Thursday, 10 November 2011

The hungry gap

The hungry gap is considered to be unavoidable in climates such as Britain or Northern Europe.  This refers to that period of time before the summer crops are bountiful.   We are more fortunate here,  our crops are more flexible because of our more benign climate,  but there is still a period of time when winter vegetables have been eaten, spring crops are tentative and the summer season of vegetable gluts has not yet arrived.
This is where planning ahead is necessary.  In most cultures there is a tradition of preserving the "glut" for less productive times...   in antiquity, there were granaries and oil (high energy food source) that were stored for the lean times.  Various cultures have means of preserving the bounty... ancient granaries in the fertile crescent,  dried fish  (bacalau) from Newfoundland, salted olives from the mediterranean, passata tomatoes from Italy and our own "Vacola" bottled fruit and vegetabes that are judged at any number of local shows.   The reason for these skills, back in the day, was to tide families over during the hungry gap.

In my own garden,  it is interesting to compare my food supply with that of those people from those days.  In my store cupboard I still have spaghetti sauce (various) made when I had a glut of tomatoes and zucchinis last summer.  I have a variety of fruits still in sterile syrup...  quinces, nectarines, peaches and some apricots from the previous year that are just fine.  The silver beet has gone to seed,  though I still pick a few leaves from the remaining straggly plants... I always grow silver beet (as anyone who has been a recipient of my silver beet seeds will agree) and encourage other people to do the same.

Even the broad beans have finished.  I have eaten the leafy tips (stir fried) the baby beans as a substitute for peas in "rice and peas" from Italy and the bigger beans in curry... the rest will dry to provide seeds for next year as well as the well cooked beans in minestrone. The last two artichokes are about to be used, and the last mangel worzels are looking appetising.

The idea that any and everything is available at any time of the year is so "unreal."  Not only does it require an inestimable amount of fuel to maintain the artificial production, but also the transportation of "out of season" fruits and vegetables that need to come from thousands of miles away is not sustainable.  Recipes in trendy books include ingredients that are not avbailable synchronously,  supermarkets advertise special on non seasonal fruits and "good cooking" is now seen as gathering ingredients from the supermarket and making meals (seasonable or not) with the least effort possible.  Until we re-learn what is available locally and how to use it, we will never have any impact on carbon emissions, climate change or our extravagant budgets for our basic needs.

And so here I find myself in the "hungry gap" and with less variety in mealtime ingredients.  I buy flour, and so I have fresh home made bread.  I have chickens (though recently reduced in number) and so I have eggs and I have a small,  much smaller thatn usual, selection of vegetables...  currently artichokes, silver beet, carrots, beets, mangel worzel, onions and garlic.  I still have a couple of pumpkins too.  I still have the perennial herbs, and olives from last year.... probably a few other items also,  but the reality is that the variety of ingredients is less than at other times of the year.  It is the "hungry gap".  

The big advantage of this is that when there is a bounty, one appreciates whatever is available and there is some incentive to preserve the excess for the future.  I have some empathy for those women who had no choice in the olden days,  I regard them as skilled women from whom we could learn much and may well need to in the future.

Gertrude doesn't worry about the future....
... this is "goat heaven" with watsonia all around for a goat who loves watsonia.   She doesn't need to worry about her diet in the various seasons because she can digest cellulose (with the help of her bacteria.)

For us (humans) we need to make sure that we have adequate, affordable, locally grown food items for the rest of us that can't manage on watsonia... gardens will do this, but it is not an instant "fix".     It has taken some years for my garden to be sufficiently productive to be reliable, even during the hungry gap... I think we all need to learn some old skills.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Very good article, Jane. I have learnt more from it (adding to what I already knew about foolishly sending out-of-season luxuries around the world because of cheap labour and cheap oil for ships and planes).