lewisham , and she would buy veg at the market stalls that used to line Lewisham High Street. Google tells me there is again a Lewisham open market there. We did not have a car 2, although we would walk there sometimes we would get the No 21 bus back to New Cross if we had bought something like spuds. It took some doing to heft a loaded shopping trolley up onto the open platform of a routemaster double-decker, I think you could stow it in a cubbyhole under the stairs, next to the platform.
Much of this fruit and veg, though not things like oranges and bananas, was grown in Kent though some was grown in the city. People didn’t buy veg from supermarkets then, they were much smaller than now and a much smaller range, mainly focusing of dry goods and non-fresh stuff. Few people had freezers then – our fridge had one star, where at best you could keep ice-cream where the ice cube tray went, and even then it would start to lose the fight after a few hours.
We can’t replicate that world. Housing is very different. Jobs are very different. Families are very different. But we could probably find a better way to grow our food, and perhaps not be such punks as to demand strawberries and tomatoes in February. Working a little bit more with the grain of the seasons might reduce those energy bills farmers are grousing about. But until we apply ourselves to making a better fist of this we will have empty shelves more often.
- The vast majority of veg was grown outside of London, and interchanged in the early hours of the morning at Covent Garden market. Kent used to be the Garden of England due to its proximity to the Great Wen and its southerly location with a warmer climate ↩
- Although some readers may jump to the conclusion we were living under the railway arches poor not having a car, it wasn’t that unusual in the 1960s – it took until the 1970s for half of British households to own a car ↩
38 thoughts on “Mrs Ermine’s Seasonal Salads”
Very enjoyable read, ermine, thanks. You stirred the ancient ashes of my ‘alternative’ soul from back in the late ’70s with your talk of growing things and self-sufficiency. And that salad looks fresh and delicious.
An amusing hatchet job by John Crace in the Graun yesterday, demolishing Coffey’s uselessness and indifference to things like the absence of salad stuff from the shelves.
Coincidentally I was also this week remembering Richard Mabey’s early book, Food For Free, which I bought way back when but only rarely used to forage. Thinking I would dig it out and use it a bit more thoroughly. (On a related note, Mabey’s book Flora Britannica is a fascinating and idiosyncratic read, well worth buying at least a second-hand copy.)
Your piece also brought back to mind a chap called John Seymour who was an early self-sufficiency guy and wrote a book about his efforts, Fat of the Land, also part of my youthful library. I do remember reading a comment by him to the effect that unless you wanted to be slogging away 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, and maybe not even then, you’d never be truly self-sufficent. There was a reason why rural villages evolved, I guess, an early version of division of labour. What I took away from his comment was that there was a sweet spot in growing your own, which I imagine you’d have more experience of than me…
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> What I took away from his comment was that there was a sweet spot in growing your own
I am not the gardener of the Ermine household. Our last house had a tiny garden, which was part of my and DxGFs spec 😉
However, I could parse what seemed to make sense from one talk Mrs Ermine gave when we were running the farm :
favour things that are expensive (peppers were an example, note you can’t grow them outside in the UK)
favour things where you observe a difference in flavour – in my case tomatoes. Grow in the soil, in a sunny aspect and outside is so much better than the wasserbomben. IMO they want to grow in soil – I’ve tried using growbags and tomorite and I may as well buy from Tesco.
favour things you actually like
favour things that suit your soil
That Therese Coffey is a top class waste of space, eh? The Force is not strong in this crew.
The obvious answer is for us all to just not eat fruit and veg, I mean who needs fruit and veg anyway? Sure it has fibre and vital nutrients and our NHS is struggling with more and more unwell people but it’s a small price to pay for our sovrinty. My mate’s doing the ‘carnivore’ diet and he’s lost weight and seems happy about it. He hasn’t been to the toilet for 3 days but that’s just a good time saver really, it’s win-win. When you think about it, constipation is just another Brexit benefit, it’s good news really.
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Lovely article, would be pleased to learn Mrs E’s method of preserving lacto fermented vegetables.
