Why not eat insects?

Does it appeal as an ingredient?

Do they appeal as an ingredient?

Yesterday’s post elicited a few comments here and on Facebook about the potential for people as well as chickens to consume mealworms. This reminded me of a little book I came across some time ago, entitled Why not eat insects?* Published in 1885 and written by one Vincent M. Holt, it raises an interesting question, which I can’t help feeling is answered by the ‘ick’ factor. I know perfectly well that many insects and other invertebrates are highly nutritious, easy to rear in a small space and do not have associated welfare issues in the same way that larger livestock do, but I’m still not rushing off for a mealworm stir-fry! If you consider the classification of animals, insects (i.e. the subphylum Insecta in the phylum Arthropoda) are not far removed from prawns (which are members of the subphylum Crustacea in the phylum Arthropoda). So why do we happily tuck into sweet and sour king prawns but not field crickets in garlic butter? Don’t tell me it’s because you don’t like garlic!

To be fair, lots of cultures do eat insects. If you read Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, you will find mention of Precious Ramotswe eating mopane worms, which are moth caterpillars. And locusts in honey are mentioned in the bible (although the reference is probably to locust beans) and Game of Thrones (yes I know it’s fictional)… there’s even a recipe inspired by the latter here. Interestingly, dried mealworms do smell quite appetising, but I still can’t quite bring myself to cook with them.

Mr Holt gives some suggested menus in his little book, demonstrating much creativity (New Carrots with Wireworm Sauce; Gooseberry Cream with Sawflies; Devilled Chafer Grubs) but relatively poor taxonomic skills (Fried soles, with Woodlouse Sauce; Slug Soup) and possibly a mis-spelling (Fricassee of Chicken with Chrysalids… too much John Wyndham I think). However, if we are thinking about the wider invertebrate offering, there are the ubiquitous slugs. Some time a go I wrote a post about eating slugs, and I quoted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describing his experiments with recipes including slugs; he said  “I can heartily recommend those dishes, with just one small adjustment – leave out the slugs”. Even a man who isn’t particularly squeamish about what he eats clearly isn’t keen – although at least he tried. Slugs are just shell-less snails – a delicacy in France – so why are we not just yumming them up?

I suppose here in the UK (I can’t speak for the rest of you) we have just been taught to find insects distasteful. If it is a purely cultural thing, perhaps we should learn to overcome it… after all there are clear benefits to sourcing our protein from such animals. Do you eat insects?

-oOo-

* You can read it for yourself here.

Rumpaging about the garden

A couple of days ago we called in on a friend who had been the recipient of some Boston squash plants earlier in the summer. She complained that they were ‘rumpaging’ about her vegetable garden. She showed me them progressing up the bank adjacent to their bed and along into the courgettes. Not a bad bit of rumpaging, but mine are doing better: across the patio, over the butterfly netting, into the potatoes, up the greenhouse and well on their way up the willow hedge… they obviously like the conditions:

Over the netting

Over the netting

Supported by the blue plastic piping

Supported by the blue plastic piping

Through the willow branches

Through the willow branches

Up into the hedge

Up into the hedge

Through the potatoes and over the greenhouse

Through the potatoes and over the greenhouse

And all the while, producing fruit (I think this is Oregon Homestead)

And all the while, producing fruit (I think this is Oregon Homestead)

And this is Boston - the original 'rumpager'!

And this is Boston – the original ‘rumpager’!

 

Fingers crossed for an abundant crop that will last the winter!

Return to Karuna

Nothing is too good for Karuna's ducks!

Nothing is too good for Karuna’s ducks!

I haven’t posted for a few days because, once again, I’ve been teaching an introduction to permaculture course at the Karuna Permaculture Project in Shropshire… three days focusing on how to design robust, resilient and sustainable systems based on the principles and processes that we find in natural ecosystems. The sun shone on us (most of the time), Merav cooked lovely food for us, much of which was grown on site, and we were able to see examples of the things we were discussing all around us, with the opportunity to spend lots of time chatting to people who had created the place and who live there.

Sculptures nestle amongst the trees

Sculptures nestle amongst the trees

In general, I like teaching, but I particularly enjoy it when I am in an inspiring place – and Karuna is one such venue. The project is an amazing series of forest garden areas with surrounding meadows, developed by a single family, with the help of WWOOFers in the summer and occasional other volunteers. It’s hard to describe the diversity of the site, with its fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, specimen trees and  glades, plus a mass of butterflies and birds. In addition, there are some beautiful sculptures to be found as you explore.

