Thursday, 26 September 2013

How to make vinegar and mustard

How to make vinegar and mustard
I am someone who needs to get my feet in grass once a day.  If not, life begins to go wrong.  Get outside and my mind switches off.  I cut wood, garden and generally potter about without a care in the world.   A big sign I am working too hard is when things feel ‘wrong’ and there doesn't seem to be time to get outside, or to make good food. 

So instead of merely doing sums about whether it is worth growing a bit of veg, add this into the equation:
·        money saved on counselling (!)
·        arguments avoided with one’s spouse or significant others
·        money saved on going to the gym
·        eating one’s own home grown spuds can replace going out for dinner - because they feel really special you therefore don’t feel the need to go out.  It is not the equivalent of simply buying spuds.

Similarly, bought mustard will sit in the cupboard for many a year and not get eaten.  But if a friend gives me their home made mustard, it is yummy and special.  A friend did give me home made mustard and it got eaten in a couple of weeks.  She also inspired me to make my own.  When I found out that you can make mustard from kale seeds, the abandoned kale plants in the garden got a new lease of life.  They had gone to seed because I left the flowers for pollinating insects and now there was a use for all the seeds too.  Kale flowers are excellent for insects as are all brassicas  (cabbage family), onions and leeks.

 The kale seeds are now harvested and drying out for mustard making.  About half of the seeds used to make the mustard can be kale, the rest need to be regular mustard seeds.  I am stripping the kale seed pods from the stems and storing them in paper bags made from newspaper, until the pods ripen and the seeds pop out.  It is a bit of a fiddle but doing some every time I pass the kitchen table means they soon get done.

Kale seeds drying
Here is the mustard recipe – with thanks to my friends Gail and Gil and to

 Kale mustard
This is mild but tasty and the mustard seeds break down whereas the kale seeds stay whole, giving a nice texture. 

2 tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons of kale seeds (or use black mustard seeds)
100ml white wine, cider or other vinegar
Half teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon any kind of sugar

Put the mustard & kale seeds and liquids in a jar to soak for 3 days.  Put in a cupboard not the fridge.

After the three days put it in a blender and add the sugar and salt.  Then blend until it has the desired texture. 
NB the vinegar is important as it is a preservative so do not be tempted to skimp on the quantity.

Vinegar is another satisfying thing to make.
There are several ways to make vinegar.  The simplest is to use water in a jug, add a tablespoon of vinegar as a starter, a tablespoon of sugar or honey and some chopped up fruit.  Leave in an open jug for about 3 weeks  and stir every couple of days and it will turn into vinegar.  it will have a white film on it which is the vinegar 'must' and nothing to worry about.  Strain and bottle.  If you grow your own fruit this is great.

 Another way is to use the ends of bottles of wine.  Put some vinegar in an open jar or jug and leave it until it develops a white film on the top.  This is the vinegar starter.  Add the wine and leave to ferment for three weeks. 

Jamie Oliver suggests making vinegar from just wine as follows:
Wrap a half full bottle of wine (with the lid on) in a towel, enclose it in a plastic bag and tie securely with string.  Leave it in the boot of the car so it can roll about for three weeks.  The rolling about will aerate the wine and help it to turn into vinegar.

 By the way, we were given a huge marrow – people often have trouble giving these away, and they are great.  We  are grateful for them as they do not grow outside where we live so we usually have only one plant in the polytunnel.  We often freeze them and use the pulp later – and get lots of free meals.  This one was stuffed with leftover rice and beans with some seasoning and tamari (wheat free soy sauce) and baked in the oven.  We got a dinner and two lunches out of it.  Today I had the remains of another free marrow as soup.  Soup is a great way to use them up and the soup freezes well.  Add some curry powder for a great flavour.  So that’s a free dinner for two and several free lunches this week.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Food Challenge

The food challenge – how it’s going
That wonderful book,  your Money or Your Life has a quote;
‘the real inflation is inflation of our needs, wants and desires.’
It goes like this.  Something starts out as a luxury.  Then it becomes a comfort and then it becomes a need.  Think of almost anything and you can follow its track along this path.

Eg the phone.  To start with they were a luxury item and then more people got one and it became something every reasonably well off person had.  Then it became essential because of safety.  The trouble is that before phones, people just popped round to a neighbour’s house for help but now it is not seen as ‘proper’ to do that, so are we really safer? 

