Sunday, June 5, 2022

Eat like a peasant

 It is now winter -or more precisely the Noongar season of makuru, which is when we can expect more rain and cooler weather. In the face of the good news of our new government (Yay for democracy! Yay for preferential voting!) we have the continuing bad news of rising prices in just about everything, but especially energy prices. 

As I wrote in my last post, there are some long term things we do to help us cope with inflationary cost pressures. 

I have been reviewing our habits on grocery spending  and genearl food habits this month, and thought I would write down some of the suggestions. One of the things I have been doing is reminding myself of the "peasant lifestyle", through some cook books on my shelf*, as the resourcefulness and simplicity of the peasant lifestyle is a bit of a hedge against feeling powerless in the face of the supermarket price rises. I turn to the classic cuisines of the Mediterranean and Asia for inspiration. 

Here is an article about 'cucina povera" -or peasant food! Click here

Growing some of it ourselves 

It is fair to say that the garden gives me great pleasure, and good exercise. If it did nothing else, it would be a worthwhile investment, but the garden actually provides us with real food which we can eat fresh picked and without any food miles. I deliberately try to grow things which are expensive when bought in the shops, and things which don't travel well -like herbs. Our diet can be tastier, healthier and more varied by doing this. We don't grow potatoes, carrots or onions because they take quite a lot of room in an small garden, if you want to stop buying them from the green grocer altogether. 

The think you notice about the peasant life is that it flows with the seasons. Seasonal food is cheaper, it doesn't need to be transported half the way across the world, and it is fresher. In the Mediterranean diet -often cited as very healthy- fasting is a normal part of the year but especially for the religious seasons of Lent and Advent. Vegetarian food is common, with meat used sparingly. 

What we have been harvesting

Tangelos -these gloriously orangy oranges are fabulous in breakfast juice. Our tree has about 20 fruit this year, and I am saving every single one for us. 

Grapefruit-these are the pink ones, and I reckon there are more than 100 on the tree. I have already given a basketful away to the neighbours through our buy nothing group on social media. We add some of these to our breakfast juice. 

Meyer Lemons -sweeter and juicier than eureka lemons, and we have a very productive tree. Have given away a basketful already this season.

Limes -not just for gin and tonics, but good for these. I will freeze some in quarters, and I am also going to put some in salt -like preserved lemons- for adding to salads and rice and couscous. 

Olives -DH and I are putting away a couple of small jars in brine every few weeks. 

Salad leaves -I am growing  a whole range of 'cut and come again' lettuces, along with rocket and coriander and dill, in the garden at the moment. Most of these are self-seeded, which means that I just let the plant flower, and then the seeds fell into the garden and now I have new plants. Winter is the best time for green leaves in this climate. We also have kale, kan kong, warrigal greens and sweet potato leaves for stir fries. At about $3 per bag of salad leaves at the supermarket, we are doing well in saving money just from this one item alone, especially as ours are always picked absolutely fresh. 

Herbs- soup is better with parsley and thyme, pasta is better with basil and rosemary and oregano. I have bay leaves growing outside. I have makrut lime and curry leaves for curries. Mint for tea and deserts. One read recently that those tiny packs of herbs in the supermarket come out to $200 per kilo! Now, herbs are astonishingly easy to grow- in fact with things like mint and saddle back sorrel the trick is to keep them from taking over the garden. Instead, I keep them in a pot, and feel like one of those TV chefs when I just pop outside and come back with a handful of herbs for my recipe.

How much do we spend on the garden? My budget gives me $50 per month, and I can usually find something to spend it on. I don't buy pesticides or fungicides -but I do buy a bag or two of pelletised manure, and quality potting mix to add to the compost when I am potting up plants. This month I bought rock minerals because Perth sandy soils can be a bit deficient in minerals. I also bought a bag of kitty litter which is made of bentonite clay, because it is a cheap way of getting clay to add to the sand in the garden when I am planting something. Sometimes it  is nice to buy a new plant -I got a bougainvillea this month -but I often can divide or take cuttings when I need to fill a space in the garden. We make compost and get free mulch from the city council, and I am always on the scrounge for free ingredients to add to the garden. This pile of leaves was one such opportunity - I had a bag in the boot so I quickly piled them up and took them home for the compost.

What is the garden worth in dollar terms? I haven't actually done the figures, so I don't really know. We still shop for vegetables and fruit, but I think our diet is more varied, and we have fresher meals because of it. I saw someone offering home grown grapefruit for $1.50 each! I have more than 50 on the tree -so that is a significant cost saving right there. 

If you have the land -or even a bit of a sunny balcony or a strip of land next to a driveway, I think you can eat from the garden and save money. 

*Books like "Honey from a weed" by Patience Grey , and  Rick Stein "From Venice to Istanbul" 

Other Resources

Integrated pest management

It's OK really 

Great tips here  from Zero Waste Chef