Our resident foodie, Lucy explores the value of eating well and making the most of the food available to us in this week’s HomeGrown blog.
Eating 30 different fruit and vegetables a week, including nuts and seeds, massively contributes to a healthier gut. Studies have shown links between gut health and the immune system, mental health, mood and skin conditions. Signing up to a vegetable box scheme is a great way to diversify your eating habits as the selection of fresh fruit and vegetables will change every week. I find meal planning a useful tool to keep my diet varied and exciting. If you find you’ve bought or grown too much, how about trying pickling, preserving or fermenting? Fermentation enhances the natural beneficial bacteria in our food known as probiotics so learning how to make sauerkraut or kimchi and adding it to your diet would also contribute to good digestive health.
A study done by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) shows that households in the UK waste 4.5m tonnes of food a year which could have still been eaten, 2.3m tonnes of this ends up in landfill or the sewer. There needs to be a greater awareness of the environmental impact of food waste, and the changes we can make to reduce this. Making chutneys, jams and pickles not only help to brighten up meals but can cut down on the amount of waste we send to landfill. They also make a wonderful homemade gift for family, friends and neighbours. I often have a jar of pickled red onions in the fridge to add to salads and sandwiches and I’m hoping if my cauliflowers manage to grow well, I’ll be able to have a go at making piccalilli.
I’m a big fan of ‘Cook Slow’ by Dean Edwards, at the start of his book, there are batch cooking base recipes. For example cooking a curry base of onions, garlic, and ginger and separating into portions for the freezer. This is a great way to save time on busy weekdays and ensures minimal waste of fresh staples.
Most fruit is suitable to be frozen, prepare them first peeling and slicing them if needed, then freeze on a tray in a single layer before bagging or boxing. This will prevent them from freezing together in a clump. Some fruits like Rhubarb and Gooseberries are extremely sharp in their raw form so should be cooked before freezing. Having prepared fruit in the freezer is really convenient for throwing into smoothies, whizzing into sorbets or cooking down into a compote to complement your morning porridge.
Rhubarb is an undemanding perennial plant and if kept healthy, can keep producing crops for up to 10 years so makes an excellent investment if you have the space in your garden. We have plenty of Rhubarb in our garden at the moment, so for this weeks recipe, I am going to make Rhubarb jam. I couldn’t find any jam sugar on my trip to the supermarket, so I substituted jam sugar for caster sugar and an apple as they are high in Pectin. Pectin is an extract from apples that acts as a thickening agent when making jam allowing us to use less sugar and shortening the cooking time. This recipe will make around 3 x 450g jars. To sterilise my jars I washed them in hot soapy water, rinsed them and without drying placed them in the oven at 160C for 10 minutes. Both jam and jars should be warm when bottling, this will make sure the jars don’t crack.
This is a recipe by Sarah Cook which I found on the BBC Good Food website.
- 1kg Rhubarb, weighed after trimming, cut into 3cm chunks
- 1kg Jam Sugar or 1kg caster sugar 1x8g sachet of pectin
- 2 Vanilla pods halved lengthways
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Put a small plate in the freezer. Put the rhubarb into a preserving pan or your largest saucepan with the sugar and halved vanilla pods. Heat gently, stirring, until all the sugar has dissolved, then squeeze in the lemon juice and increase the heat.
- Boil for about 10 mins, skimming off the scum as you go (the fruit should be soft). Test for setting point by spooning a little onto your chilled plate. After 1-2 mins, push your finger through the jam – if the surface wrinkles it is ready, if not, keep cooking for 2-min intervals, testing in between. (Or if you have a sugar thermometer it should reach 105C)
- Once the jam is ready, let it cool for about 15 mins before ladling into warm sterilised jars and sealing. Will keep for 6 months in a cool, dark place.
- Perfect on toast or on freshly baked scones with clotted cream!
I hope you enjoy experimenting with different recipes and ways to enhance the nutritious benefits of the food you’re using as well as minimising any food waste. If you would like to share your stories please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or share on social @stevalcandles.