Mobile phones went the same way – started out as a luxury and now they are essential and we don’t feel safe without one.  But before we all had mobiles there were phone boxes all over the place, and you told someone where you were going.   Okay maybe the odd person is saved from a charging bull by phoning a friend but then again how many people are lulled into a false sense of security because they have a mobile in the first place and take risks they would not otherwise consider.

So what has this to do with food? 
Bernadine Lawrence wrote an amazing book about food in the 1980s called ‘How to Feed Your Family for £5 ($7.50) a day’.  It was re-printed once in the 1990s and when I last looked it was out of print.  However one very beneficial effect of the recession is that it has now been re-printed.   When she first wrote it she and her husband were totally broke, on benefits with four children and living in a high rise flat.  It was her powerful statement about how to survive and thrive when times are hard.  Every item was costed out carefully and thoroughly researched.

in the 1980s it was called ‘how to feed your family for £4 a day. 

In the 1990s it was called ‘how to feed your family for £5 a day.

In 2012 it was STILL called ‘how to feed your family for £5 a day.

In other words, the essential cost of feeding your family of six has gone up by a grand total of £7 a week since the mid 1980s.  Bernadine’s book outlines a tasty, home cooked and sensible diet, with meat on some days of the week but not every day.  There is lots of food for everyone and no one would be left hungry.  But I bet most people’s food budget has gone up a lot since the 1980s.  When you think about what has changed about the food we buy though, even if you cook everything from scratch our needs wants and desires have increased.   When I went through the book there were only a few items that have gone up in price and many have gone down.  Watercress was more expensive because you now buy it in fancy packets rather than simple bunches from the greengrocer.

But now we want blueberries rather than picking blackberries, pineapple instead of rhubarb and lots of fancy sweets, puddings and instant meals.  An instant meal used to be a boiled egg and brown bread  or beans on toast didn’t it?

The humble potato is a good example of how marketing gets us to spend more money for the same thing.  You can buy a 25kg sack of potatoes for £5/$7.50 if you shop around.  Or a smaller bag of potatoes for much more money.  Or chill cabinet mashed potato for £1.50/$2.25 for 100g.  Or a bag of chips for £2/£3.00 or a packet of crisps at 50p/75c for 20g.   

Our food budget
For the last few weeks I have been keeping watch on what proportion of our diet   we have grown, swapped or otherwise procured free or very cheaply. 
Today’s dinner was a vegetable and puy lentil curry.  The giant courgette was part of one of U Boat proportions that was given to us by a friend.  No one wanted it because of its extravagant size.  A tiny slice of it went into the pot. We added potatoes, shallots and cabbage from the garden plus some frozen cauliflower and a tin of those puy lentils that someone gave me because they had had it in the cupboard for ages and would never use it.  Pudding was some apples that I swapped at a coffee morning.  Ours are not quite ready yet.  So the only things we bought were the rice and the frozen cauliflower - £1 a bag and I used about a sixth of it. 

This is where we don’t buy organic.  We buy those organic things which are nearly as cheap as the non organic ones, such as brown rice or couscous.  We grow organic veg at home and use non organic stuff the rest of the time.  the logic is that I will get ill quicker by having to work long hours to pay for all that extra organic stuff instead of working out in the garden in my free time.  total cost of the meal then was about £1 and there is enough left for a family of five.

What pushes the food bill up is when I go to the supermarket or worse to a wholefood shop and Get Tempted.  I come home with lots of fancy fruit I didn’t want until I saw it, olives, special rice instead of ordinary rice, special pasta instead of ordinary pasta and so on.  And every time I take my eye off the food bill it goes up again, so vigilance is the secret weapon.

This week has been a good one for the food bill though.  salads from the garden, eggs which we gained by swapping, a totally yummy fish curry with fish that was a gift from a non fish eating fisherman.  We are trying to be good and eat what we have growing here and to have a good, plain diet.  I was stunned when watching the series Edwardian Farm, about farming in the pre- world war two era to learn that people hardly every went to shops.  They thought about what they had and used or ate that swapped with neighbours or bought from the farm gate and presumably market stalls.  There used to be farms in towns as well as in the country don’t forget – that rural/urban separation of agriculture and growing is a more recent development.

Christmas dinner...Oh no!
Finally - it’s time to be planning and buying that Christmas dinner and other paraphernalia again if you haven’t already.  I got two packets of Christmas cards for 50p in a charity shop the other day.  We will probably have fish for new year as there is a giant trout lurking in the freezer and I am saving it specially.  We still have some frozen marzipan from the year before last, plus the home made icing sugar and the final few crackers from two years ago.