Simon works in our finance team and for 4 years was responsible for buying all the fruit that goes in our smoothies – he knows some stuff about buying food (albeit that on his buying trips he sported some questionable headwear – he’s on the left).
Growing your own fruit & vegetables
You don’t need lots of space to grow your own food. It’s amazing what you can get out of a plant pot and things seem to grow even in fairly poor soil. We only have a small yard. At the end of April we planted: 10 tomato plants, 2 courgette plants and half a dozen different herbs. Next year we aim to increase the range once I’ve put in a new vegetable bed.
The courgettes have been phenomenal – between the 2 plants for the last eight weeks we have had a good sized courgette every other day. We had our first tomato last week. The plants are dripping in fruit. We staggered when we planted so I think we will get 8-10 weeks without having to buy a single tomato from the shops. We use fresh herbs daily and they really lift dishes.
The total plant cost was around ~£25. I predict if I bought this fruit, it might cost upwards of £50.
Pick your own fruit & veg
Living in London with such easy access to food, we have lost sight of picking our own produce – it seems to be a hazy memory of our childhood. We took our 16 month old daughter to a PYO Farm. We bought: raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, strawberries, beetroot, carrots, parsley, courgettes, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, broad beans.
We ate the vegetables and strawberries fresh (NB broad beans once blanched freeze well). Raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries freeze really well. (NB Best thing is to freeze them on metal trays first and then transfer them to bags so they hold their shape). Everything was amazingly fresh. We picked 4 BIG supermarket recycle bags full of produce. Total cost was £62. I estimate that from the supermarket this would have been £200+
Using class 2 fruit
As consumers we have all come to expect total uniformity in the produce we buy. This drive for perfectionism means there is often unnecessary waste at the farm level. Almost all ‘second grade’ fruit or veg is fresh - it’s just a bit misshapen – does this matter? When you get your fruit and veg at the market you will need to check the quality a little more carefully than the supermarket but typically >80% of it is great.
There are big big savings here. I predict market fruit and veg is possible 50% cheaper than the supermarket. It’s also great having an interaction with other shoppers and stall holders. There are some amazing characters at markets and you can pick up some good recipe ideas from them
Cooking from scratch
We’re all busy and there could be a view that cooking from scratch is too time consuming. But in line with Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute cooking, it needn’t be. For example making fresh bread – once you’ve made your own bread it will be hard for you to ever go back to ready-made. And it’s a myth that you need lots of equipment, a bread maker or a special oven. My recommendation is to get into sourdough bread for the fantastic depth of flavour, brilliant rising capabilities and amazing texture. Use any excess starter/dough to make pizza. It makes such good pizza that your guests will think you have trained in Naples.
You also know you are not eating any nasties because you are controlling what goes in and it’s definitely cheaper. I reckon a batch of 6 loaves costs me £2. The equivalent quality pre-made would be £9. NB spare loaves freeze well.
“I usually add enough salt to grit a road in 2 ft of snow. I have cut it altogether and don't miss that either”
Put all these thoughts together and cooking/eating becomes much more interesting, more sustainable and definitely cheaper. Brekkie is usually home baked bread, lunch is a Tupperware salad box and supper some sort of carbohydrate/vegetable base with a little meat a few days a week. Maybe we have a proper piece of meat once every few weeks.