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!
Today is 1st February, and traditionally in Ireland this was considered to be the first day of Spring. It falls midway between the winter solstice (21st Dec) and the spring equinox (21st Mar). It marks the turning of the season and is the feast day of Brigid, whether you see her as a goddess, an aspect of the Mother Goddess or the Christian saint. There is a lot I could – and will – write about Imbolc and what it means to me, but that’s for another post.
Imbolc and the arrival of spring signal renewal, rejuvenation, a fresh start. I love watching for the first spring flowers. The spring bulbs are peeping through all over the garden, such vibrant shades of green
I haven’t heard of any ritual foods or dishes associated with Imbolc, but Brigid in her Christian form is the patroness of sheep, and an alternative name for the day, Óimelc, is thought to denote the time of ewes coming into milk. The new lambs are always a welcome and lively sight in spring too. This feels like a cleansing time of year – hence the spring clean? – and when thinking about Imbolc this morning I decided to make some lemon curd. Lemon is one of my favourite flavours and scents and the clean tang of lemon appealed to me in keeping with freshness. So after a couple of hours in the kitchen I came up with some lemon and some orange curd. You can see the lemon here. The orange didn’t set quite so well but still tasted great! I made an orange sponge cake filled with it.
For dinner I settled on a Darina Allen recipe, Winter Beef Stew – well having a winter meal and a spring inspired dessert seemed as good a way as any other to mark this turning of the season. There is still some snow on the ground, and the gritter went by earlier, but it is spring. Its time to move out of the reflective, restorative period of winter and move into the renewal, rebirth of spring.
I know I have been talking about my Year of Living Seasonally on here from time to time but seriously, how the hell is it nearly February already? It seems like only a few days ago since my husband went back to work and our daughter back to school – more like 3 weeks ago. I was pondering this while gazing out at the falling snow earlier, mug of tea firmly clasped in hand. This January (2015 in case anyone’s reading this in years to come) has been a bit of an mixed bag weather wise. Its been cold, we’ve had some snow (not much really), some very strong winds and now its gorgeously sunny and bracing out there. But it hasn’t felt like a typical January to me. Is that because I am trying to slow down and notice things more? If that’s the case then why has the end of the month snuck up on me? Time to take stock I think.
So what did I do in January? Well, I’ve been working on a new course to teach, picked up another rotten cold which I then shared with everyone else (why should I suffer alone??), didn’t make any New Year resolutions (not my thing – see here), got more into knitting, read a few books…… yeah it was a good enough month all told. But it seems to have just slipped by me in some ways. Aha! That’s the slowing down and taking time thing isn’t it? This Year of Living Seasonally lark must be starting to kick in. January is a cold month, evenings still dark, weather can be dodgy, so its a good time to chill and hibernate a bit. THAT’S what I’ve been doing – I just didn’t realise it.
Imbolc is just around the corner. I feel its time to step up a gear.
I’ve been a bit busy of late but my Year of Living Seasonally project is still ongoing. Its now late November and my attention has been turning to Christmas but it occurred to me the other day that November gets a bit of a raw deal in terms of calendar celebrations, occasions etc. Musing this over a cuppa I was reminded of Mary Feely’s piece in the Irish Times earlier this month. Here in Ireland it would be fair to say that November is seen by many as a nothing month, or a month to lay off drink in order to gear up for December, or more recently a month when a lot of men become decidedly hairy in a good cause. But in terms of seasonal living and thinking, there’s not a huge lot going on. I grew up in England where “Remember remember the 5th of November” meant huge excitement with bonfires, fireworks and in our house a dinner of baked potatoes and sausage rolls. As a child I was more excited about Bonfire Night than Hallowe’en. Its not marked over here and I still kind of miss it. Ah well.
After reading the article linked above I started thinking about the American holiday of Thanksgiving. I’ve never celebrated or observed it, not being American, having never lived with an American and having never been to America (yet) and so I don’t pretend to be an expert on it. But from what I understand its to do with giving thanks for the harvest (please do correct me if I’m wrong) and that quite appeals to me, again its the idea of marking a turn in the year. So I think I might have a go at doing some kind of a Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve asked a few American friends for the essentials of such a dinner but I’m open to all suggestions! So any Thanksgiving veterans out there, do please share your meal plans/recipes etc with me, I’d love to hear them.
As part of my Year of Living Seasonally, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to changes in the weather and the impact of that on our garden and surroundings. Well November so far has been quite mild and very wet at times and there hasn’t been a whole lot to observe. I am sure you would all get bored with me writing about getting wet in the rain again! But this morning – finally – there was a real sense that winter is here. We woke to the first real frost of the winter and I had a very strong sense of change in the air. The air was beautifully clean and crisp, not so cold as to take my breath away but sharp enough to feel invigorating. The sky was a perfect canvas of blue and the grass crunched as I walked over it. Finally winter is here! I’ve always liked clean cold winter days and today was just a perfect example.