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@ todthedog & @greencat66
With pleasure. We’ve never had any problems with upset stomachs with any of this, but we both have pretty robust constitutions. Make sure everything smells good before you eat it, and maybe try just a bit to begin with if you have a sensitive digestion.
Fermented green tomatoes (I’ve only done fairly little ones so far) and French or runner beans I make by packing the veg into a glass jar (I top and tail, the beans, and de-string if necessary). Add a bay leaf or two, alternatively vine leaves or oak leaves also work (these leaves add tannin which helps to keep everything crunchy). I use old olive jars and such like.
Then I pour over brine, made with proper sea salt 50g per litre, properly dissolved and mixed, and weigh the veg down with cleaned stones from a beach or garden. Everything needs to be below the surface of the brine, and stay there. No need to sterilise the jars or boil the brine. I leave them at room temperature for a few days with the lid only loosely sealed so the fermentation gases can escape for a few days until they taste “pickled” enough, maybe up to a week, depends on the ambient temperature. Then seal and cool to slow the fermentation – I put them into the plastic storage boxes buried in the back garden. I put some bubble wrap over the sealed jars inside the box to even out the temperature, and I put an old opened out compost bag over the box lid, holes sealed with gaffer tape, weighed down with bricks, to protect everything from sun and rain.
Sauerkraut I make with a mix of red and white round cabbage as it comes out a really pretty pink colour which is welcome in mid-winter. I use 45g proper sea salt for 2kg cabbage, and make it in big kilner jars. Chop the cabbage up, doesn’t need to be too tidy – I am usually in a rush. Layer cabbage and salt in the jar, thumping it down with the wrong end of a wooden spoon from time to time to compact it and break the cell walls to release water. Don’t add water. Keep doing this until the jar is full then put a smaller glass jar on top filled with water and sealed, using it to press down from time to time to release the water in the cabbage until it is all covered in brine. This may take a day or so, just keep thumping it down with the jar each time you pass. I cover it with cling film so flies can’t get in, and to reduce evaporation. Again leave for a few days… maybe a week? Taste it from time to time, it needs to taste pickled and be covered in brine. When you are happy with it, take the little jar out, weigh the cabbage down with one or more large cleaned stones, seal the jar, then keep cool to slow the fermentation. I partly bury the large jars in the garden and covered with bits of broken plant to etc to keep the sunlight out.
All these then keep for months, and continue to ferment very slowly. I usually end up throwing out the top inch or two of sauerkraut as it dries out a bit. You can keep all this in the fridge, I do it in the garden as our fridge is always packed.
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Thanks for the post. Another absorbing read, per usual. Quick question: to which vegetable is Mrs Ermine referring to in the third bullet point?
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That’s carrots. We did grow them of the farm but it was a bear to keep carrot fly off them – you can use mechanical means (cover with plastic mesh called enviromesh, which you can reuse if you are careful) but it was a bit hit and miss on a field scale. Carrot fly shreds the roots building tunnels.
On a garden scale you can be more successful because the attack area is smaller, but attention to detail is all. We have clay soil here, and carrots hate that, they wants sandy soil like in Suffolk.
RHS on carrot fly they say
which sort of begs the question, so industrial strength pesticides are strong stuff regarded unsafe in non-professional hands, eh 😉
Carrot fly: ha! Somehow I managed not to notice that rather obvious clue. Evidently not at my brightest this morning. Thanks for the clarification.
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not enough coffee 😉 Having said that. I recall my Dad growing carrots in his London garden. I believe London is clay soil, so either carrot fly has become worse over the decades or he had a magic touch!
Thank you will be giving that a bash😁
Fascinating reading this post. I grew up watching The Good Life, and have an ancient and battered copy of Food for Free. As an optimistic gardener and self-grower it’s interesting to hear your exploration of perennial veg. I was investigating Daubenton kale (https://backyardlarder.co.uk/plants/perennial-vegetables/), but unlikely to plant now as we’re planning to move. I also really like the Real Seed Company (https://www.realseeds.co.uk/) for interesting varieties.
Do you dabble in animal husbandry, or just the plants?
Sod flown-in salad veg in mid-winter. Local in season stuff is so much more varied and inspiring.
