Archive | August, 2012

Vegan Organic Growing – a trip to a local allotment

27 Aug

Enjoying a well-earned picnic after our walk from Stroud

On a rare sunny summer morning, Gloucestershire Vegans ventured on a hilly and occasionally swampy off-road route from Stroud to visit Amanda Godber’s vegan-organic allotment and to share a picnic.

As vegans our diet is entirely plant-based, which for some more curious vegans, makes it difficult to ignore where the plants we eat are grown and what processes go into their production.

Unfortunately we find that almost all of the vegetables we eat, even those organically produced are grown using the by-products of animal farming. Conventionally farmers use animal manure, slurry and also left-overs from the slaughterhouse or other animal industries such as blood, fish and bone. Not only does this sound unappealing (fancy a lettuce grown in abattoir floor-scrapings anyone?  – no I thought not.), but the sale of animal by-products to growers supports animal farming industries – something which vegans try to avoid. Using animal by-products to grow vegetables also increases the risk that animal-borne diseases spread to humans through the food supply. Fortunately we do not need animal by-products to grow fantastic veg and keep soil healthy and fertile.

Amanda giving us the tour

Amanda Godber is just one such person who is proving this to be the case. She is a experienced professional gardener who runs the inspiring local growing co-operative Down-to-Earth. They help people to grow their own veg in their own gardens, giving them confidence in growing, sharing knowledge and practical help. Her allotment is in Thrupp, a short walk out from the centre of Stroud on the brow of a steep and wooded hillside, looking out over Rodborough Common. She maintains the soil fertility by using home-made compost, created from plant matter such as grass-clippings and vegetable peelings.

shed of a compost guru!

Amanda is a composting guru, and gave a talk at the recent Edible Open Gardens explaining how she has several compost bays made from old pallets, which she fills with plant material and turns several times a year. She keeps the compost covered, to prevent it becoming too wet, and waters it during long dry spells. She never composts persistent weeds such as dandelions or bindweed, preferring to leave them in a bucket of water to rot. She allows self-seeded potatoes and nasturtiums to grow in her compost bins, which splay out from between the slats producing foliage and vivid orange flowers.

It is no wonder that Amanda takes her composting so seriously, as she relies on it to provide the fertility for her allotment veg. She uses it as a mulch layer on top of the soil, preferring not to dig it in and disturb the natural soil structure. Other vegan-organic growers use green-manures or mulches made from composted wood-chip, or straw, but Amanda prefers to make compost as she has a ready supply of garden ‘waste’ from her job.

pretty and practical: edible calendula flowers growing amongst vegetables

Amanda’s allotment is alive and bustling with vegetables – despite it being one of the worst years for gardening  anyone can ever remember. On the tour of her plot she showed us her greenhouse which has huge bunches of Pinot Noir grapes and a plump and wrinkled variety of tomato. She also showed us her wonderful runner beans, huge parsnip plants, multi-coloured sweetcorn and long blue squashes. All of these vegetables were nestled amongst vast colourful clumps of calendula, nasturtiums and feverfew. She grows flowers edible and otherwise amongst her vegetables to attract pollinating insects. She also has a wildlife area complete with small pond, hedgehog and toad houses, and a magpie bath. All of this she hopes will make her allotment more wildlife-friendly and attract natural predators to garden pests, which enables her to avoid using nasty products such as slug pellets.
There are a few other vegan-organic growers in the UK, some just growing for themselves on small allotment plots such as Amanda, others feeding the masses with farm-scale plots, producing veg-boxes and selling at farmer’s markets or shops. To find out more about vegan-organic growing techniques, visit the Vegan-Organic Network’s website. Or visit a vegan-organic farm: Tolhurst Organics is one of the nearest, and it often has open days organised by the Vegan-Organic Network.

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Devine ‘Cheese’ & Fine Wine

5 Aug

One of our ‘cheese’boards – clockwise from left: Sheese Cheese & Chives, Cheshire Sheese, Gouda Sheese, Blue Style Cheezly, Pepperjack Cheezly

On a stormy summer evening we gathered in a couple of vegan group members’ small but cosy living-room to sample a range of vegan cheeses and quaff vegan wines.

For those of you not au fait with the world of vegan cheeses, like most vegan ‘fake’ foods they come in an entertaining array of names resembling the items they are based on. There’s Cheezly, Sheese and Parmazano not to mention No-moo and Creamy-smooth. They are mostly made from a mixture of vegetable fats, potato starch, rice flour and natural flavourings such as yeast, nut butters and spices. Some barely resemble the cheese they are attempting to imitate, whilst others nicely fill the fatty-salty-savoury-creamy role a cheese alternative should.

You can buy many locally from shops such as Sunshine Health Food Shop in Stroud, Green Spirit in Market St, Nailsworth and the Natural Grocery Shop in Cheltenham.

