Welcome to the second UCFF blog of 2020. Trembling slightly as I realise I am following in the footsteps of Ian Nottage!
I have been a willing contributor, guest, participant and lover of all things UCFF from the first time I walked through the gates in 2013. I have attended as a punter, cider maker, bee keeper and stall holder/ demonstration chef and I just can’t wait for it to come round each year!
When agreeing to contribute a blog post I was faced with selecting a theme from the words used to define UCFF. These words surround the badge and are the cornerstones which epitomize the event. “Development, Farming, Learning, Provenance, Sustainability, Trends, Taste and Seasonality.” Yes, I’d read them, they resonated with me and supported what I believe our industry should stand for in the future. I just hadn’t bargained on trying to choose one to write about!
After much deliberation I chose Seasonality as I could relate to this most strongly. I was fortunate that I grew up in a fishing and farming community in the Hebrides. That, as you might expect, has had a significant impact on my notion of seasonality. I appreciate the term seasonality is much discussed and means different things to different people but it may not come as a surprise to you that seasonality to me does not mean strawberries available in the supermarkets from numerous continents twelve months a year with little or no concern over quality, only availability.
Seasonality or eating seasonal food is often held up as a shining light to reduce our impact on the planet but it can’t do it alone. Seasonality will be far more effective as part of a solution if you also consider the food miles or carbon footprint associated with growing, producing and transporting your food. You must also give much consideration to reducing your waste. Effective planning and purchasing will reduce waste, especially if you learn to utilise the products in full or preserve them in some way. Only then can sustainability have any real impact as part of the solution to our rapidly dwindling world resources.
How you translate that to your everyday life is your choice, but I decided small steps were easy to make and add up quickly to make a difference. As a child I still remember the taste of the first rhubarb of the year, the first mackerel and the first new potatoes among many other things. They tasted good because they were super fresh and you had to wait for them! How many times have you been disappointed by a December bought strawberry? Of course, I do use supermarkets. They are a fabulous resource and we are very lucky to have such convenience on our doorstep. I just choose to buy more seasonally and to me that is easily achieved by buying the majority of my food from my local farm shops. I do this because I want to eat fresh seasonal produce with provenance that supports my local growers and producers.
To supplement what I buy I also like to grow some fruit and veg. This is a great introduction to seasonality with the added pleasure of creating your own wonderful moments when you taste the first of a freshly picked crop that you have nurtured and watched patiently as it ripens, it’s quite empowering as well as addictive!
I also forage for wild edibles, mainly leafy greens. Often, they are the crop flourishing best in my veg garden! They are widely available and have great flavour profiles that are not found in commercial crops. Hogweed shoots, Alexanders, Dandelions, Ground Ivy, Fat Hen, Nettles, Wild Garlic to name a few. Foraged produce is free, fresh and surrounds us in city centers and more rural locations. It also has no associated food miles or carbon footprint. Remember, small steps, every time you swap a handful of dandelion leaves for a plastic bag of spinach you are making a difference.
Seasonality is a theme we like to explore through my recently opened Cookery School www.groundupcookeryschool.co.uk particularly when teaching foraging and fermenting. Foraging is the very epitome of seasonality and understanding how geography, weather and local conditions affect produce is key to understanding seasonality, same goes for your veg garden! Fermenting is a rapidly growing trend, mainly due to the health benefits reportedly associated with fermented foods but it is also a great way of connecting us again with seasonality by teaching us how to preserve gluts of produce, therefore extending their availability. I am fortunate enough to have been asked to lead the foraging experience at UCFF this year. Come along and let me show you how accessible and tasty seasonality can be!
Remember, every small step you take makes a difference.
Colin Wheeler-James Founder, Ground Up Cookery School Development Chef, Symrise