Sunday, 9 September 2007

Tomatoes and Eggs

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.


Victoria May Plum said...

I'm so glad to have found your blog. I think that you feel the same way about 'growing your own' as I do.
My tomatoes failed too, so you are not alone on that one.

It has become so easy to open jars and packets from the supermarket, that we forget that naturally the food we eat, should not be available all year round.

Anyway, isn't it fun to eat seasonally? gives us something to look forward to; like strawberries in summer only! Lovely

Victoria x

Jane said...

This is a very interesting post - since having chickens I have found that I eat hardly any eggs in the winter, we get a few eggs year round from the ducks. It is largely that I feel I shouldn't have to buy eggs - part frugality, part if we can't get eggs how does anyone else locally, the ecological and animal welfare concerns about eggs up the anti after October.
I wonder whether we will learn new techniques of how to grow things and adapt to the changing climate.
I have certainly raised all my veg beds and those at the local school to give the plants a chance of not sitting in a puddle.
I have also been using ground basalt dust as drainage and fertiliser - as recommended by the SEER centre - and this certainly made a difference with my flower crops. Unfortunately we hadn't got around to putting it on the veg beds and like you there are many failures - even with normally fail safe crops like courgettes.
The only glut that we can preserve for the future this year is berries and plums.

tash said...

That book is one of my favourites - I read it cover to cover, loved it!

As you know I'm very much with you, but as everything is transported there will be minor fluctuations in conditions that, say, tomatoes can be grown in, but what effects those growing in Holland won't effect those in Spain or Italy - at least that's the principle, which is completely wrong. But it's how it's all worked out. Our tomatoes, though so slow are doing "ok", not blighted but they are so far behind it'll be a big load of green tomato chutney!

As for the eggs, I have started to make inroads into the glut we have by freezing them. This is new territory for us, but if you break eggs in small batches and beat, you should be able to freeze them in tupperware for future use. My husband had them scrambled and though he said they went a funny colour, they were just like normal eggs - and you'd be able to have them year-round if you put some away now. I'd love to try the waterglass approach, but I don't know who sells it nowadays!

Moonroot said...

This really echoes my experiences of veggie gardening this year and what I have been thinking about in the light of this. I try to grow as much of our own food as possible, but have to admit that this year, were it not for the local supermarket etc we would be starving!
Re blight (on tomatoes & potatoes), it's usually a problem here in wet West Wales so for the last couple of years I've been growing the blight-proof varieties 'Ferline' (tomatoes) and 'Sarpo Mira' (potatoes) (both available from Thompson & Morgan - no, I'm not on commission!). Have to report both are excellent and have made the difference between enjoying a good crop and despairing of a bad one!

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd said...

What sort of hens do you have? If they are a breed specifically for laying, you will do better in the winter than if you have a more traditional dual-purpose breed.

Regarding waterglass, you can buy it from Potclays -- we did this last year with excellent results.

willow said...

Thanks for the comments.

Victoria May,
Thanks for visiting. I agree seasonal eating is fun and forces me to be more creative than using the same things all year round, but in the supermarket its easy to forget that there are seasons, permanent summer!

I read about using ground rock in a recent Permaculture Magazine and have wondered if it might be a good idea to use some on my allotment. As the ground has been used for veg growing for many, many years, levels of some of the trace elements may be depleted. Perhaps I'll give it a go.

I didn't know that you could freeze eggs. Thank you. I noticed following your link that refridgerated eggs kept for several months. I might start cutting down on our use slightly and see I I can build up a small surplus while they are still laying every day.

Thank you for the names of the blight resistant varieties, I have made a note of them for next year. A downside of growing on an allotment is that once one plot has blight then its only a matter of time before it spreads.

One hen is a black rock, we didn't know what the other was but Tash has identified it as a goldline. Perhaps I will still have some eggs. Thanks for the link.

Jenny said...

Thanks for the book link. I have found many recipes for eggless puddings and cakes. I suppose they date from the time when people relied on seasonal foods. Chicken meat was also seasonal at one time and seen as an extravagance I think