The most sprayed foods: if you're gonna buy one thing organic ....
In Britain, the Pesticide Action Network UK provides information about pesticides in our food. In the US, the Environmental Working Group produces a 'Shopper's guide to Pesticides'. It's hard to find consistent data, and, how exactly do you measure toxicity?
Pesticide Action Network UK mentions the following foods as worst for residues: flour, potatoes, bread, apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, french beans, tomatoes and cucumber.
Their website  will tell you all the unpleasant details. For instance, 77% of flour shows up residues of chlormequat, classified as an 'extremely hazardous substance' in the United States. The same is found on 57% of bread samples. Of the tomatoes sampled, 30% contained measurable residues.
However, as all tests were done between 2000 and 2005, no doubt the figures have gone up since. It's worth at least buying the worst of these organic.
In America the 'Dirty Dozen' for 2011 are:
Peaches: sprayed with multiple pesticides, and their delicate skin is easily penetrated.
Apples: scrubbing and peeling doesn't help much. The heavy waxing also traps pesticides.
Strawberries: 36 types found on strawberries. Out-of-season, imported strawberries are most risky.
Grapes (especially imported): thin-skinned and sprayed with 35 different pesticides 
Cherries: pesticides found on 91% of the cherries tested.
Nectarines: pesticides found on 97%.
Pears: delicate skin makes it hard to scrub and easy for chemicals to sink in.
Raspberries' fuzzy exterior makes it hard to wash off the 39 pesticides used.
Peppers (green/red/yellow): thin skinned and heavily sprayed.
Celery: thin skinned, and sprayed with 29 pesticides.
Spinach and Lettuces: often contaminated with arguably the most potent pesticides used on food.
Potatoes: contaminated with fungicides, as well as pesticides.
Tomatoes' soft skin is easily penetrated.
Milk: non-organic milk contains innumerable pesticides, antibiotics and hormones.
Meat: animals are dosed with hormones and antibiotics and fed pesticide-rich grains.
And, if you really love someone, make it organic chocolate this Christmas! Conventionally grown cocoa is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world. 
Shallots are traditionally planted on the shortest day, and you can still plant garlic. They like sun, and woodash.
If you leave veg in the ground, apply a thick mulch (straw, bracken) for protection, and so as to get them out more easily.
Give brassica's some attention before the worst of the weather. Firm soil around the stems, mulch with well rotted manure and support them with canes where necessary. Pick off yellowing leaves.
As ground becomes vacant, dig it over and spread manure. Leave roughly dug in large clumps and the worms will break them up as they get the manure. The freezing and thawing of water in the soil will cause it to break up finely, so becoming easier to handle in the spring.
Veg: Brussels, beet, sprout tops, cabbage, celeriac, celery, corn salad, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, salsify, kale, kohlrabi, landcress, leeks, parsnips, pumpkin/squash, rocket, spinach, swede, turnips, winter radish, endive, winter purslane.
Meat: wood pigeon, pheasant, wild duck, goose, grouse, partridge, venison. For (Christmas) game recipes, see www.gametoeat.co.uk/
Fish: megrim, clams, crab, cuttlefish, mussels, oysters, scallops, sea bass, whiting.
You don't have to peel them if they are organic: many nutrients are just below the skin. Trim stalk and root and:
chop them into chunks and boil for 10 minutes, until soft.
Or do as above, then mash with butter.
Or chop into chip shapes and bake with olive oil for 30 minutes at 190C until soft in the middle and crunchy on the outside.
PINK SOUP serves 6-8; freezes well
750g raw beet cut into small pieces, 1 large chopped onion, 50g butter, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp ground cumin seeds, 750ml stock, sea salt, pepper, creme fraiche/yoghurt, parsley.
Soften onion in butter/oil, add cumin, beet and then stock. Simmer for 30 mins, or till beet is tender.
Puree, season. Serve with crème fraîche/yogurt, toasted cumin seeds on top, and chopped parsley.
BEETROOT SALAD with WALNUTS and GOAT'S CHEESE
Serve as a salad over salad greens or wilted winter greens (cabbage, chard, kale), or as a side dish to cold meats or quiche.
2 tblsp walnut or olive oil, 3 tblsp cider vinegar, 2 tblsp minced shallot or red onion, 500g cooked or 300g raw beet, 1 large handful walnuts (toasted in the oven), salt, pepper, 100g mild goat cheese.
Whisk together oil, vinegar and onion. Cut beet in slices if cooked, grate if raw. Dress, mix with walnuts, save some for the top. Sprinkle with goat cheese.
SAUTEED CABBAGE and APPLE
2 tblsp olive oil, sliced onion, 2 tblsp cider vinegar, 1 tsp mustard seeds (or mustard), 1 tsp caraway seeds, ¼ large head of sliced cabbage, sliced cooking apple, (gomasio).
Heat oil, sauté onion. Add vinegar, (mustard seeds) and caraway and cook for 2 mins. Add cabbage, cook until slightly warmed. Add apple. Cover, simmer on low heat for 10 more mins. If you're using mustard, stir in before serving (and sprinkle on gomasio).
These work well as a main dish with apple sauce and salad - or as a breakfast with poached eggs and smoked fish. Alternatively, leave out the potato and serve with sausage, mash and lots of gravy.
2 raw beet, 2 carrots, 2 potatoes, 25g flour, ½ thinly sliced onion, 1 egg, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, 3 tblsp olive oil, sour cream, parsley.
Grate beet, carrot and potato finely. Preheat oven to 150C. Combine veg; stir in the egg, salt and pepper and flour. Heat half the oil over medium heat. Using 2-3 tblsp of the mix per cake, drop 4 cakes into the pan. Flatten and cook until just browned and cooked through, 3-4 mins per side. Keep warm in the oven, repeat. Serve with sour cream and parsley.
BUTTERNUT SQUASHTake round slices off the narrow end, about 1cm thick. Maybe put some herbs/spices on them. Slowly fry in oil, 15-20 mins, turning once, till soft. Yum!
MASHED PEPPERED SWEDE Need some comfort? Try this.
900g swede, 120ml sour cream, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 100g grated cheese.
Cube swede. Cook, covered, for 25 mins. Drain, return to pan over low heat for about 30 seconds or until dry. Mash, mix in sour cream, salt and pepper. Stir in cheese until slightly melted. Good with any cooked greens.
CABBAGE with BACON and CREME FRAICHE
120ml chopped bacon pieces, 1 chopped onion, sea salt, 1 chopped green cabbage, 120ml crème fraîche.
Sauté bacon with olive oil until it begins to crisp. Add chopped onion with salt and sauté for a few more mins. Add cabbage to bacon and onions, fry slowly for 10 mins. Add salt and crème fraîche, cook for 5 mins. Serve hot.
PS If you know a really keen gardener, one who doesn't like buying veg even in April, give them this book for Christmas: Trish le Gal, 'Grow your own for the Hungry Gap', £15 (as well as the organic chocolate!).
 As well as getting regular doses of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, and having lots of surface area on which to stick it, the bunches are often wrapped in pesticide-coated plastic bags while still on the tree.
 See also the American sites www.downtoearth.org/environment/organic-vs-conventional-farming/dirty-dozen-most-heavily-sprayed-foods, www.ewg.org/foodnews, and www.greenandhealthy.info/organicfoods.html.
NEXT MONTH: CALORIES (yum ...)