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@Magnus Muir thanks, and that account of Coffey’s crash and burn at the NFU is amusing, if dispiriting. And yes, Richard Mabey and John Seymour are both great authors. I resisted buying John Seymour’s “Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency” in my mid-20s when I was working in IT as I knew it would change my life. But I cracked, and it did. Yes, complete self-sufficiency would be ridiculously hard work. Instead at the farm we evolved into a “scavenge” economy using waste from the nearby town (legal waste food for animals, woodchip, old wheelie bins donated by the council to build chicken feeders… the list went on) which made it less tricky to balance the books. A more recent book I found intriguing is “The Ecotechnic Future” by John Micheal Greer, and an old classic, which is perhaps more for inspiration than accurate plant identification is “Wild Food” by Roger Phillips. I bought it about the same time as I acquired “The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency” and immediately became obsessed.
@wephway I mean who needs fruit and veg anyway? 😉
@Curlew – thanks, and sorry! Carrots – thanks for pointing out the omission. Mr Ermine will get onto it at some point.
@TheFIREShrink Ah, The Good Live – yes, essential viewing in the 1970s! We don’t have livestock now. I don’t want the tie, and the garden isn’t really big enough. Back in the day we had pigs, geese, bullocks and chickens. The only ones I miss are chickens, they were all great in a way, but a lot of work and responsibility.
Mrs E, my apologies for inadvertently giving the credit to your Mr!
The points he lists above from your talk are a good summary and I will hang on to these until I can go back to growing veg. Also thanks for the other book recs.
It’s sometimes a small world: my mother’s neighbour in Shrewsbury a few years ago, an elderly Welsh widow, had a farm in Pembrokeshire with her husband in the 60s / 70s; I don’t remember how the subject came up but it turned out that their neighbour then was Seymour, deep in his self-sufficient pursuits.
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One point from that talk I missed was perhaps the biggest: grow herbs. You don’t need a garden, a widowsill will do, pref sunny. Herbs give you the biggest bang for the buck and are just so much better live than dried taste wise
To my embarrassment, Mrs Ermine pointed out you can overcut them, and five rosemary plants are not enough in winter ;). Fortunately rosemary loves the SW – cuttings are easy to strike here. Indeed, the rosemary I had in my Suffolk garden 15 years ago was struck from a cutting taken from the town I live in now, they grew as weeds against a wall.
@Magnus Muir no problem! I’m only an occasional contributor here so an easy assumption to make 🙂 How fascinating about your mother’s neighbour… did you hear any tales of the Seymour’s antics? I would have loved to have met them.
Ah, the joys of the allotment. Depending on the good old Scottish weather it’s either the most cost effective produce I’ve ever eaten or the most expensive. Still, it’s seasonal.
I try to avoid buying out of season stuff mainly because it tastes, well, tasteless. Tomato’s from Holland in January a case in point. I’d rather do without. Strawberries that go mouldy a day after buying them, no thanks. Add to that the transport costs, emissions, cost of fertiliser and it won’t be long before the odd bit of fruit and veg is out of reach for some people.
Recently looked up what amount of food we grow in the UK and was shocked to find we import around 42%. Of that food around 20% is thrown out. Crazy. Despite all the initiatives going on food still ends up in landfill.
A trip this morning to the supermarkets confirmed that the panic buyers had been out in force, with little or no cucumbers or tomato’s to be found. Fridges no doubt rammed full only for most of it to be binned come Monday morning.
Something we will never run out of in this country is panic buyers. Present a scenario of a shortage in the media and the sound of footsteps thundering their way to the shops sounds like a stampede on the Serengeti.
It’s a wonder we ever enter into recessions. Just say somethings in short supply and the pennies will roll into the treasury’s coffers. The one item truly in short supply is common sense.
I’m as far from self sufficiency as Newton Abbot is from Peking but getting my plot ready for the upcoming season is something I quite look forward to. I try to improve my yield every year. ( Thanks for the cut and come again cabbage tip, I’ll be trying that).
Used to keep chickens as well but avian flu has put that endeavour on hold up here. Anyone wanting to give it a go, you can rehome ex battery hens for next to nothing. You get eggs, they get a decent life. Win win.