The trees around this sculpture were only planted seven years ago

The trees around this sculpture were only planted seven years ago

It’s a young site (only seven years old), but that is hard to believe when you look at it and consider that, apart from some large trees on the edge of the original fields, it was just grazing land when the planting started in 2006. The incredible growth of the trees can be attributed, at least in part, to increasing the fertility of the site and suppressing competitive grasses by mulching around the trees with straw soaked with urine… you see, I told you it was a good source of nitrogen! It’s even more impressive when you discover that the site is at an altitude of about 300m… so it’s not exactly in a sheltered lowland area.

We run a permaculture course there once a year at around this time, but Karuna is a demonstration site as part of the LAND network, and there is a variety of interesting courses run during the summer and early autumn… how about Earth Bag Building (in early September)?

So, here are just a few pictures to tempt you to visit Karuna… perhaps to do a course, to volunteer there, or to book it to use as a venue for an event you are organising…

Camping next to a forest garden area

Camping next to a forest garden area

Vegetables and herbs in abundance

Vegetables, flowers and herbs in abundance

A guided tour

A guided tour

Cucumbers in the polytunnel

Cucumbers in the polytunnel

Exploring the forest garden

Exploring the forest garden

Oh, there’s also a Karuna blog on WordPress here, and a Facebook group here

How does your tarmac grow?

Very well thank you, as you can see:

Something from nothing!

Something from nothing!

IMGP1210

Lovely lettuce… in a strawberry planter

In fact, it’s not the tarmac that’s growing anything, but it is providing the base for various containers, all contributing to our vegetable yield this year. For those of you new to my blog, the area in the pictures used to be a complete waste of space, a corner at the end of the driveway that just accumulated junk. A bit of thought and the application of some permaculture principles, and I have turned this area into somewhere useful.

So far this year, we haven’t harvested much from this part of the garden – some lettuce, parsley and about a kilo of potatoes* – but we have high hopes.

It’s lovely to see the mangetout, having been guided by “pea sticks” to grow in the right direction, scrambling up the fence. The mesh on the fence was put there to stop the chickens escaping and wandering down the street, but it has turned out to have a second function – supporting these plants (Yellow-podded – a variety that grows up to six-feet tall).

The lettuces are in a container that was originally intended for growing strawberries. Somehow the fruit-growing was not successful, so it has found a new function – multistory leaves – which seems to be going well so far. Sometimes, success just requires some lateral thinking!

-oOo-

* It’s early for potatoes yet, but it’s possible to remove some from the edge of the dumpy bags without disturbing the root system too much. Although this will reduce our total yield, it means that I am able to supply us with new potatoes at a time of year when the ones in the shops are very expensive. Those in the soil rather than containers will be harvested later in the season when they have produced their maximum crop.

free food for rats

not instructions on feeding rodents!

Don’t be mislead by the title… this in not a post about encouraging vermin!

If you read my ‘about’ page, you will know that I am a scientific editor, but what it doesn’t mention is that I also occasionally edit other books. Sometimes it is a real struggle to stay awake through them, but sometimes I’m asked to work on a book that I really enjoy and am subsequently delighted to own.  free food for rats ** (published by Black Kite Press) is one such book. It is mainly a cookery book, but also includes anecdotes about family and travel, plus some lovely photographs of the food and a variety of illustrations and paper cuts all done by Anja, the author.

Anja has a German mother, a Welsh father and has lived in a variety of countries during her life… and all of this has influenced her cooking. In what other cookery book could you find recipes for Glamorgan Sausages, Waffeln mit Haferflocken (German waffles with oats), Rempeyeck Kacang (Indonesian crispy peanut wafers), Zhurou Chao Huanggua (Chinese pork with cucumber) and Bitterballen (a Dutch beer accompaniment)? And all written by a cook who has lived in all those countries?

One of the joys of the recipes is that they use ingredients that you are likely to have in your store cupboard (with the exception, in my case, of Marmite!)… so none of that getting excited about cooking something only to discover it contains some obscure ingredient that you will have to seek out specially. In addition, the recipes were tested out in Anja’s own kitchen (or her mum’s) and photographed there, so there have been no food stylists involved to make the dishes look any better than they really are – what you see is what you get.

