Natural, organic but bad!

Following on in much the same vein as  “Frugal, thrifty, tight?” which I posted on December 18th last year, I was reflecting today on the perils of regarding everything organic as necessarily good to eat.  I remember (possibly 40 years ago) eating a bean pie from Cranks Restaurant in London which was, at the time, something of a flagship for organic food.  Even then, back in the day, an organic wholemeal loaf could be more character forming than fun to eat, and the bean pie-crust tasted like an early experiment in military armour.  But they were selling like hot cakes in Ladbroke Grove and appeared to confer some kind of ethical glow on the consumers. Decades later, I’ve learned by practicing that it’s entirely possible to make lovely wholemeal pastry as long as you don’t overwork it and I’ve occasionally made an effort to create my own beanie pie – without much success so far.  Maybe this years borlotti beans will break my run of bad luck.

But now, with the allotment, we can guarantee the organic provenance of all our vegetables, but not necessarily their wholesomeness. You get used to washing and soaking to remove the beasties but having done that it’s all too easy to assume that if it’s come off the allotment it will be good for us.

Most mornings I make a kefir based smoothie and if there’s any available I always put some spinach in the mix.  But just now we’re between crops, and the only spinach available when I looked was rather old and had bolted.  It really needed to go on the compost heap but being frugal and thrifty I laboriously picked all the leaves off the mighty stem, gave them a good wash and – for two consecutive days – whizzed them up raw in the kefir.

In the bathroom this morning I was, as I said, reflecting – as one does – and as I read one of the stack of books I keep there for reflecting purposes, it became clear that ancient raw spinach contains uncomfortable amounts of oxalic acid – like old rhubarb does. “Bingo” I thought as my synapses added two and two together and revealed the secret of our suffering.  The acid is broken down by cooking, but we’d eaten it raw and in considerable quantity.  A little bit more recearch later I discovered that raw salad vegetables are superb vectors of several other disorders you don’t want to experience.

Normally I’m careful about adjectives like natural, fresh and organic …… “So”, I always say, “are foxglove and deadly nightshade, and they won’t do you any good at all!” But I’d never expected that staple foods like spinach need to be treated carefully – in future I’ll think twice.

On the allotment we continued clearing up for winter and composing all the empty beds. As Madame wanted to wash down the greenhouse, I picked the last of the chillies whatever their state of ripeness and we gathered up the shallots from the drying shelf. Now we’re ready to sow the overwintering legumes and green manure. No-dig has relieved us of one heavy task, but the turning and humping around of quantities of compost will soon put on a sweat. After several weeks of rain and gloom there’s a prospect of some drier weather for a few days and that’s all we need to carry on growing.


Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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