A flock of six takes about an hour of your time a week to keep clean.
Has Brexit had anything to do with these shortages? I truly don’t know. I’d like to think our continental cousins wouldn’t cut their nose off to spite their face regarding custom. As for red tape, it’s always been there in some way shape or form.
In any case, best of luck with the upcoming season and happy planting!!!!!!
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@William Interesting reflections, thanks.
> In any case, best of luck with the upcoming season and happy planting!!!!!!
And to you too!
@ Madame L’ermine, apparently biochar is an amazingly simple yet eloquent and complete mechanism to restructure and improve clay soil all-round, by a log scale; there are good youtube videos on how to do it.
@ Ermine, re: ‘welcome to the brexit’, wot, UK’s salad days are over? 🙂
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@FI – thanks, I shall take a look at biochar 🙂
Ah, soon after posting I thought you may already know about that, but I’d only discovered it despite being from a farming background.
So similarly just-in-case, I’ll mention fungi. I have a scientist colleague whose hobby is mushroom cultivation, mainly oyster and shitaake, right here in the UK. I’ve seen his product just on his little plot in suburbia, growing on oak logs and they’re amazing, including the unexpected hybrids between the two types; size, taste, growth rate and years of repeat harvesting with almost no time invested after the startup costs and effort. He just feeds his family with the hobby, but it could easily be scaled up, is a delicious, quality product and I would regularly forgo meat to eat it.
More practically though, he ‘seeded’ his allotment with the general fungal spore mix also bought over the net and yields of everything planted went up by a log scale as the fungal hyphal network exchanges nutrients with the plant root systems. Kale in particular is spectacular with year round harvests every few weeks from the same root stock. After seeing that, I am willing to accept that with intelligent appropriate agricultural practices, you could affordably feed even the UK’s population on its land and climate without carpeting the land with oil-needy greenhouses.
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We had to cut this old tree down because it had canker and made lots of tiny rotten apples near the house which got wasp-tastic in summer, though the red admirals feeding on the windfalls were nice. Anyway, we drilled this and put plugs of oyster mushrooms from ebay.
WARNING I have absolutely no idea of if these are edible or even oyster fungi. We figured this was going to be an easy win because even if inedible it will break down the stump making it easier to get rid of. Mrs Ermine is our mushroom expert. We also tried using some logs and shitake plugs but nothing happened, despite beating the crap out of the logs afterwards to simulate falling to the forest floor, which seems a thing, but not for us.
@ ermine, haha, I remember helping him with that and hoping nobody could see us cos it looks crazy, which is funnily enough why I didn’t mention it. I can tell you what I did and saw with my own eyes, ideally you soak the wood in water for days to ensure it is as moist as possible, then try and batter it a bit. We passed a tree-cutting crew dropping an oak tree (apparently the best type) near his house, politely explained why we wanted some to the bemused chainsaw wielder who then nicely cut us the perfect size. This had already been ‘shocked’ by the fall and we spayed it with a hosepipe until bored enough to quit, put in the plugs later, oyster at one end, shitaake at the other and piled them from ground to roof by the most shaded outer wall of his house. Within weeks there were tiny mushrooms that looked like the photos and last I checked, years later the same logs were still supplying massive mushrooms, with hybrids at the mid-point of the logs too ! All in all, it was just a bit of fun over a few scattered afternoons when he was bored between jobs, mainly for the exercise and to keep our brains alive, not even much effort or seed funding.
If that motivates you to have another go, I’m sure there are even more u-tube tutorials around nowadays as it becomes more widespread. On affordability, effort, space and time, it’s probably one of the best payoffs for gardener hobbyists to do. Interestingly though, he owns some unused, marginal land in the Med that also has scattered, scrubby oak trees on it and this experiment was a proof-of-concept trial for improving that land when he retires soon to escape the brexit and self-deport to where he’s really from.
Maybe our fail was the soaking beforehand, I think we wet it, but not enough. The fungus is most likely turkey-tail Trametes ssp. I haven’t keyed the bugger because others are better at that sort of thing. Looks like it will do a top job of breaking the stump down, though that’s now a 100% fail on propagating fungi intentionally, oh well.
