Early Summer in the UK does always mean the finest of weather (although we remain eternally optimistic) but it does guarantee one thing...
Elderflower, and lots of of it! And there are few things more sustainable, and more idyllic than a spot of light foraging in the sunshine.
I had a go at making elderflower cordial last summer, without a huge amount of success. It looked more than a little bit like horse wee once it was bottled up, but it didn't taste too bad...
However I'm inspired to try again having watching the wonderful Mary Berry make some on i-player. And I'm also inspired to to see what else can be made from elderflowers.
A quick Pinterest search later reveals that the answer is 'quite a lot'.
So just in case you too are feeling the need to pretend you are real life forager (I have this image in my head of me serenely wandering around an idyllic meadow somewhere, wicker basket hooked over my arm, stopping periodically to scoop more lovely blossoms into it….), and to go pillaging the hedgerows for elderflowers with not much of an idea of what to do with it afterwards, then here's a little bit of help.
Before we start-here is a great elderflower post from miyDIY, which goes into teeny tiny details, like how to find elderflower, and make sure you have the right stuff.
1. Cordial. Yes, I know it's the obvious one, but lots of the recipes use the cordial as their base, so here's the recipe that Mary Berry used in her Mary Berry Cooks series
2. Elderflower Champagne. I saw them make this once on River Cottage and it looked like hard work, but if that's what floats your boat, then try out this recipe from The Essential Herb Blog
Alternatively, you could just add a slug of your cordial to some champers
3. Elderflower Gin. Like Sloe Gin, but with elderflowers. Simples.
I wasn't sure it was really a 'thing' but then I found this recipe from the Telegraph. So it must be.
4. If you're going completely Tom and Barbara, then you have to try out Elderflower Wine. Here's a recipe from Self Sufficient-ish
5. Elderflower Tea from 5 orange potatoes-apparently it's very good for you, and it looks super easy
6. Lemon and Elderflower Drizzle Cake from JibberJabberUK. Sounds delicious, and it's an all in one bowl recipe, which are my faves!
7. Pear and Elderflower Upside Down Cake from Mainly Baking. Looks like another simple recipe, so definitely one to add to the list
8. Almond, Elderflower and Lime Travel Cakes from Food&Wine-surely just the name "Travel Cakes" is enough to get you clicking through to see what they are…!
9. Elderflower and White Choc Chip Shortbread. This recipe from Wallflower Girl sounds divine
10. Elderflower macaroons from The Young Austinian-these are the big chunky macaroons, not the little dainty macaroons (should that be spelt differently..?) but they look pretty fab
11. Apple, Elderflower and Cinammon Pudding. From the people who make Elderflower Cordial at Belvior Farms
12. Elderflower and Lime Cheesecake from ClaireJustine oxox. Say no more. I'm in.
13. Elderflower Panacotta. I think Mary Berry did one on Mary Berry Cooks, but this recipe is from British Food
14. Elderflower sorbet-check out hits recipe from the Wartime Housewife
15. Elderflower and Raspberry Jelly-these jellies from BBC Good Food look far too good to give to the kids...
16. Elderflower and Vanilla Jelly (think clear jam, rather than wibbly wobbly) from Lovely Greens
17. Elderflower marshmallows-as if homemade marshmallows were not enough, thanks to the Independent, you can have Elderflower Marshmallows, and really show off
18. Elderflower ice cubes-in this What You Sow blog post, they are added to G&T, but these would also be great in some sparkling water, or even to liven up plain old tap water
19. Elderflower Curd-we love any kind of curd in this house, so will be trying this recipe from NAMI-NAMI out!
20. Elderflower sugar-like vanilla sugar, or lavender sugar, but elderflower 🙂 From All That I'm Eating (what a great name for a blog btw!)
Right them, grab your wicker baskets, and off you skip 🙂
School (or work) lunchboxes - the bane of every parent's life each morning!
It's hard enough sometimes to find a) things that the little darlings will actually eat; and b) things that will survive a day rattling around a lunchbox, but when we add a desire to reduce our plastic consumption into the mix it really can feel all too much for a Monday morning.
