Sunday of the 8th of March was a bitter-sweet occasion. We held a fabulous local food feast to celebrate two things – the legacy of the Fife Diet project‘s local food movement as it is wrapping things up, and the excitement of the new project funding for our very own Tayport community food garden.
You will no doubt hear it all about the PLANT project from me over the next year so I will not bore you with that (at the moment, we are still at the stage of nail-biting suspense, waiting for the change-of-use planning permission approval for the garden site, which I am told will take around 2 months).
Instead, I would like to tell you more about my experience as a Fife Diet member, share the recipes for the dishes I contributed to the feast (skip to the end of the post for these) and maybe make a new “eat local” pledge or two.
Fife Diet has been around for 8 years with an ambition of transforming food culture in Fife to focus on more local, and sustainable choices. Part of it was to do with greater carbon neutrality (just like our project, some of their funding came from Carbon Challenge Fund), but also greater fairness of food production and distribution systems and food sovereignty. Grand and noble aims indeed.
Why did I join? I have to admit that I am a bit of a greenie, but I am far from an extreme locavore or sustainavore – I eat meat, shop at the supermarket and, as a scientist, I am not against the use of GMO tech to improve crops in principle. Neither do I believe that going back to sustenance farming is a realistic solution to the world’s food production and distribution problems (nor do I proclaim to know what is;).
Perhaps it was the story of shellfish from the Scottish west coast hitting the headlines in 2006 that finally broke the camel’s back for me – a perfect and local illustration of how broken and ridiculous the global food production system based solely on profit can get. Everybody’s heard of the export-quality Scottish salmon and even trout, but the west coast’s warm ocean currents also produce marvelous shellfish. The outcry was about a move of processing facilities to Thailand, where the Scottish langoustines would be hand-shelled and returned to back to the UK supermarkets as crumbed frozen scampi. A mere 12,000 food miles. To me the outrage was also the fact that the beautiful langoustines were being turned into amorphous and largely tasteless fast food blobs in the process. It also explained the eerie absence of the local fishmongers we discovered while staying near Lochinver in Assynt a few years back, despite the local restaurants and pubs boasting fabulous local seafood menus.
Perhaps it was the disappointment at the dominance of New Zealand apples and lamb on my supermarket shelves – even when both were in season here. And don’t get me started on the Mexican asparagus in spring…
I am also a relative newcomer here (via continental Europe and Australia) so I am not quite in sync with the local seasons and local produce. Although I’d lived in temperate zones in the past, Scotland has its own challenges which mean that you cannot grow long season or hot summer crops here (tomatoes and cucumbers only from the greenhouse – while they turned into real triffids outside during Canberra’s hot, long summers). But it also has its advantages – kale, leaks, broad beans can be grown over winter and do not get frosted like they would during the European winters, and the strawberries and raspberries are to die for most of the summer! Joining Fife Diet has given me a perfect excuse to pay more attention to seasonal and local produce, and local cuisine.
So I signed on the dotted line, filled in a questionnaire to estimate my carbon food print and made my pledge to do better. It was a largely virtual relationship (apart from the attendance at the Cupar AGM last year).
Have I changed what I do? Let’s say I spend more time in front of the supermarket shelves looking at origin labels. I have found some local suppliers for my veg and strawberries. I was surprised at how compelling I found the production value of the seasonal recipe booklets and Fife Diet perpetual calendar (still on my kitchen wall to this day), and their occasional blog updates in my cooking. And now I have gotten myself involved in working with PLANT’s project aimed at growing more locally.
Was it all due to Fife Diet? It’s hard to tell, as the overall mood around local food has been changing (even my supermarket has quite a selection of British apple varieties these days). But I will miss the Fife Diet’s distant inspiration. You can dip into their legacy via the website – including their seasonal recipe books, as well as the new ebook collecting them all are also now available for free. And then there is the Common Good Food project which from the looks of it will continue some of the good works.
The idea was to make dishes with as many local and fairly produced foodstuffs as possible. Timing could not have been more challenging – the leanest time of the year (even the nettles and ramsons were not yet out)! I think we did amazingly well under the circumstances.
To make it easier we did go for all vegetarian and combined pot luck dishes with the communally cooked ones. Fife Diet-central generously provided us with some dried goodies from their food coop pilot project. The rest we had to source ourselves. Local gardens provided a profusion of kale, silverbeet, herbs, leeks, eggs (so many eggs!), preserved, dried and frozen fruit. Even locally produced cider from apple pressing at the last year’s PLANT’s Autumn Fruitfest. We tried to get the rest from local growers or suppliers – Balgove Larder (a surprise discovery here was that they stock their own honey), Fraser’s Fruit and Veg in Dundee, Pittormie Fruit Farm. But there were also some goodies from supermarkets, e.g. Graham’s cream and a last minute midnight run for the Scottish-grown white cabbage.
