Deeper Roots for Seasonality
Up until WW2 wholesale fruit and vegetables were mostly grown and sold according to the seasons, with fruits like strawberries only available in the summer months. With the more limited seasons excess produce was preserved, by canning, bottling and jam making. The war marked a turning point in attitudes with the gradual decline of domestic production.
This decline became an ingrained attitude of successive governments. Food policy expert, Professor Tim Lang, was on the receiving end of this sentiment when his paper, Food Matters Strategy, was dismissed after only three months during Gordon Brown’s administration.
Self-sufficiency in fresh produce has fallen steadily since the mid-1980s, when according to the NFU we produced 78% of our food needs. Today that figure has slipped to 64%. Now the UK is just 18% self-sufficient in fruit and 55% in fresh vegetables, with vegetables dropping 16% in just two decades.
Supermarkets have increasingly looked to cater for shopper appetite for cheaper fruit & veg. Jack Ward, CEO of the British Growers Association blames this price competition between the supermarkets for the squeeze on wholesalers’ profit.
The NFU joins forces with the supermarkets
However, there is a growing eagerness to reverse the trend with several initiatives, where restaurateurs, wholesalers and retailers are increasingly willing to show their support.
The NFU’s Fruit & Veg Pledge is a charter aimed at boosting productivity and profitability in British agriculture, to which Co-op, Lidl and Tesco have all signed up, along with Aldi, which also committed to buying £3.5 billion of British food and drink annually over the next five years.
Food Made Good is a national community of businesses, including suppliers, wholesalers, restaurants, cafes etc, dedicated to making every meal as sustainable as possible. The restaurant trade is included under the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
The British strawberry shows what can be done
It seems right that the most British of fruits, the strawberry should be in the vanguard to redress domestic production. Britain is now almost totally self-sufficient from May through to October, and 65% self-sufficient overall. Improvement in growing techniques has increased yields, from 10 tonnes per hectare in the late 1990s to 40-50 tonnes now.
Fresh interest in seasonality has come about because of several factors:
- A wider appreciation of food miles. Fruit and vegetables being transported long distances by eco-unfriendly methods i.e. planes and ships.
- The proliferation of food and drink media coverage has reinforced in customer’s minds the importance of eating local, produce in season. Such fruit and veg will be fresher and offer the best nutrition too.
- The huge growth of vegetarian and vegan diets makes a good fit with seasonality. Ecologically plant-based diets use a lot less resources in production than meat-based diets.
- Research has proved the global food system accounts for around 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Fruit and vegetables have 10-50 times lower greenhouse gas emissions, compared to beef and dairy products.
What UK seasonal veg is available now?
What is Cavolo Nero?
As part of the Brassica or mustard family Cavolo Nero(Black cabbage) is a close relation to kale. Also known as black kale, black cabbage, or even Tuscan kale, which hints at its Italian history going right back to 600 BC. These days it is now mostly grown in Britain in the fields of Lincolnshire. It has long dark, crinkled leaves and is very dark green in colour. This makes it ideal for creating contrasting colours and textures in recipes.
The season for growing in the UK runs from June-Mar.
For cooking it can be used in the same way as kale, although to retain the best flavour, colour, and nutrition quick cooking in a stir-fry or steaming is best.
It has a rich and delicious flavour and is often used in Italian cooking in soups, pasta, and risottos. Leaves can even be deep-fried to make original crisps.
It is a good source of vitamins K, A and C, and a significant source of the B vitamins
What is Kohlrabi?
For its long history in the UK Kolhrabi and Purple Kolhrabi have kept a low profile. Records suggest it was first grown in the UK in the 1500s and transported to the US 300 years later, where it is also undergoing a renaissance. At first glance it has the appearance of a turnip, indeed the translation from German is kohl(cabbage) rabi(turnip). However, purists will soon put you right that it is a stem and not a root vegetable.
It is a popular vegetable for foodservice in Hungary, Germany, northern France, Italy, Russia, and Asia. The round bulbous stem is about 8-10 cm across, with long leafy greens growing out of the top. The green kohlabi has light green, smooth skin, while the Purple Kohlabi has a reddish-purple skin of the same texture. They can be peeled like a swede to expose dense white flesh, which has a mild flavour like cabbage. The leafy greens can be separated and cooked in the same way as any other leaf.
The UK season runs from July-Nov.
Both Green and Purple Kohlrabi have a similar flavour and texture, which is crunchy with a slightly peppery, sweet flavour. Some people think of the flavour as a combination of broccoli, cabbage, and cucumber. The flesh can be grated and used to make a slaw.
Both red and green Kohlrabi can be cooked. To roast, first steam the chopped bulb for 5 mins, then roast in olive oil for 45 mins. Or the chopped stem can be steamed for 12 mins, or
Both Green and Purple Kohlrabi are high in Vitamin C and potassium.
To some a superfood and to others, the devil’s food! Native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor broccoli is well-established in English cooking. The florets we eat are from a large flowering head, which grows on a stalk as a member of the cabbage family. Its history is lengthy with records of cultivation in Italy during Roman times. It was introduced to England and the US more recently in the 1700s.
The UK season runs from July-Nov.
Cooking broccoli quickly is the best way to retain colour and nutrients. Either steam, stir fry or roast in olive oil.
Broccoli is a good source of fibre and protein, and contains iron, potassium, calcium, selenium, and magnesium as well as the vitamins A, C, E, K and a good array of B vitamins including folic acid.
English Heritage (Heirloom) carrots
The carrot is another staple of classic English vegetables. English references to carrots go right back to the 1400s, when white and orange carrots were the favourites. Over the years other colours including purple, red, yellow, and black were added.
This held until the 17th century when Dutch growers reigned in the colours to the simple orange carrots we know today. The story goes this was as a tribute to William of Orange, who toiled for Dutch independence. Modern day English Heritage carrots are a return once more to the multicoloured variety. English Heritage carrots are crisp and with an intense, earthy sweetness.
The UK English Heritage carrots season runs pretty much year-round, with the new season ready in late June.
Maintain the diversity and contrast of colour in English Heritage carrots by serving them raw in slaw and salads or by cooking quickly in a stir-fry.
Carrots are eaten raw and sliced, steamed, or boiled.
They are delicious baked, or baked covered with a saltwater crust or roasted, which really brings out their flavour, as does making them into soup. They are rich in fibre, iron, carotene, iron and calcium.
Seasonal veg prices below:
Cavolo nero £1.76 per 250g
Kohlrabi £2.32 ea
Red kohlrabi £1.90 ea
English broccoli £2.75 per kg
English heritage carrots £2.72 a kg