This is a rather sad photograph of the best of my tomatoes. They were planted rather late and the cool, damp summer hasn't suited them a all.
On Friday night turning on the television, I just caught the end of Gardeners World and learned that even tomatoes being filmed by the BBC were complete failures! Blight has been a big problem for outdoor grown tomatoes this year.
We only have a small area to grow food and using part of the garden and the allotment, our aim is to have some fresh organic produce available for as much of the year as we can. It will only ever be a small part of out total food supply.
This summer has been a poor growing season for vegetables for me and it has made me think about the quantity of food that my family of four eats. Failed tomatoes, failed courgettes and potatoes that produced very little this year don't really impact on my family's food supply because there is readily available food from the supermarket. If in the future we don't have the fuel to move food over large distances and the majority of our food comes from the nearby, then localised crop failures will have a much greater impact.
If changes in the way we get our food don't result in overall shortages, it seems likely that we will have to be much more flexible in our eating habits. During war-time, meals were planned around what was available on the day. With rationing the maximum amounts for some foods were fixed and these had to be stretched with other foods from the garden or ones that weren't on ration to make a satisfying meal. Today many people plan their menus in a completely different way to this. We are used to all foods being available all the time and so planning a weeks menus and then doing a weekly supermarket shop has become the way of life for a lot of us. I do this most weeks, looking at the activities taking place and then planning a quick meal if I have to pick up late from an after school activity, a meal that needs a bit more advance preparation on a day that I am not working or something cooked in the slow cooker if the whole family is out for the day at the weekend and we want to eat as soon as we get in. We are also in the habit of having our favourites regularly, I make pizza almost every week.
So, what would we do if the tomato harvest failed? I use about a bottle of passata each week in pizza, pasta bake, bolognese sauce etc, it has become so much of a habit to just open a bottle when I need it that I rarely stop to think about it. Of course we would soon adapt, as everyone did during the war,(pizza made with pesto instead of tomato sauce is great for a change) but in times of change, it is comforting to be able to eat foods we are used to. Perhaps this is the time to get used to eating meals which use a greater variety of ingredients (preferably grown nearby as these will be most likely available) so that we will be more flexible in our eating habits when we need to make changes.
The other food I have been thinking about since we got our own chickens is eggs. At some level I did know that hens did not naturally produce a lot of eggs in the winter unless they were kept with artificial light, it was just something that I did not think about. I bought a dozen eggs every week and sometimes another half-dozen if we ran out. As we are trying to eat more seasonally I am thinking about eating eggs less in winter which until recently must have been what everybody did. Now that both our hens are laying we are getting 12-14 eggs a week which is our current level of use and I am wondering if we can reduce our egg intake during the winter as we get less eggs. Of course, as we have only had the hens for two months I have no idea how many eggs we will actually get in the winter.
Looking back at the war-time situation, in June 1941, ration book holders were allowed one egg as often as supplies permitted which in winter was one egg per person per month and in spring up to two eggs per person per week. By 1944 the ration was 30 eggs per person per year. Poultry keepers could exchange their egg ration for poultry meal.
So another food that I will try and eat seasonally will be eggs. As long as we get some eggs during the winter, I don't think it will be too bad. Instead of baking a Victoria sponge for Sunday tea in winter, it could be scones or jam tarts, and I shall have to think up another quick meal to replace omelets which is my standby for an almost instant meal.
The book that I've been reading about war-time food is The Wartime Kitchen and Garden by Jennifer Davies. Its a BBC book which was brought out sometime ago to supplement the TV series a few years ago.