Whilst there is a lot more choice for healthy (and not so healthy) lunchbox options than I remember when I was at school, they all seem to come wrapped in gaudy plastic. Even sticks of cheese come individually wrapped. What is all that about? And the plastic, as we all know is non recyclable and destined to just sit in landfill for the next few thousand millennia.
If you're struggling with inspiration for plastic free packed lunches, here are some ideas:
What do you guys do for school/packed lunches?
Any recommendations for plastic free luncboxes?
Eating sustainably will mean different things to different people, and it's such a complex topic that it can sometimes feel hard to even know where to start.
Here are 10 easy things we can all do to eat more sustainably.
1. MEAL PLAN
This is something I resisted for a very long time - it felt far too sensible and grown up, and there was something in me that rebelled against it. But honestly, it's one of the most useful things I do, both in terms of helping me feel more in control of life in general (I know, who knew a meal plan could do that?!) but also in terms of reducing food waste.
We get a veg box, so I generally wait until that has been delivered and I know what I have to work with, and then create a meal plan and shopping list from there. It doesn't need to take hours poring over recipe books - I have a basic repertoire of recipes up my sleeve that I regularly trot out, varying them depending on what veg I have e.g. risotto, some form of pasta (usually with a cheese or tomato based sauce), frittata, quiche/pie etc etc.
Having a meal plan makes it easier to generate a shopping list, and to know that I will use up what I buy. It also means I can cut down on the amount of cooking I need by making double batches of say mashed potato, and then have potato gnocchi as one of our meals a couple of days later.
2. MEAT FREE MONDAY
Or Tuesday, or Friday. It doesn't really matter which day of the week it is, the idea is just to have at least one meat free day a week.
Livestock farming accounts for up to 25% of global carbon emissions, so simply reducing the amount of meat we are eating is a really simple way to cut our 'food footprint'.
I have a copy of the Meat Free Monday cookbook which has loads of ideas for veggie meals, and includes breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as puddings/snacks as well. Their website also has some great recipes to inspire you on your meat free days.
3. EAT SEASONALLY
Many of us have lost touch with the seasons and what they mean for the food that should normally be available at particular times of the year. We have become so used to being able to get whatever we want, whenever we want, that we forget that if we tomatoes in the middle of winter, they will have been grown somewhere halfway around the world and then shipped or flown in to our local supermarket.
Eating seasonally requires quite a shift in the way we think about food, but after the initial research, it can easily be incorporated into weekly meal plans. Knowing that you can only have British strawberries for a relatively short window in the Summer makes them so much more of a treat, and something to really look forwards to!
There are lots of resources available online - the BBC Good Food site has a handy 'seasonality table' that shows you when different things are in season, and when they are at their best. The Eat Seasonably site has a section for what to eat now, as well as what to grown now for aspiring gardeners too!
4. GET A VEG BOX
We get our fruit and veg from Riverford, delivered to our door every week, and I have to say I love it.
It ticks so many of my 'sustainable eating' boxes - it is organic, the fruit and veg is seasonal, most of it is local and the stuff that isn't is never air-freighted, and it cuts down hugely on the amount of plastic packaging coming in to the house.
For me, it takes some of the hassle out of trying to eat seasonally - if something is in season it will be in my veg box, and if it's not, it won't. Simples!
5. COOK FROM SCRATCH
Cooking from scratch is cheaper, and you get to retain control over exactly what is going into your food. I started cooking more from scratch when we first had kids and started weaning - it felt really important to me to know that the food I was giving my precious baby was as natural and chemical free as possible. And I've just kind of carried on. I will admit that some things take a little longer and a little more effort than simply heating up a ready meal, or opening a jar of pasta sauce, but doing things like batch cooking, and meal planning can really help to streamline the whole process. If I'm doing anything in the slow cooker, I will double up and then freeze for another day when I am short on time. I regularly make a massive batch of tomato sauce for pasta or pizza toppings and freeze whatever we don't use, and if I make biscuits I always bake a double batch and stash some away.
