Those of us who grow our own food usually spend this time of year leafing through seed catalogues and planning what we are going to grow in the season ahead.
Many of us will also have saved at least some of our own seeds from last year’s crops for sowing this year (I, for example, will be sowing pea, chickpea, tomato, pumpkin, butternut squash, Japanese onion squash, dwarf French bean, runner bean, borlotti bean and broad bean seeds saved from my allotment plot, the Circus Garden).
For hundreds of years the saving and sowing of seeds was normal practice, and it made economic and reproductive sense – not only were these seeds free, saving and sowing from one generation to the next also helped to build up varieties naturally adapted to the local climate and conditions.
But then along came industrial scale farming, and seeds suddenly became big business.
The United States led the way in the 1930s after it passed the Plant Patent Act, which gave plant breeders exclusive control over the seeds of new varieties they had created. This was followed world-wide by a series of more and more restrictive laws preventing anyone reproducing or selling seeds without permission of the owner of the intellectual copyright to those seeds.
Over time, this has brought us to a situation where today ownership of the majority of the world’s seeds has coalesced into the hands of just three companies – global giants Bauer, Syngenta and Monsanto.
Within the European Union it is now illegal to sell seeds not registered in the EU Common Catalogue of Vegetable Varieties, and in recent years there have been attempts by the European Commission to further tighten this legislation in order to make it illegal even to swap seeds.
Getting a seed variety into the EU’s Common Catalogue of Vegetable Varieties is an expensive proposition, costing many thousands of pounds for each seed variety. This means that perfectly viable varieties (such as the pride and joy of my allotment plot, the beautiful and magnificent Victorian Purple Podded Pea) do not get registered, simply because they are not suitable for industrial-scale mechanised farming. Illegal to buy or sell, the Victorian Purple Podded Pea is one of many wonderful fruit and vegetable species in danger of being lost forever simply because of these draconian intellectual property laws, designed to protect big business interests.
Ironically, in contrast to “true” seeds like my Victorian Purple Podded Pea, the full protection of these seed laws is bestowed upon hybridised F1 varieties and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These are not “true” seeds – they cannot be saved and sown again. Seeds collected from F1 varieties do not reproduce the same plant the following year and are often sterile. In the case of GMOs, Monsanto insists on legally binding contracts with farmers to prevent them saving GMO seed from year to year, and just for good measure, Monsanto has spliced a “suicide gene” into some of its GMO seeds to ensure the practice cannot take place.
It was in response to the alarming decline in natural seed varieties that the campaigning organisation Garden Organic set up the Heritage Seed Library (HSL), which conserves over 800 endangered varieties of rare vegetable seeds under threat from extinction. Membership of the library costs £1.50 per month, and members are encouraged to choose up to six rare seed varieties per year, which they can plant and grow and, most importantly, save and sow the seeds from year to year to help keep the varieties viable.
A number of the more interesting vegetable varieties I grow, including my beloved Victorian Purple Podded Pea, originated from the Heritage Seed Library and I would urge anyone who is interested in growing rare or unusual heritage varieties of vegetables to consider joining the HSL and thus supporting its valuable work.
On to the recipe.
I love savoy cabbage. I think it is a majestic vegetable, and for me this quick, very simple vegan dish showcases it perfectly. This is great just on its own. Alternatively, it can be served with plain steamed rice and a drizzle of organic soy sauce, or served as a side dish with an Asian-style main dish (for example this).
roast savoy cabbage with miso and sesame
1 organic Savoy cabbage
1 tbsp ground nut oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds
for the miso-sesame paste
2 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp organic brown miso paste
1 tbsp organic maple syrup
1. Pre heat the oven to 175˚C (350˚F, gas mark 4). very lightly oil a baking sheet.
2. Using a sharp knife chop the cabbage in half and then into quarters, keeping the central stem intact. Carefully slice each cabbage quarter into four, so that you end up with sixteen wedges in total.
3. In a bowl whisk together the miso paste, groundnut oil and maple syrup into a paste. Brush each cabbage wedge on each side with the paste and place on the baking tray. Drizzle an additional tablespoon of ground nut oil over the wedges then place in the preheated oven and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully flip the cabbage wedges over and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Return to the oven for a further ten minutes to finish off.