Over the last week, between the community allotment and foraging, I’ve managed to procure a feast of produce for free, including:
- 1 bag tomatoes.
- 1 large bag potatoes.
- A generous handful of runner beans.
- A smaller handful of dwarf beans.
- 1 yellow squash.
- A handful of spinach leaves.
- I punnet nasturtium and courgette flowers.
- 1 sweetcorn.
- 1 tub blackberries.
- 1 bag pears.
- 2 bags apples.
- A few sticks of rhubarb
- 1 bag of damsons.
- A large bunch of coriander (in seed).
- A large bunch of wild mint.
I expect to add crabapples and plums to this over coming days – along with whatever is ready at the allotment on my next visit.
I’m not telling you because I think my ‘shopping’ list is particularly exciting (though its certainly very tasty).
However, as it’s in season, there may be others with gluts of similar produce. Here are a few of my ideas for cooking it to make it go as far as possible.
Bread and Jam
A tasty and indulgent breakfast that can be made as healthy or sugar-laden as you want.
I tend to make ‘fridge jam’ (or jelly), which doesn’t last as long as long life jam but has less sugar. I add extra lemon juice to boost the flavour.
Bread-wise, I love a warm, white loaf but there are so many recipes to choose from that you can opt for anything from seed-rich to gluten-free loaf.
A great ‘any time’ snack, grate apple through scone dough (add to the dry ingredients then mix through your milk/water) and bake. This is also good way to use pears, or cheese leftovers.
Squash Curry With Chutney
Chop squash and potato to similar sizes, plus onions, a handful of lentils, and whatever spices you’re in the mood for (I often use ginger and garlic ice cubes, chilli puree and fresh coriander seed plus vegetable stock, and maybe some curry powder).
I’ve already got a hot and sweet chutney and a cooler squash chutney to serve this with.
You can make a fresh accompaniment with tomatoes, onions and coriander (if you have left overs, turn into chutney). Serve with rice or cous cous and make nan bread if you need to bulk this up.
To make this feel like a banquet, and add a cooling element, add yoghurt with grated cucumber, fresh mint and coriander seed (or leaf if you have it). Garnishing with edible flower petals adds even more luxury.
Reduce the tomatoes down, along with any other vegetables you want to sneak into the sauce. As long as you put a hand blender through it, you can hide a lot of veg.
Make a dough base, and add the sauce to the base along with a mozarella ball ripped into pieces.
Use any fridge leftovers as toppings (I’ll go for sweetcorn and spinach from my produce. Nasturtium pods can add peppery crunch too).
To make the meal go further, you can make garlic bread with pizza dough. I add rosemary to the dough, roll it out, prick it, then rub garlic cloves over it (keeping the garlic remains to throw into stock) and bake.
I spread the dough with butter and sprinkle with salt or garlic salt a few minutes before it’s fully cooked (I tend to cook by nose and eye – along with regular tasting if possible). A sprinkle of fresh herbs adds colour. Cheese adds joy.
A fresh tomato and basil salad helps you use up even more of a tomato glut. Char-grilled courgette ribbons and aubergine slices are tasty in salad to accompany this too.
Fry tomato puree and garlic puree to deepen the flavour, add onions and fry until transparent, then add two tins of tomatoes. Reduce down until the sauce is dark red. (If you have any leftover wine, throw it in once the onions have caramelised to deglaze the pan, then boil off the alcohol before adding the tomatoes.)
Add 2-4 tins of water, some miso (or vegetable stock), beans chopped into bite sized pieces, sweetcorn, any dried up cheese from the fridge, plus rosemary and thyme (I have a herb container garden in the kitchen).
Soon, there will be courgettes to add too, and ideally I’d add in carrots and celery but with the right seasoning, this will work with most veg leftovers. If you eat meat, bacon or ham scraps can add flavour. You can also add frozen peas or beans to increase the veg quotient.