6. REDUCE CONSUMPTION OF RED MEAT
As well as having a meat free day at least once a week, cutting down on the amount of red meat we eat is another really simple way to quite dramatically cut the carbon footprint of our diet.
Lamb and beef are the biggest culprits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions - simply eating chicken instead of beef can cut emissions by up to 25%. We do eat meat in our house, and we do love a roast lamb, or a chilli con carne, but we eat it sparingly. If I do a roast, I make sure that my meal plan for that week incorporates at least one meal that will ensure any leftovers are used up (these 'bestover' pasties are a fave). Another way to sneakily reduce the amount of red meat in a meal is to substitute up to half of it with something like lentils - this really bulks up the dish, and most of the time no-one even notices!
7. GO ORGANIC
I always try and choose organic options wherever they are available - the organic system is not perfect, but I do believe that in general terms it is much kinder to the planet and more sustainable. More and more organic products are becoming available and the price has really dropped in recent years. I imagine it will always be more expensive than conventional products, but the same issues apply to 'fast food' as they do to 'fast fashion' and we have lost sight of how much food really should cost. Organic food is produced less intensively, and with less potential for exploitation of either the land or the producers, and for me, that's a price worth paying.
8. SHOP LOCAL
In an ideal world, we would all shop from our independent butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers, but this is becoming increasingly difficult as these small local businesses get squeezed out by the supermarkets.
Shopping locally is a great way to incorporate sustainability into your diet - money spent in the local economy is far more likely to stay within the local economy, rather than go towards lining the pockets of share holders and CEO's.
Keep your eye out for your local farmer's market, or seek out an independent butcher. Going supermarket free would be a big step for many of us, but could you commit a certain proportion of your weekly spend to local shops? If you are in the supermarket, then look out for British meat and veg, which will have lower food miles (British farms usually have higher welfare standards too).
9. CHOOSE FAIRTRADE
Fairtrade is really taking off and the range of products available is expanding every day - from coffee to bananas, and chocolate to peanut butter, there are so many more options available now.
Buying products with a fairtrade certification means that the producers have been paid a fair price for their goods - this means that they can afford to send their kids to school instead of sending them out to work, then can pay off any loans associated with their businesses, they can put food on their own tables. Again, I feel like the slightly increased costs of fair-trade goods is simply a truer reflection of how much things really cost to produce. The peace of mind that comes with knowing that other people aren't being exploited or suffering as a result of my choices makes it a premium I am happy to pay.
10. LOVE YOUR LEFTOVERS
Getting canny with leftovers, and those slightly limp veg left at the bottom of the fridge, or the over-ripe bananas in the fruit bowl is a brilliant way to not only eat more sustainably, but to save money too.
And the good news is that these uninspiring leftovers can be turned into delicious meals and snacks with relatively little effort.
The Love Food Hate Waste site is also a great place to look for inspiration.
What are your favourite ways to eat more sustainably? Do comment below, or hop over to the Facebook group to join in the conversation!
I was going to start this post by saying "there's nothing wrong with supermarkets", but that would be wrong. There is a lot wrong with supermarkets, but I guess what I want to say is that I accept that supermarkets are a part of most of our lives. They have done good things in terms of making good food cheaper, and they are the place that the vast majority of us will do our weekly shop.
And that's ok.
But there are other ways to shop, that are built on more sustainable models that fit with our ethos of sustainable food, and that have a focus on people and planet as well as profit.
Here are twelve of them:
1) FARMERS MARKETS
Find your local farmer's market. Most towns of any size will have one happening at least once a month. You will find inside a collection of amazing fresh produce direct from the producers in your local area, everything from bakers, to beef, and veg to local honey.
The money goes straight to the producers, there is no middle man taking a cut, and you get to support farmers directly.
