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Exploring Vegan and Vegetarian Food with Bailgate u3a

03 January 2024

Bailgate u3a member Gill talks about her u3a Vegan and Vegetarian group and how it has encouraged the members to think more about the food they eat.

 Bailgate u3a Vegan and Vegetarian group(about nine people) standing in front of a table filled with dishes they have made

This group started about 18months ago with the aim of members learning more about vegetarianism in general, but particularly to  build  our practical skills and confidence in cooking a wider range of vegetarian dishes for friends and family. It is open to all, vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and meat  eaters and we have members who are experienced and committed vegetarian cooks through to those whose cooking skills are much more limited  but who are willing to have a go.

The group meets monthly for lunch, and we take it in turns to choose a key ingredient or theme, such as local seasonal food. Some ingredients are pretty familiar, such as lemons, aubergines and oats but others such as tofu, have proved a real learning experience for us all, particularly the range of forms in which it can be bought and how this affects cooking.

I can thoroughly recommend silken tofu chocolate mousse which has far fewer ingredients than its dairy cousin, is foolproof to prepare and was judged delicious by us all.

To make this, melt some high quality dark chocolate (vegan),  add maple syrup to taste and a carton of silken tofu and leave to set in the fridge.

We meet at my house as I have a large table which we can all squeeze around. Each member of the group prepares a dish at home and brings it along to be eaten at room temperature or after warming through in the oven. Whover chooses the ingredient begins by sharing information about its history, health benefits and if there any particular cultural, economic or political issues to consider. For example, when we had a ‘non-dairy milk’ theme, we had a really interesting discussion about the potential benefits and the actual environmental and financial costs of relatively new drinks such as coconut, oat, almond and soy milk, against traditional dairy milk.

If we are all present, we are a group of 11, so on busy days we may have a meal of many courses! Our most elaborate to date was last month when  we celebrated pears. We began with a pear and butternut squash soup,  followed by roast pears with onion, thyme and halloumi crisps, accompanied by two salads. This was followed by a palate cleansing pear puree with oat biscuits, puddings of pear and coconut cake, pear and pecan crumble and pear and blueberry tart and to finish bread, cheese and a homemade pear relish.

 Afterwards we often exchange recipes and useful links by email and I send out a summary of what we ate for those in too much of a food coma to remember! We have discussed the possibility of combining these recipes into an annual booklet for the group but we need to think through copyright issues and the best ways to share, given that some members are less IT savvy than others.

Typically, we don’t disclose in advance what we are going to make but remarkably it’s rare that we have duplication. The more experienced cooks in the group try to make something new to them, and the rest of us decide what’s realistic for us and aim for something that’s at least edible. We try to be brave enough to share our failures as well as our successes, such as the month I tried to make 100% oat flour pastry which crumbled to dust when I attempted to roll it out.

We have also found that many recipes  underestimate the amount of time required to cook certain ingredients. This has led to lots of chat about what proportion of supposedly fresh veg has actually come out of long term storage. An aubergine or lemon bought in Lincolnshire is certainly very different from one picked up from a market in Italy.

A cookery group is an amazing and non-pressured way to socialise with new people and to learn from what they choose to cook and how they think about food. Nearly everyone feels a bit anxious at first about cooking for others but it really is incredibly supportive. Even the experienced vegetarian cooks comment that they have widened their repertoires and we all say that we are now eating more vegetarian dishes and thinking more carefully about what we eat and its true cost.

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