Monday, March 14, 2011

Buy Today, Grow Tomorrow, Free Forever!

When we grow our own produce, most of the time we start off by buying a packet of seeds (although a lot are given away free these days - my free tomato seeds came with a Lakeland catalogue, and last year they gave away packs of Mixed Salad Leaves, one pack keeping us in 'free' salads throughout the summer). Some magazines come with more than one packet of free seeds...). With certain produce there are far too many seeds needed to grow what we want in just one year, and normally (kept correctly - dry and cool) these seeds can continue to be sown over several years. Or we could share them with others, who - in return- share other seeds with us.

Even if there are only a few seeds in a pack, once the plant has grown to maturity, it is possible to save its seeds and grow these the following year, so you could say "once bought, always have....'" Now that's my type of cost-cutting (some call it 'self-sufficiency'), but of course, we have to put some effort into having 'food for free'.

Even now tend to take the cheat's route and instead of buying from a seeds merchant, save/use the seeds from a veggie bought from the supermarket (bell peppers, butternut squash grow well...). We can also save seeds from bought tomatoes (although these need rather special treatment before they grow again), and certainly we ought to let one box of Mixed Salad Leaves grow to maturity (first flower, then set seed) so we can save the hundreds of seeds they will produce. Being a 'mixed bunch' to be sown 'mixed' again, no need to keep the varieties separate.

Just think about it. We sow one seed, and this will end up growing into one plant that itself could produce
hundreds of seeds. Nature's way of making sure that a few at least survive (in the wild birds would eat most, and many seeds get blown onto infertile ground). It's like any living thing, when there are enough preditors around, quite a lot of 'offpring' have to be produced to make sure at least a couple manage to live to adulthood (think of frog-spawn, baby fish, baby turtles...). When WE are in control of their survival, and care for our plants in the correct weay, we can make sure most of their seeds stay viable, giving more than enough for our needs, as least as long as we have the need to keep sowing and growing, or even wish to.
As well as just seeds saved to grow again, many can be dried and then used late for our food (such as dried beans, peas etc, and we can also eat pumpkin and sunflower seeds), so a double bonus.

Even such things as potatoes... We plant one that has sprouted (possibly from the supermarket) and this could provide us later in the year with a bucketful. The most frugal of us might keep at least one back to plant again the following year. Occasionally - when growing spuds in our small garden in Leeds - would see a potato plant growing through the soil, and realised that when the spuds were lifted the previous year, a small on must have been left in the ground, and - as nature intended - this began sprouting and growing again. Even had a potato plat growing in our compost heap - this had to be from potato peelings (with a shoot on) that had been thrown on (and later covered up) months earlier.
Given enough land, and once we have done the initial buying, sowing and planting, with no really adverse weather to wipe out the crops, we should be able to keep ourselves in free and fresh produce - forever!

Cheese and Herb Cornbread:
11 oz (300g) cornmeal (inst. polenta)
half tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
4 oz (100g) Cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 - 2 tblsp finely chopped chives
8 fl oz (225ml) milk
5 tblsp sunflower oil
3 eggs
Put the cornmeal into a bowl with the salt and baking powder and stir with a fork until well mixed together. Then stir in the cheese and the chives. Put the milk, oil and eggs into a jug and gently beat together, then pour over the dry mix and - using the fork - quickly mix together. The mixture will be runny.
Pour into a well greased 7" (18cm) square cake tin and bake at 200C, 180F, gas 6 for 25 minutes or until light golden and springy when touched in the centre. Remove from tin.
Best served warm with butter, although can be eaten cold - also spread with butter. Wrapped in foil, this bread will keep 'fresh' for up to 3 days.

This next recipe is for an Italian meat 'stew', where this uses 'polenta' as the carbohydrate part of the dish instead of potatoes (that we Brits would be more inclined to use). It's getting to the point where we have to consider the cost of every ingredient used, and if we find that cornmeal/semolina works out cheaper than potatoes, then it makes sense to use a them.
As this is a 'classic' recipe, have left the weights and measures as given, but see no reason why we can't use less meat and more vegetables to keep the cost down. Veal is the given meat, but because of the length of cooking time we could also use pork, lamb or a fairly tender cut of beef.
For the 'pulped' tomatoes, suggest using canned 'plum' tomatoes that have been blitzed in a blender or food processor.
The recipe uses the old way of making polenta - which takes time, and if we have bought the 'instant' polenta grains, this usually cuts the time by at least half as it is already 'part cooked'. When using semolina and cornmeal, we shouldn't try to reduce the cooking time by using less water, for the grain needs time to swell and cook fully. Best to just 'test by tasting'.
The amount of butter used is far more than I would wish to, so probably less of this could be used. Otherwise just make less polenta in the first place.

Spezzatino con polenta: serves 4 - 6
2 lbs (1kg) veal (see above), cubed
7 oz (200g) pulped tomatoes (see above)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery finely chopped
1 sprig rosemary, leaves only, chopped
white wine (amount not specified)
light olive or sunflower oil
salt and pepper
lemon peel
1.75 pints (1 ltr) water
1 tsp salt
9 oz (250g) polenta, cornmeal (or semolina)
9 oz (250g) butter
2 0z (50g) Parmesan, grated
Begin by making the polenta. Put the water in a pan with the salt and bring to the boil. Pour in the polenta and stir with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring over a medium to high heat, until it forms a thick mass, then reduce heat to a very low simmer, and allow to keep cooking (while still stirring from time to time) for 45 minutes, by which time it should be thick enough for the spoon to stand upright in it all by itself. Then stir in the butter and Parmesan.
Pour into a greased shallow baking tin, levelling the surface and allow to get cold.
To make the 'stew', heat a large saucepan, adding a little oil and fry the onions, celery and carrots until they are turning golden brown, then stir in the chosen cubed meat together with a little lemon peel. Add seasoning to taste, then the chopped rosemary leaves. Next add wine (or water - and possibly to barely cover the meat) and the pulped tomatoes, then leave to cook for approx 2 hours or until the meat is tender.
When ready to serve, cut the polenta into slices and brush the surface with oil. Place on a hot griddle (or under a grill) and 'toast' until heated through, turning once. Serve with the meat stew.