2) FOOD ASSEMBLY
The Food Assembly is a great concept that is like a farmer's markets but with the convenience of online shopping. Each local assembly creates an online site where local producers come together to display their wares in a virtual store. You can order online and then collect from a designated pick up point once a week, where you can also meet the local producers and do some taste testing too!
3) VEG BOX SCHEMES
There are some national veg box schemes such as Riverford, where you can not only get fresh, seasonal, organic veg delivered to your door, but also organic meat and dairy products too.
But if you do a little bit of research, you will undoubtedly uncover a local version, run by local growers and producers. You can search for organic veg box schemes here.
4) LOCAL SHOPS eg BUTCHERS, BAKERS ETC
Take a walk down your local High St and see how much of your weekly shop you might be able to source from local independent retailers. Do you still have an independent butchers, or a greengrocers, or a bakers. If you do, then support them! They are a font of knowledge about their own products, and will often be comparable on the supermarkets, if not cheaper. And your money stays in the local economy, and helps a local business put food on their family's table, rather than lining the pockets of supermarket shareholders.
5) GROW YOUR OWN
When I posted last week with Ten Ways to Eat Sustainably, and asked "what have I missed off the list?", the answer that kept coming back was "Grow your own"!
Most of us won't have the space to be entirely self-sufficient, but we can all devote a couple of pots on the patio to some herbs, or a tray on the windowsill for some cut and come again lettuce. I am not green fingered at all, but along with the satisfaction of eating something you have grown yourself, I love the feeling that what I am doing is like a gentle form of activism. Like mending, it is quietly disrupting the status quo, and I love that!
6) COMMUNITY FRIDGES
The first of these in the UK opened in Frome last year and one has recently opened in Brixton in London. They aren't yet commonplace, but should be because they are a great idea! If people have food in their fridge that they know they aren't going to eat because they are going away on holiday, or have just misjudged their shopping, they can simply pop it into the community fridge and anyone who wants it can take it. Local businesses also use it to get rid of any leftover fresh goods at the end of the day, and it seems to work really well.
7) PAY AS YOU WISH SUPERMARKET
The Real Junk Food Project recently opened the first pay as you wish supermarket stocked with food that would otherwise end up in landfill. Customers shop for food that has been thrown out by supermarkets and other businesses, but that is still entirely edible, and they are then invited to pay as they see fit. It's a brilliant idea and one that could be replicated up and down the country.
This is slightly dependant on the time of year and your enthusiasm for all things foraged, but even those who shudder at the thought of nettle soup must still delight in the thought of fresh blackberries plucked straight from the bush in the Autumn sun.
Autumn is the best time to take advantage of nature's larder - here's an article I wrote for the Mirror with some things to look out when the time is right.
Olio is a food waste app, where you can sign up and post any food that you have that you need to get rid of, as well as keep your eye out for things that your neighbours might be offering up. It is still getting off the ground in many areas of the country, and needs to reach a critical mass for it to work well, but it's well worth signing up for.
I will admit that freeganing is only for a few hardy souls, but it's worth a mention. Amongst other things it involves 'urban foraging' aka dumpster diving into the bins and skips round the back of supermarkets. I understand that there can often be lucrative pickings, but it comes with Health and Safety, and legal implications...!
11) FARM SHOPS
Local farm shops can be a brilliant way to source your weekly shop from local producers and seasonal produce. Some of them have policies of only sourcing things from within a set distance away to limit food miles, and others will grow a lot of the produce right there on the farm. You probably already know where your nearest and best ones are, but just in case you don't you can search here.
12) INCREDIBLE EDIBLE
If you are lucky enough to live near an Incredible Edible project, you could have all the benefits of Grow Your Own, with much less effort. These community growing projects use communal land, and small spaces within towns to grow fruit and veg that is available for anyone to help themselves to.
OK, so what have I missed?!
Has all this inspired you to think about exploring some other options for your weekly shop? If you fancy a challenge, think of a goal (e.g. one shop every month, or sourcing all your meat from the local butchers, or starting up with a veg box scheme) and do share below in the comments, or pop over to the Facebook group to join in!