I must confess that I have known Anja and her mum, Eveline, for many years and have enjoyed many a great meal in their respective kitchens… often over a glass of wine or a game of Mahjong, so I am a little biased. But, nevertheless, I love the book and will be cooking recipes from it for years to come.

NEWSFLASH: The book is now available to buy from two shops online: The department of small works and 80 20

-oOo-

** The name comes from a sign that appears in a picture in one of Graham Oakley’s Church Mice books… possibly The Church Mice Adrift

Waste not…

I like to be green: saving energy, growing food, cutting down on water use, all the things that crop up throughout this blog. But from a different perspective, much of what I write could be about saving money: repairing rather than replacing, minimising fuel bills, buying packets of seeds rather than baskets of vegetables from the supermarket, and so on. Whilst some aspects of our life have required quite large financial investments (having solar pv panels fitted, for example) many of the changes we have made have required relatively little, on no, money and have saved on outgoings (for example filling the toilet cistern with rainwater rather than metered mains water).

What I want to write about, today, however, is about getting the most out of the things that you buy, by using all of everything rather than just some. According to Love Food Hate Waste, in the UK

We throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, costing us £12bn – most of this could have been eaten.

They say that this equates to every person in the UK throwing away, on average, 120kg of food every year. Yes, you read that right 120kg per year! I know that I don’t throw away anywhere near that, so someone is chucking out considerably more!  Actually, none of our uneaten food goes to waste here; one way or another it gets used: fed to the dogs, chickens, wild birds, worms or compost bin. So even if we don’t eat everything directly, some of it comes back round in the form of home-produced fruit, veg or eggs. And because we are not self-sufficient and have to buy lots of our food, the net result must be that the ‘waste’ should be considered a resource that increases the fertility of our land. Most of what goes to the garden one way or another is not food that could have been eaten, it’s usually peelings, pods, tops, outer leaves etc.

When we do have left-over food, we either eat it the next day or put it in the freezer for later use. I try, also, to use every scrap of food when cooking. Thus chicken carcasses are picked clean and then boiled up to make stock for use in soups, sauces, risotto, casseroles and so on. When collecting food from the garden, it’s often possible just to collect what you need, so there isn’t any waste at all. For example, cut-and-come-again lettuces allow you to pick as many leaves as you need and leave the rest of the plant growing. This also means that you get fresh leaves every time, not some that have been sitting in a plastic bag for a week. Of course, in good years, there are gluts in the garden and then preservation is necessary. But even simple measures, like sealing left-overs in a bag or container before putting them in the fridge can allow you to enjoy them a couple of days later without a risk to your health.

Scrapers, funnels and other extraction tools

However, I still like to get the absolute maximum out of the things that we do buy: I can’t bear leaving any of a product behind in the packaging. As a result I have an impressive array of jar-scrapers, brushes and scoops… if I’ve bought something (or even been given it), I am going to use every last scrap of it that I can! I also have a couple of special funnels designed so that one bottle can be held over another to allow every drop of liquid to be transferred to the new receptacle without standing around holding the bottles for an hour or so. I use these for all sorts of liquid, but oils in particular.

Bisected tube

I also cut open plastic tubes, so that I can access whatever has stuck to the side. This applies equally to food or cosmetics. About three weeks ago I apparently came to the end of a tube of moisturiser. When I cut it open I discovered that about 1/3 of the total original volume was adhered to the inside of the tube and could not be squeezed out in the conventional way, but could be accessed easily after judicious application of scissors. Call me cynical, but I can’t help feeling that the manufacturers would be quite happy for me to simply buy a new tube once no more moisturiser could be accessed through the nozzle. I guess that I’m not a good consumer from the perspective of manufacturers, even if I am a wonderful consumer from the perspective of the planet. But I know which I’d rather be!

Chilli festival

In this strange year for crops it appears that we are about to enjoy a bumper crop of chillies – a visit to the greenhouse reveals a veritable chilli forest, including healthy plants with flowers and fruit in abundance. None are ripe yet, but they are starting to change colour.

Mainly Lemon drop – you can see the green unripe fruit amongst the leaves

I have been trialling varieties for a number of years now, and have finally identified ones that do well in my greenhouse here in west Wales. I only grow two*, both from The Real Seed Catalogue. The first is Lemon Drop – a slender fruit that ripens to a beautiful lemon yellow colour and has a reasonable amount of heat and a slightly citrus flavour. This variety is good for drying for use over the winter.

