Category Archives: Living the Good Life
I always loved ‘The Good Life’ series and secretly I’d really like to be Barbara :)
As some of you may have read here before, I have been undertaking a project which I’m calling A Year of Living Seasonally. It occurs to me typing this that I haven’t written much on it in the last couple of months – is that possibly something to do with the quietness and hibernation-type elements of winter? Maybe. Living seasonally – for me anyway – means being more aware of the seasons , more aware of the changes that each new season brings and one element of that which interests me is food. I love to cook and to try out new recipes, I love to eat, and I will happily read a good cookbook in the same way that I would read a novel. Or any half decent book come to that.
But back to food. Food, glorious food! I do most of the cooking and food shopping in our house and try to ensure we eat a range of different foods. We also grow vegetables and fruit and this year I am determined to plan our eating more around what we can grow for ourselves. We don’t have any animals (yet!). I am fairly choosy about the food I buy on the whole – 90% of the meat we eat comes from our local butcher’s shop who not only sell meat, they also have their own abattoir and as they are also farmers, produce some of the meat themselves. I buy very little heavily processed food, yes on occasion we do have takeaways, and yes on the odd occasion we eat with our daughter in fast food outlets (I cannot bring myself to term them restaurants), but overall we try at the very least to be aware of what we are eating. I am hoping to get hold of Joanna Blythman’s new book Swallow This, soon which may well be an eye opener for me.
So tying all of this into my Year of Living Seasonally project, I began to wonder what is seasonal food anyway? I would understand it to be food that is naturally ready for eating at any specific time. In terms of fruit and vegetables, it is those which have finished growing and are ready for harvesting. With regard to meat it is that which has grown to the stage at which those people who eat meat consider it ready to eat. Pulses, nuts, legumes, same as fruit and veg I would have thought. I have a feeling this year of living seasonally might change my understanding of what is seasonal food and might see me trying out some new foods.
I’ve been doing a bit of a declutter of late and I realised I have stacks of cookery magazines, many of which I’ve never even read. So this morning I decided to start looking at them. I started with Country Kitchen, a British based magazine. I freely admit I was seduced by the title and the tagline which reads “Cooking with traditional, seasonal and fresh food.” It’s interesting to realise that I’ve been thinking along these lines for years but have never done anything much about it. Country Kitchen magazine (I’m not sure if it is still in publication) listed the foods that were in season (presumably in Britain) every month. As I live in Ireland, the seasons are much the same as those in Britain so I’m going to take these as a starting point. I compiled this into a list of my own. (I love lists) Some of it was quite fascinating. To take this month – March – as an example, they say the meat currently in season is rabbit, spring lamb and venison. You won’t get rabbit or venison in any shop in my town (a small town I grant you) and round here unless you shoot or know someone who does, you’ll be hard pushed to get them. On to fish. Wild salmon, oysters, mussels, sea trout, razor clams, scallops and elvers. How easy are these to get hold of for most people? With the exception of the sea trout they are not easy for me that’s for sure. Fruit? They say apples, pears, forced rhubarb are all seasonal. Yes, I’d agree on the rhubarb, although I’d question if forced rhubarb is really adhering to having in its natural season. We have rhubarb in the garden and this year’s new leaves are just beginning to emerge. We don’t force it, never have. Apples and pears? Well if they are stored well from last year then I suppose they could be called seasonal. And what vegetables are supposed to be seasonal this month according to the magazine? Beetroot, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chicory, endive, garlic, kale, leek, lettuce, nettle, onion, scallion (spring onion), parsnip, potato, radish, seakale, sorrel, spinach,squash, turnip. Hmmm. I might not be thinking about seasonality the right way. We have grown many of these in our garden and none would be harvested around now. Garlic and onions yes we have had our own supply of those harvested the previous autumn and still using in spring (not this year though, last year’s onions and garlic didn’t do so well)
So is something considered seasonal if is still available from storage? That I am not sure about. I just discovered a lovely website Eat the Seasons which looks at all of this in more detail, and gives recipes too. While I am clearly still learning about what exactly constitutes seasonal food, I can make sure that I buy food produced and grown as locally as possible. I will not be buying strawberries in March, or asparagus in April, not unless the Irish seasons change dramatically!
I’ve made a fair few pots of jam this summer – gooseberry, gooseberry & elderflower, marrow & ginger, marrow & orange (divine) and blueberry. While I’m far from an expert jam maker it is getting somewhat easier and less stressful every time, although I am going to invest in a proper jam thermometer soon and try and take more of the guesswork out of the whole setting point palaver.