We’d brought a selection of cheeses to try, with the idea that we would get to try each one and discover which we liked the taste of. Everyone brought something along to nibble with the cheeses and some vegan drinks. There was a great selection of home-made chutneys, pickles, freshly baked bread, crackers, scones, salads, and even a yummy chocolate cheesecake for pudding.

pickletastic! fabulous home-made chutneys and a selection of pickled vegetables

After comparing the many cheeses on offer, most of us decided the No-Moo cheeses, made by Swiss-based company Vegusto were some of the best. We were especially keen on the “mild aromatic” flavour, which some of us felt most resembled what we can remember cheese tasted like (some of us have been vegan too long to remember such things!)

A selection of Vegusto’s “No-Moo” cheeses, clockwise from top: Walnut, Mild Aromatic, Classic, Piquant

Some of us also like the Blue-style Cheezly made by vegan food company Redwood, as it had a delicious tangy flavour reminiscent of stilton.

As for drinks we had a range of vegan-friendly wines and other drinks. We also enjoyed local bottled beers, made by Stroud Brewery. (Only the botted beers are vegan, the draught beers available in local pubs contain fish swim-bladder clearing agents. Lets hope Stroud Brewery decide it’s worth the extra custom to also make their draught beer suitable for veggies and vegans soon!) As many of you will know finding vegan-friendly booze can be frustratingly difficult due to poor labelling of drinks and secretive brewing industry processes. A comprehensive list of vegan-friendly alcholic drinks is available on the website Barnivore.

Aside from the good taste, perhaps the best thing about both the drinks and the ‘cheeses’  we’ve recommend above is that they are free from the products of animal exploitation.

Recipes from the evening:

You don’t have to buy vegan cheese, it’s easy to make your own such as this Cashew Ricotta

Cashew Ricotta

(based on recipe from the excellent cook-book Veganoimcon by Isa Chandra & Terry Hope Romero)

Ingredients:

Half a cup raw Cashew nuts

Juice of 1 and a half lemon

3 tbsp Olive Oil

A block of firm tofu

1 clove garlic

1 and a half tsp of salt

6 leaves fresh basil or 1 tbsp dried basil

Method:

Blend the cashews, lemon juice and olive oil until a grainy paste forms. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until creamy.
Chill until use. Great in baked dishes, with pasta, or used as a dip.

Caramelised Onion Bread

Ingredients:

1 tsp dried yeast

2 cups warm water

1 tsp salt

4 cups strong white bread flour

For the topping:

2 onions sliced into fine rings, or 8 shallots

3 tbsp Olive oil

Method:

Put 1tsp yeast in a large bowl, and add 2 cups of warm water.

Whisk until the yeast has dissolved.

Add 1 tsp salt and whisk.

Add half of the flour and mix well, then add the following 2 cups of flour.

Cover with a tea-towel and leave in a warm spot for at least 2 hours, until risen and doubled in size.

Then caramelise the onions: Soften in olive oil with a lid on the pan until the onions turn transparent, then remove the lid and up the heat, stirring regularly until the onions are a golden brown.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a 9inch by 12 inch pan.

Turn the dough out into the pan, and spread it evenly

Drizzle the remaining oil on top of the dough of the and poke lots of holes in the dough with your fingers, then spread the caramelised onions on top

Bake for 25 mins or until risen and golden

(This dough is also great for pizza bases)

Chocolate Cheesecake

Ingredients:

8oz rich tea/digestive biscuits

4oz marg

I pack of silken tofu

8oz dark chocolate

Method:

Melt the marg and crush the biscuits. Mix them together and press down in a round cake tin to make the biscuit base, leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate. Whisk/blend the silken tofu and stir in the melted chocolate, leaving a little to put on the top. Smooth over the biscuit base, put rest of the melted chocolate on top and put in the fridge till you are ready to eat! Enjoy!

Olive Scones

Ingredients:

225g self raising flour

1/4 tsp  baking powder

50g ‘Pure’ or other vegan marg

pinch of salt

1 tsp dried oregano

about 8 olives, chopped

enough plain soya yoghurt to make a soft dough

Method:

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl

Add the marg and rub in until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs

Using a knife, stir in the olives and oregano

Gradually add the soya yoghurt, until you have a softish dough

Bring the dough together with your hands and knead lightly on the work surface.

Roll out on a floured surface to no less than 2cm deep.

Cut out your scones, re-rolling the mixture until you use it up

Bake on a baking tray in a preheated oven (200C/400F/Gas Mark6) for 12 – 15 mins until risen and sounding hollow when you tap one on the bottom!

Either serve straight away or cool on a wire cooling rack.

(If you want to make these in advance and freeze them, then you get a better result if you freeze before cooking, rather than after.)