A forest of chillies – purple flowers on Alberto’s Locoto

The second is not, in fact, a different variety but a different species, it’s called Alberto’s Locoto (not sure of the scientific name). Alberto’s Locoto is a great plant – it’s a perennial and so you can keep it going for a number of years. When you do need more you can simply save seeds yourself –  because it is a separate species, it doesn’t cross with any of the other capsicums and so it breeds true. It is a lovely plant – hairy leaves, purple flowers and bright red fruit when ripe. And finally, the chillies are good to eat – they reliably have a decent amount of heat, unlike some chillies I have grown in the past.

Which reminds me… it’s worth noting that all capsicums/peppers/chillies are perennial and, with a little care, they will survive over the winter. Like many vegetables, we treat them as annuals and replant each year, but I have had some very successful crops of peppers in a second or even third year. You can either keep them in the greenhouse (as long as it doesn’t get too cold) or bring them into the house or conservatory (if you have one). Just keeping a couple going is worthwhile if you don’t have much indoor space, as they will crop earlier the following year than newly planted individuals.

-oOo-

*In fact it’s not entirely true that we only have the two varieties; we also have the Hungarian Wax peppers, which we are now referring to as Russian Roulette peppers. We were given the seed and will never grow them again, because their flavour is so unpredictable. I had been led to believe that they started sweet and got hot as they ripened up. This is a lie. Some are hot, some are sweet, the age, colour and plant of origin are not correlated with the flavour at all. As a result Mr Snail-of-happiness and I had the hottest risotto (possibly the hottest dish) I have ever made last week because I naively put two green Hungarian Wax peppers into it without tasting them first. It was impossible to taste any of the other ingredients and we needed some chilled Sauvignon to help us recover! (what an excuse)

Fifty shades of green

Apparently a woman of my age should be enthralled by the book ‘Fifty shades of grey’… erotica unburdened by plot or believable characters if my niece is to be trusted. She tells me that she can’t believe that she wasted hours of her life on the whole trilogy. She’s more than twenty years younger than me, but I have always found her to be thoughtful and reliable, so on her recommendation I am going to spend my time on a colour other than grey.

Lettuce, oriental greens and rocket in my polyculture bed. Alas the dwarf french beans rotted in the wet.

Of course, my colour of choice has to be green. The transformation of the British summer from washout to glorious sunshine has revealed that not everything in the garden is beyond hope. There may be no red tomatoes or golden squashes, there may be precious few runner bean flowers or vibrant black and yellow hoverflies, but there are lettuces in a variety of shades of green… from ‘Flashy butter oak’, which is green mottled with a deep burgundy, to ‘Emerald Oak’ with its crinkled vibrant green leaves. All hues seem to be there in the salad crops, whether lettuces or oriental leaves.

The photograph does not adequately show the contrast between the dark green of the potato leaves and the downy grey-green apple mint.

But other crops are showing their true colours in the sunshine too – potato leaves, contrasting with the grey-green downy foliage of apple mint. Even some of the corn and squashes are finally starting to flourish, though it seems rather too late for the production of mature winter squashes that will store well or bursting-with-sweetness corn, straight off the plant and into the pan of boiling water (in the style of Bob Flowerdew). In the greenhouse (how appropriate) greens abound – deep shiny green lipstick peppers, sickly yellow-green Amy sweet wax pepper, plus another brighter green-shading-to-red Hungarian wax pepper. And quite a few green tomatoes… which I hope will not remain so for too much longer.

Oca… plus a Calendula flower that just opened today

Elsewhere in the garden, the yellow-podded mangetout are starting to flower, purple against their subdued green foliage. Field beans (planted very late because of the bad weather) have abundant flowers amongst their grey-green leaves and oca (masquerading as shamrock) has soft green trefoils nodding in the wind. The glaucous leaves of breadseed poppy are surmounted by both purple flowers and newly formed seed pods (which should not open when they are ripe, thus preserving all the seed for me to harvest).

Squash and corn… flourishing in a compost-filled dumpy bag.

I could go on… salsify, leeks and bunching onions are just starting to show signs of resuming growth, ginger mint and lemon balm look and smell delicious as I walk through them in the fruit cage to collect raspberries off the old and slightly tatty canes in the midst of new fresh green canes that will bear fruit next year (or later this year for the Autumn variety). But, it’s time to stop now and go and enjoy picking and eating some of this bounty. So, when asked to choose a colour, I say ‘no thank you, grey… give me shades of green any day’.