Finally, add a handful of pasta, simmer until cooked – and serve with more grated cheese on top.
You can make croutons (which double as a great crisp alternative) by cubing stale bread, sprinkling with salt, celery salt or garlic salt and baking in the oven
I toss croutons in oil but it’s not essential. Do watch carefully whether you use oil or not though. Croutons often take a while to brown but turn black with speed… If you slow cook them in the oven as it cools (without oil), this avoids the problem.
Any soup or curry leftovers can be topped with grated or finely sliced potatoes and baked to stretch leftovers further. Adding stock or cream can make the filling stretch further – and you can add chopped spinach and cheese too.
Grate potatoes, squeeze out the juice through a clean tea towel, season, add chopped rosemary and fry, pressing down with the spatula to help it stick together.
Once your rosti is golden on both sides, add a fried egg, baked beans, or tomato and coriander salsa with mozarella. These also make a gluten free alternative to bread.
Finely chop potatoes and any remaining veg, fry with onions, pour over egg and cook gently until it’s set (I’ve yet to experiment with chickpea juice but apparently, it makes a vegan- friendly egg substitute.) This is a great leftovers meal.
To bulk up lunch, new season potatoes tossed in a light Swedish dressing (white vinegar, honey, yellow mustard, dill) is much tastier than limp sandwiches.
I often have it with smoked salmon scraps, spinach, beans and chives to turn it into a meal. If I can find any, I add nasturtium pods for a peppery bite too. This is also tasty with beans and sweetcorn.
Blackberry and Apple Crumble
If dinner isn’t enough to fill you up, adding a filling pudding can help. I don’t have enough blackberries to make a pie on their own but why bother when they’re so good with apples?
Peel and chop the apples, heat the blackberries until they release their juice, add the chopped apples then add sugar or honey to taste.
The classic crumble topping is flour, butter and sugar rubbed together. However, oats also work if you need a gluten free option.
For a quick pudding, just dry fry oats with sugar and nuts (if you’ve managed to find any green hazelnuts) and sprinkle on top of your fruit mix.
Easy to make and great for instant breakfast, or any-time snacks, mix oats, melted butter or vegan alternative and sugar or honey.
For a fruity twist, add grated apple, mix and bake. You can add nuts or sunflower seeds to make it tastier and more nutritious.
Apple and Rhubarb Compote
A handy breakfast or pudding, served with yoghurt or ice cream; or with porridge. Just stew the fruit together and add honey to taste. This is also tasty with meringues and cream, as an Eton Mess variation.
It’s amazing how far you can make food stretch with the help of oats, flour, a few tins of tomatoes, eggs, some yogurt and a little cheese.
If you need meat, adding a medium free range chicken adds roast chicken, chicken enchiladas or pie, chicken soup and risotto to the menu, with the addition of some veg. There’s no reason you shouldn’t get three meals or more out of a chicken if you use it carefully.
Serve your feast with elderflower champagne, if you made some earlier this year.
If not, pour boiling water over bruised mint and honey or brown sugar, and add lime (and possibly rum) to taste.
If you forage for elderberries now, you can make elderberry cordial and port (ready to mull by christmas, or set aside to drink it as a more mature port next year. It’s a great addition to festive hampers too.)
Lemon balm and ginger is another simple drink (I cheat and buy frozen ginger ice cubes then add one to boiling water with a handful of lemon balm, honey and lemon juice.) If you want to turn this into a cocktail, it goes well with gin. Garnish with borage and a sprig of lemon balm.
Save citrus peel to put into vodka or gin (remove the pith first) – or candy fruit for a tasty cocktail garnish. You can also add spirits to almost-empty jam jars to make fruit spirits.
Collect rose heads that are about to drop too. Use these to make floral spirits or sugar them for a cocktail garnish.
By combining growing your own food with foraging and joining a community allotment, it’s much easier to eat and drink well on a tight budget. And the less meat you eat, and more leftovers you use, the more money you can save.