Monthly Archives: January 2013

What a Waste – 10 Top Tips To Save Food

tomatocharacter

Tomato with character. I ate it, despite the marks on the skin.

I’ve just watched ITV’s What a Waste programme for the second time. I couldn’t believe my ears the first time. According to this programme, 7 million tonnes of food and drink are thrown away – ie wasted – every year. What? Read that again. The average family wastes £680 worth of food each year. Crikey! I didn’t think people could afford to do that. I can’t help getting angry.

I was born a baker’s daughter, post war by a few years. Rationing was in force. My parents had four kids and a business to run selling food. You bought potatoes at the local shop or market and brought them home in a paper bag. You cleaned off the mud, cut off the bad bits and made every one of those potatoes count. Waste was not allowed. I learned how to cook from an early age and could make a three course meal by the time I was a teenager.

So I think I’m qualified to say the food being wasted in this country is disgusting. And stupid. Who can’t work out that food wasted is money wasted? And who can afford to waste money? Food and other types of waste is shameful. Immoral. We’ve ripped up thousands of miles of hedgerows in this country supposedly to grow much-needed food, yet farmers report having to throw away as much as fifty percent, even one hundred percent of some crops, simply because the crop doesn’t meet supermarket standards. What’s wrong with a wonky carrot or misshapen turnip? Why do spring onions have to be uniform in size? They don’t of course. Homegrown spring onions certainly aren’t.

Supermarkets waste tonnes, farmers are forced to leave crops rotting in fields and people buy too much and throw it in the bin. Then there’s cooking food that no-one eats, fruit going rotten in dishes and sell by dates being taken as use by dates, and perfectly edible food going in the bin. Food does not have to be uniform, wrapped in plastic and perfect. Fruit and vegetables can be irregular, marked on the skins and differing in size. It’s still good food. Farmers are having to throw away enormous quantities of food rejected by supermarkets just because they don’t meet aesthetic requirements. One farmer had to waste 30 million spring onions because they were not uniform in size and the supermarket that ordered them cancelled the order. They rotted in the field. Madness!

For goodness’ sake, There are ways of not wasting food or money that anyone can utilise. I buy special offers of two for one etc. But I don’t pile it all in the fridge and hope to get through it. I put the second pack in the freezer. I also buy large packs and split them, putting some in the freezer. Increasingly, we shop locally and only go to the supermarket for things we can’t buy elsewhere. It saves money, supports local businesses and I can choose that cut of meat or the turnip I want and have it weighed so I can buy only what I need. I can honestly say our food waste amounts to only bones and the results of making my own stock from them ie a carrot, an onion and possibly some turnip peelings for flavour. Fat cut off meat is fed to the birds and tea bags, coffee grounds and peelings feed my wormery or go on the compost heap. Plastic bags or wrappings, which are unavoidable yet, have to go in the bin. But not good food.

Is it that people don’t know how to cook these days? Do they know enough about how to use what they have? Or is it just laziness? It’s costing them and our environment dear. Not to mention all the people who are struggling to get enough to eat.

So how can you save time, money and food?

    1)      Freeze your excess. You can freeze bread – if you only need half a loaf, split it and put the rest in the freezer. Sliced bread can be taken out a few slices at a time for toast.
    2)      When  I cook, there are only two of us now. My children have grown and flown. So I double up the number of portions we need, pack the rest into storage boxes and put them in the freezer. Not only does this prevent waste, but it saves fuel costs and work on my part.
    3)      Two for one offers are a bargain only if you use it all. If you buy these offers, and the food hasn’t previously been frozen, you can stash the second pack in the freezer until you need it.
    4)      Or, cook it all and freeze the surplus
    5)      Plan your meals so you don’t buy too much for your needs.
    6)      Ignore best by dates and eat the food! Use by dates should be adhered to, as these indicate that food may be harmful after this time. But best before dates are just a guide and do not mean that after this date food is not edible.
    7)      Use common sense. Just because there’s a best before date on a pack of potatoes, does not mean they are in edible after that date. Potatoes do keep for months. If they are not mushy or black, if they look OK, they should still be used. In this country each year 5.1 million potatoes are thrown away. Cut off any black bits. The rest is perfectly edible!
    8)      If you do cook too much, refrigerate food quickly and eat it for supper or lunch the next day. Rice and chicken should be in the fridge the minute they’ve cooled down.
    9)      Shop locally. That way you don’t have to buy wasteful large packs when all you want is one parsnip or 1lb carrots.
    10)   Use leftovers to make another meal. A bit of leftover ham can become pea and ham soup. The last bits of chicken can become chicken risotto or chicken broth. The carcass can become stock. That scrap of cheese can be Welsh rarebit. Use your imagination. Or buy a cook book.

Stock is so easy to make and ensures that chicken didn’t die for nothing. You’ve used every last scrap when you’ve had a meal out it, used the leftover meat in soup or stir fry and boiled up the carcass for stock to flavour your next meal or be the base for your next soup. That’s recycling at its best.

So here’s my basic recipe. Play around with it and flavour it as you like. All you need is a large pan.

One chicken carcass

One onion

One large carrot

Any other root veg eg parsnip, turnip or leek can be added. Check the veg rack for the food coming to the end of its life and use it!

Bouquet garnis – traditionally parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, plus a bay leaf

Method

Throw everything in a large pan or slow cooker. Cover with water and add 1tsp of salt and a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Bring to the boil, cover and leave to simmer gently for 2-3 hours.

The vinegar or lemon juice will evaporate and not affect the flavour. It’s there to extract calcium from the bones of the carcass, improving your intake of this valuable nutrient.