-oOOo-

Of course, there’s no such thing as an original idea… Diggitydigg beat me to it!

The time of gluts…

It’s normally around this time of year that we are starting to eat courgettes… every day. But not this year. The southerly placement of the jet stream is causing us to have a remarkably soggy and sunless summer here in the UK. Pretty much any UK gardening blog at the moment will include references to rain, slugs, snails, wind and a lack of vegetables.

Broadbead flowers – just need a few more pollinators

Well, I’m here to set the record straight – there are some plants growing in the UK. They may not be all the ones we expect at this time of year and some crops are certainly sluggish (if you’ll excuse the pun), but there are some things to be harvested. We are currently enjoying delicious potatoes straight out of the  planters, lettuce, rocket, mizuna and  Hungarian wax peppers. OK, so there’s not a sign of a courgette, the runner bean flowers seem to drop off before they are pollinated, I’ve brought one of the tomato plants into the house to try and encourage it not to rot and my onions have disappeared under a glorious swathe of Calendula, but there are things growing. The broadbeans are flowering abundantly if late and the bunching onions seem to be coming along nicely, as does the oca.

Breadseed poppy

As for dessert… we have raspberries and rhubarb along with a few strawberries and some red currants and blueberries just starting to ripen. On the herb front there’s mint, lemon balm, horseradish and rosemary. And the first flower of the bread seed poppies has opened.

And finally, our now well-integrated flock of hens is providing an abundance of eggs. Last night’s dinner comprised Spanish Omelette with a green salad… not quite all out of the garden , but not bad considering the dismal weather.

So the moral? Don’t rely on a single sort of crop… plant a variety of things and some will succeed. Oh, and have raised beds and containers so your plants don’t drown and can be moved indoors or into a more sheltered spot.

And have chickens so that all those vegetable-fed slugs don’t go to waste!

Hungarian Wax Peppers in the greenhouse

Sheds

I had always understood that the place to go for a bit of peace and quiet was the shed… where, in 1970s sitcoms, a man might escape from a nagging wife (marriage being obligatory and involving two genders in those days) and enjoy… well, I’m not sure what exactly, on account of being (1) female and (2) aged three at the beginning of the 1970s. Anyway, it was always the shed: sometimes as far away as an allotment, but often in the garden.

We don’t have a very big garden and consequently, we don’t have a very big shed. So, once the plant pots, shredder, potatoes, spades, fork, spare netting, canes, and lawn mower** are in there, there is standing room only. In addition, when we bought our shed, we chose to have one without windows (the weak point in the old shed), so once the door is closed it’s both claustrophobic and dark. Call me picky, but I don’t find that combination particularly relaxing.

My greenhouse... hoping it will breed with next-door's

In the theory of 1970s sitcoms, I guess that I should be the one in the house doing the nagging and Mr Snail-of-happiness should be seeking refuge in some garden structure. However, he has his studio/workshop (formerly the spare bedroom) and I seek my respite (from scientific editing, not from Mr S-o-h) in the garden. It would be lovely simply to sit out on the bench and chat to the chickens (they always come over to see what’s going on), but this is west Wales and we are considering buying a dinghy and trading the chickens in for some ducks, so shelter is often required. And so, I often find myself spending a happy ten minutes pottering in the greenhouse, examining what has germinated, watering and generally enjoying being with growing plants. This seems to me, so much better than a shed – it’s light, there may be things to eat and when there is a little sunshine it’s lovely and warm in there. My long-term plan is to make sure that there is always something growing in my greenhouse, whatever the time of year. In this respect I have been inspired by the home-made geodesic dome up at Blaeneinion, where there seem to be salad leaves, at least, always available.

My trip out there earlier today revealed lots of bean germination – both runner and pea-beans (featured in the Guardian last weekend). None had made a bid for freedom today, but my ‘jumping bean’has not germinated, so I suspect a mouse was responsible for the earlier migration and that it might have consumed the embryo… resowing probably required. Nevertheless, the greenhouse has restorative properties for me… I think I need to put a chair out there… and possibly some gin and tonic.

Germinating beans

** A complete white elephant, since we no longer have a lawn… the chickens ate it!

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