I have to say I got a bit carried away with my contributions: jerusalem artichoke and mixed kale bake, festive cabbage with forest mushrooms and yellow split peas, hummus two-ways (red fox and split pea), and kavolo nero and carrot thai salad.
Jerusalem Artichoke and Mixed Kale Bake
I discovered jerusalem artichokes last year thanks to Pittormie Fruit Farm and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s January recipe ideas from The Guardian. This time we got them closer to home – it turns out that one of us had a garden full of them just up the road (you can also get them from Bellfield organics). They seem very easy to grow but are fiddly to prepare (peeling the knobbly varieties is a rather ‘meditative’ practice). Perhaps next time I will simply give them a good scrub?
I used Hugh’s gratin recipe, but replaced the onions with leeks which are so plentiful at this time of the year. And used the local Anster instead of cheddar.
Festive cabbage with dried forest mushrooms and yellow split peas
I thought the yellow split peas we got from The Fife Diet’s larder would do very nicely in a traditional Polish Christmas Eve cabbage stew I had tried out last year. At any other time of the year this dish would have a load of smokey sausage and ribs in it, but at Christmas it is made meat-free, like all the others. Normally, it is made with sauerkraut, but I also tried a fresh cabbage version which.
The snag here was that I had neither the local source of sauerkraut (I belatedly heard that ReHarvest project had just made some from Bellfield organics leftovers, and sold it at the St Andrews’ Fife Diet community lunch), nor any locally gathered mushrooms. Since there is no shortage of cabbage around these parts, and Tentsmuir forest is positively crawling with fungus at the right time of the year, there is really no excuse why I should not give both of them a go this year. May even take the PLANT group out for a mushroom picking adventure:) So here are my two new ‘eat-local’ pledges for this year, allowing me to go back to my roots too.
- 500g of sauerkraut (you can get it from the Polish shop or Polish section in Tesco’s) (you can replace it with
- 25g dried forest mushrooms (can replace with dried shiitake)
- A handful dried prunes
- 1 large onion
- 100g yellow split peas
- 60ml of oil + 2 tbsp for frying the onion1
- A couple of bay leaves
- 6 grains of pimento and black pepper
- salt and pepper
Wash the mushrooms, cover with 1 liter of water and soak overnight.
Boil the soaked mushrooms for an hour in the same water, strain and slice if needed. Keep the strained liquid.
Squeeze the water out of the sauerkraut and chop up (may need to rinse it a couple of times to reduce the acidity of flavour). Cover with mushroom water in a pot and add 1/2 bay leaves, pepper and pimento and the chopped mushrooms. Boil slowly, stirring occasionally and adding water if needed until soft (40-60min).
Boil the peas with the other 1/2 of pimento, pepper and bay leaves until soft but not falling apart, and strain (30min).
Chop the onion finely and fry in 2 tbsp of oil until softened. Add the onion, prunes and the peas to the cabbage with the rest of the oil and cook, stirring occasionally for another 15-20 min.
TIP: This dish gets better the more you reheat it, particularly when re-fried with butter and smokey sausage. May be the time to use up the frozen leftovers! Nom:)
Hummus – two-ways
We had one challenge with the foodstuffs from Fife Diet – red fox peas. Nobody in our group had heard about them, and quick Google searches returned nothing else apart from Hodmedods’ brief description. They suggested treating them like chickpeas. So I did. I made my recent favourite, Roasted Carrot, Chickpea and Harissa dip from The First Mess blog. Very local chillies too – grew them on my own balcony!
Somebody else also made the straight-up hummus and they were lovely in a vegetable stew featuring the turnip. The whole group was blown away by them and now we are planning red fox growing trials;) It looks like they are the same thing as more commonly referred to black badgers or carling peas (although those are listed separately by Hodmedods). They are definitely a variety of field peas, but the story on the interwebs seems rather confused – definitely worth looking into further.
Oh and there was the intriguing-sounding ‘polish-style’ hummus – this time from a Polish veggie blog, so I will translate here.
- 250g yellow split peas
- 5-6 cloves of garlic (around 25g)
- 2-3 tbsp of oil
- 25g of sesame seeds (lightly toasted on a hot pan)
- 1 tsp of salt
Soak and boil the peas in salted water until almost soft. Crush the garlic and fry in oil until softened. Add to the peas together with the lightly toasted sesame and cook, stirring until fully softened. Mush into paste with hand held blender, add water/oil if necessary.
Voila! Pure simplicity – but fit to repel a whole vampire army.
Spicy Thai cavolo nero (tuscan kale) and carrot salad
This was a last minute decision, as we got a nice bunch of freshly picked Tayport garden cavolo. It was a nice surprise to discover that it grows so well here over winter. Yet another one of these expensive supermarket fancy vegetables, alongside the jerusalem artichokes, which seems to be just too easy to grow at home. Here is the recipe from Running to the Kitchen blog.