So today I’m experimenting and stretching my culinary skills (or lack thereof) just that tad further, and I’m making jelly. Blackberry and apple jelly to be precise. I’ve also seen it described as hedgerow jelly. Recipe is simple enough out of a tiny wee book and it really is tiny, look (the ball of string is just for comparison!) The blackberries were picked from the hedges bordering our garden and a friend gave me a bag of apples recently so I figured I’d give it a go.
So you take equal amounts of blackberries and apples (I used a pound of each). Chop apples into small pieces but do not peel or core them. Place in a pan with the washed blackberries and barely cover with water. Bring to the boil slowly and then simmer for an hour. (That’s the easy bit). Then strain the juice through a jelly bag. (Now it got more complicated)
I’m not naturally practical or technically minded and so I was pondering how to safely suspend the jelly bag full of warm cooked fruit (which smells fabulous) without covering the kitchen and myself in purple juice. After a couple of failed attempts I managed it.
And that’s where we are currently at. I’m sitting at my kitchen table looking at the jelly bag suspended over one of my mixing bowls very very slowly dripping juice. The temptation to squeeze it and hurry things along is great but all the books say that will make a cloudy jelly. I’ll report back when its finally done!
Ever read a book you were immensely looking forward to and ended up disappointed? It happened to me recently. I’ve been interested in self-sufficiency, the good life, living outside of the system, whatever you want to call it, for years now. While I’m not in a position to adopt that kind of lifestyle at present (and maybe never will be) it doesn’t stop me daydreaming and thinking about it. In the last couple of years I’ve been reading accounts by and about people who have done this – or similar things. And some of them have been fascinating – Carol Drinkwater’s series of books about her olive farm in the south of France enthralled me and I’d recommend them to anyone. Some I stumbled across and didn’t expect to enjoy; Rosie Boycott’s Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes was one such. Review of it here (originally published as Our Farm). As well as a highly enjoyable account of how she and her husband set up a smallholding near Ilminster in Somerset, it is a passionate call for people to realise the impact of supermarkets on small towns and communities and for us to think more about where our food actually comes from. Rosie Boycott isn’t the first to write about such issues of course, but her book is so well written that it is easy to engage with the arguments she makes and you get completely swept up in Ilminster’s battle that the book becomes something of a pageturner. So that was one book I loved although I wasn’t expecting to.
In much of my reading about self-sufficiency I came across many references to Scott and Helen Nearing, considered by many (and rightly so IMHO) to be the pioneers of the concept of ‘The Good Life’ The Good Life Center. Intrigued by the story of this couple who built their own houses by hand, who gardened, who lived out of the system to a large extent, I ordered their books and looked forward greatly to reading them. Now, my life being what it is, I waited for a time when I could read the books properly, not having to rush through them and read them bit by bit when other commitments permitted. So I finally got round to them over the last couple of weeks.
Imagine then my disappointment when I read them and didn’t enjoy them. Don’t get me wrong, they are quite interesting and full (sometimes too full) of useful detail and information for anyone who wants to live that life. But oh my word the books are so dry and so puritanical. You never get a sense of how they FELT to be living this way, what they thought, whether they had any struggles. The life they describe comes across (to me anyway) as humourless and austere. The word ‘dour’ (especially when said in a Scottish accent) sums it up perfectly. Don’t misunderstand me, I admire what the Nearings did and I can see how and why they have inspired so many to try something similar. But oh did life have to be so devoid of fun????
I read ‘Living the Good Life’, ‘Continuing the Good Life’ and ‘Loving and Leaving the Good Life’. And they’ve all gone to the charity shop…… I hope someone else enjoys them. I really wanted to and I didn’t. Ah well.
For a long time now I have been entranced by the idea of self-sufficiency. I LOVE ‘The Good Life’ (classic 1970’s British sitcom) The Good Life and always fancied myself as a bit of a Barbara to the extent that my husband and I jokingly call each other Tom & Barbara whenever we are working away in the garden or when he is repairing things around the house rather than just buying something new. But I have never really done anything about it apart from read books on self-sufficiency from John Seymour to the Hamilton brothers and accounts of other people leaving the Rat Race (such as Elizabeth West) and daydream. A lot.
But this year I am going to be 40. The big 40 where life begins so it is said. And I’m thinking about it all again. However, this time I’ve resolved not to rush into it all madly, and take on too much and then fail miserably and become depressed as a result. Nope, this time I am taking it slooooooowly. I have a lot more constraints on my time, with my little daughter and my own business so the first step I’m going to take is to carry on with the reading – and re-reading – and select an aspect that I can easily fit into my existing life without it costing lots of money because thats something we don’t have an abundance of either! So watch this space! This week I’m still trying to shake off a dose of flu so I defnitely won’t be starting anything outside but I’m carving out a bit of time to do some constructive thinking. And I’m decluttering too, which I guess is part of self-sufficiency in its broadest sense – getting rid of a lot of stuff we just don’t need and assessing just what we do need.