The pics of grocery stores void of veg remind me of the stark difference between Dresden and Munich the year after the Berlin wall fell. Transportation across the no-longer-existing border had not been sorted and no enterprising person had yet begun transporting veg, so fresh produce in Dresden was rarely seen while Munich was an absolute oasis by comparison.
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@George Now there is an interesting parallel to draw.
I found a news article in Metro online with Prof Tim Lang’s opinion on the current situation (he is a bit of a hero)
‘The food system is designed on “just-in-time” logistics,’ he said. “There’s no storage. So if things go wrong, disruption in supplies is quick to emerge.
‘The current disruption and loss of supplies have been emerging for some time.
‘The weekly monitor by The Grocer, for example, known as the Grocer-33, has found availability dropping for some time. By last November, it was about 91% whereas it used to be 97%.
‘This drop is due to global factors, Brexit border delays, volatility of world food prices, a steady flood of ‘events’ such as gas prices, trade wars, climate emergencies, and reliance on satellite-based logistics which can be disrupted.’
Just read an amusing article where Therese Coffey has apparently suggested eating turnips as an alternative to the shortages we are experiencing. Struggling to decide if it’s in the same league as the famous Marie Antoinette misquote, or if she’s a relation of Blackadders Baldrick ,who’s love of all things turnip related is well documented.
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And apparently (according to “The Sun”) they have run out of turnips in the Tesco in Ely… 😉
The supermarkets seem to be out of eggs too. Not sure they can blame avian flu for that, I thought the birds would just be moved indoors to protect against it. Maybe it is just more panic buying.
Slightly off topic, but as my electrical applainces die they are getting replaced. This month the vacuum cleaner conked out. The new one uses slightly less than half the power of the old one on a standard setting. It was old, 22 years so I can’t complain, but the new one takes 400 watts less to run with no discernable loss of suction. I used to think I was getting warm for the exercise of vacuuming, but maybe it was the excess heat from the motor.
I don’t want to jinx it, but I am slowly running out of old appliances that are overdue to be replaced. Just my car and central heating boiler left – yikes that will could be expensive!
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> but the new one takes 400 watts less to run with no discernable loss of suction
I will have you know, good Sir, that I have it on very good authority – that of the Moggster himself, no less, that a major advantage of Brexit is that you will be permitted to buy vacuum cleaners of manly wastefulness of power again. Forsooth the milquetoast Eurocrats dictated that Thy Vacuum Cleaners may consume only Half the power of Thy goodly Great British Wall sockets, throttling the Suckers back to 1400W rather than the full-throated Great British Sucking Force of 3kW.
Eggs, eh. Well, as Therese Coffey would say “let them eat turnips” – same sort sort of round objects, just boil ’em for half an hour rather than four minutes and you’re golden! Welcome to the Brexit, sir, where you end up on the Atkins diet even if you’re vegan but at least you can suck for Britain again 😉
(i) You’re right about herbs. After all chicken is nigh on inedible without tarragon.
(ii) Jerusalem artichoke: easy as pie in the shady, claggy clay corner of our garden. Make them into soup with damaged or undersized tatties and a bit of bacon. Delicious hug-you-through-the-winter food.
(iii) Panic buying: we walked into the butchers this morning to find a woman making off with four cartons of eggs.
(iv) My wife reports that Budgens is usually well stocked. Also they can be relied on for good baking potatoes which we enjoy with shop-bought coleslaw and our own green tomato chutney. The latter matures well: we’re currently on a jar of 2009 vintage. Our own damson chutney goes well with slaw too but we tend to reserve it for pork pies. We’re now getting too old to nip up a ladder to pick damsons so it’s just as well that it’s a keeper too.
An excellent piece and I would appreciate hearing more from Mrs Ermine. 18 months ago, I upped our food security investments as a way to hedge the incoming cost inflation and to maintain financial investment activity.