Strain off all the solids and allow to cool. Then skim off the fat. Any stock you don’t use straight away can be frozen in suitable portions.

Considering that food prices are set to rise another 4 – 5% this year, can you afford to continue wasting it? If that doesn’t persuade you to reduce your waste perhaps realising that 2 billion tonnes of food are wasted each year worldwide while  3 million children die of malnutrition. A sobering thought.

Here’s the programme that inspired this blog. It’s only available for the next 18 days. https://www.itv.com/itvplayer/tonight/series-17/episode-3-what-a-waste and there’s an article by ITV news about the same programme. http://www.itv.com/news/2013-01-17/what-a-waste/

Please think before you scrape food into the bin or throw out that half eaten loaf. What can you eat? What can you feed to the birds and what can you compost? Please don’t waste! It’s immoral, illogical and costly, not only to you but to the environment.

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New Year, New Start

Icy Greenhouse

Icy Greenhouse

I’m back and big apologies for the long break. I won’t go into details, but family, health and other commitments caused this blog to drop off the bottom of my list of things that had to be done. Anyway, it goes almost without saying, but for the record, it’s been very cold! Another snowy winter week has had Britain struggling to cope. Beautiful, but hard work. Ice, snow and freezing fog conspired to make me feel like hibernating.

And it was a strange year last year, which totally threw me. A new house, a new start, and more rain than I ever remember seeing. Hopes for a great harvest were literally washed away. I, like most gardeners, was thoroughly discouraged. For those who had established gardens on high enough ground some crops did very well. Runner beans, apparently, gave bumper crops. My few, once they survived the slug attacks, did give me a late harvest, but onions rotted in the soil, cabbages were destroyed by pigeons and it was nigh on impossible to get any new cultivation underway as the land was so wet for so long. This year (I write with fingers crossed – not an easy task!) things will be better for growing.

Monkey Puzzle Tree with Iced Spiders Web

Monkey Puzzle Tree with Iced Spiders Web

Not least because I now have a functioning greenhouse, complete with heater, should I need it. I’ve also managed to remove twenty years of neglect from a border close to the house, which is slightly higher than the rest of the garden, and take all the overgrown plants out. It’s covered with tarpaulin at the moment, protecting it from the frost, snow and rain we’ve been experiencing. This will make it easier to work and should enable slightly earlier planting, with the help of a tunnel cloche. I’ve decided to make this my first vegetable bed this year, so I can grow crops that won’t drown if we have lots of rain, and I can protect from slugs and pigeons  more easily. A torch and bucket containing salt, plus my dedication should keep things under control. I’m also going to order some biological control in the form of nematodes, a natural slug parasite that won’t harm anything else.

Hoar Frost From My Window

I’m more prepared for pigeons, now, too. As I’ve always lived in more urban gardens in the past, the scourge of pigeons eating crops is new to me. Everything will be protected this year. We learn by our mistakes! I’m saving milk cartons, which will be butchered to put over my early broad beans, which are currently in the cold greenhouse in modules and will go out as soon as possible for a hopeful June crop. I’ve invested in a tunnel cloche, too, and my cabbage family will be protected with that against marauding birds. The cloche can be used with net, fleece or clear sheeting depending on what I want it to do. We’ll see how I get on with it once the thaw has taken place and planting can begin.

I now have a zombie and a skull in the garden. My partner bought Gregor for me when we went to the Cotswolds last year. He was sitting in The Herb Centre when I fell in love with him but didn’t expect to bring him home. By the time I got back from the camper having loaded up some plants he was paid for. Maximillion was found under the patio (only joking). Really, he was a Christmas present for Jon. He writes horror fiction, amongst other things, and loves skulls. He’d hinted he wanted one and I was lucky enough to get the last one in stock. I love his grin!

Gregor the Zombie

Gregor the Zombie

The wood burning stove has been an absolute gem. Despite this very cold snap, we’ve been able to keep warm using very little gas and electricity. We’ve kept the thermostat low and used the stove to pump out constant heat. Trees we felled last year and old telephone directories destined for the skip have fed the fire, so it’s all free.

Maximillion, Our Latest Resident

Maximillion, Our Latest Resident

It’s the last of the snow today. It is already melting under the sunshine and change of wind direction, but tonight we’re forecast rain and a rapid thaw, which may cause flooding for some. I hope it doesn’t, but it looks very likely. I must say, pretty though it’s been, I’m getting rather stir crazy stuck in the house, so milder weather will help, although lots of rain won’t. How about a ‘normal’ English year, please, the gods/goddesses that be? Please!!

Winter in the fields

Winter In the Fields

I have big plans for this year. The shed is being moved, as we placed it wrongly and I want that spot for veg. We’re trying new crops, such as kohlrabi, which we like and cost £1.50 each. The seed packet contains about 50 seeds, so there’s a potential £75 worth of food, though we won’t need all those! I want turnips, French, broad and runner beans, kale, broccoli, romanesco, salad and of course tomatoes. Last year I grew beefsteaks for the first time and loved them. Because of the lack of sunshine they were late, but did crop and we enjoyed them. Three types of tomato are going in the greenhouse. A salad one I adore called Gardeners Delight, a beefsteak and an Italian plum variety for sauces. With food prices going up daily I think we can save ourselves a fortune. In face, investment rates with banks are running at less than 1%, investment in seeds, if you look at my kholrabi example should yield a return of 3,750%. Wow! Even cheaper vegetables like tomatoes are going to be so worthwhile.

What will you grow this year? Let’s compare notes.