Reader, it worked. Green bean, apple sauce and wild garlic pesto slow cooker curry is a regular at our house. The different curry mixes completely mask the fact that one is eating roughly the same thing (with different added veg each time). (Other options are available, we have a ton of apples and wild garlic and green beans are a multi bagger crop)
For perennial leeks, we have them. They are achingly expensive and are taking an age to bulk up. I would recommend putting the word out to get a few bulblets from someone who already has them (I’m too far away or else would offer). But it is deeply satifying to be harvesting a crop that has cost almost bugger all in effort.
Another tip is for beetroot. Make beetroot kvass, then use the beetrrot pieces in soups and stews, or whatever you would usually use them for. Double value from the same vegetable. I have also fermented or pickled the beetroot after kvass making so there was double the preserved quantity from a single batch. Much recommended.
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I think these bad guys are perennial leek seeds
I think that was a seed swap Mrs Ermine did last year. Doesn’t look much. But I am not the gardner, so they could very well be something else altogether. But I do recall the hushed reverence and great value placed on ’em, whatever they are!
Thanks for sharing, Mrs Ermine.
I’m very much a beginner gardener, having only started learning to grow stuff during lockdown. Currently, I’ve got some little courgette sproutlings on the go, also some leeks, though those already don’t look promising.
Although I’m not really a salad person I do like snacking on cherry tomatoes so will try growing those again and will also give broad beans another go.
I’m not going to be able to successfully grow enough to replace my supermarket veggies but supplementing the shop will be satisfying!
I’ve always fancied the idea of growing mushrooms (the kind that you can buy in supermarkets!) but the kits are horribly expensive so not worth the bother.
How to get a good mushroom crop: we bought spent mushroom compost to use as a mulch. We spread it. Rain came. Mushrooms!
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Nice post – FIRE and self-sufficiency subjects are right up my street. Taunton Deane kale is a real superstar as far as i’m concerned, but make sure you have enough replacement cuttings on the go – the December frost looks like it has finished off my prize specimen, which was a real shock to me as i thought it was bullet proof from the cold. Thanks for the tip about wintergreen cabbage, i need to look that up. I’ve been growing Asturian Tree Cabbage, and they’ve been a fantastic perennial for a couple of years, but again the frost has severely impacted them this winter and i’ve lost most of my mature plants, so maybe your hardy cabbage variety will dovetail in nicely with them. Fermenting veg is an art that many people in the UK are unaware of these days and they simply don’t appreciate the benefits. Right now i’m frantically trying to cram as many grated jerusalem artichokes into kilner jars as possible, for some delicious kimchi, but there will still be a mountain pile of them left over as there’s no way i’l be able to use them all. Kefir is another product that i’ve turned my attention to recently (especially as the good old supermarkets pretty much doubled their prices in the space of few months!). For a tiny initial outlay for the grains it’s the easiest process going, and you end up with an extremely healthy concoction.
For perennial leeks, there are at least 2 varieties out there. I made the mistake of buying Poireau about 3 years ago, and their growth, if you could call it that, has been abject. At best they reach the size of a small pencil so pretty much useless for me so far in the kitchen. Babington’s, on the other hand seem to grow larger, so hopefully that’s the variety you’ve got.
A few related things we stumbled upon accidentally.
1) plant overripe (i.e. virtually inedible) strawberry’s in soil in pots in the greenhouse [heated in winter] – they grow a lot of new strawberry plants with fruit the next year
2) if you cut the stump off a shop bought lettuce – rather than bin it either place it in water( indoors in a sunny spot) or in soil in the greenhouse – and it will grow again! If you place the stump on a sheet of damp kitchen roll you may also see some bright colours appear too – not sure if this is a reaction with dye in the kitchen roll or is down to some chemicals in the lettuce – but interesting nonetheless.
As for tomatoes, a couple of years ago we grew some whoppers from seeds we collected more than a decade earlier during a late summer holiday in Italy. They were remarkably successful. And we passed some of the seedlings on to some friends with an allotment who in due course passed us back their biggest tomato from that batch – at a mere 1.3kg and tasty too!!
Let them eat turnips indeed – what a xxxx
Quality information on what just an individual can do to live a better life through their planting:
After watching this, for the first time I accepted we can support even the world’s current population without resorting to industrialised, oil-dependent agriculture, fascinating if you respect real food.