Think outside the traditional veg box
There’s more to UK veg than peas and carrots
January King Cabbage, Hooligan Squash and Romanesco Cauliflower. Not the names of characters in a kids’ vegetable-themed panto, but real food that you can chop up and cook. Being generally anti-Brassica (my nose is extra sensitive to those sulphur compounds and can put me off the whole meal), I bought a Romanesco Cauliflower because it was doing such a good impression of a fractal. I was then very happy to find out it tasted amazing, and less sulphur-like. I bought a Hooligan Squash because, really, why wouldn’t you? And January King Cabbage just sounded too stately not to try out.
Plenty of other plain-name and strange-name produce have made it into my frying pan and oven. I’ve been in England for less than two years, but I’m continually fascinated by the range of produce available throughout the UK. I get particularly excited about the less conventional vegetables taking off as a commercial product in the UK. Shiitake mushrooms from Kent? Chillies from Devon? They’ve been running out the door (out of the field?) straight to the restaurant bench for years.
It’s often said that if you’re not based around the south then your range of seasonal produce is extremely limited, but working at the SRA we get to speak to farmers in Ayrshire, Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and a fair few other shires, and it seems to me that it’s not as hard as you may think to find a decent variety of food. Sure, some are just working up to commercial quantity, but if people are becoming more brave in what they buy for home cooking, it does encourage farmers to keep on doing what they’re doing and increase their harvest over time.
Enjoying the variety of produce available isn’t just some push to be worthy and support the local economy for the sake of it, it’s a fun venture for the curious cooks among us and can be like a game – just how many types of squash are there??? Why is that tomato black and that one yellow??? What I’d love to see is public awareness of all these varieties expand to become as extensive as the current knowledge about, say, mushrooms. No one bats an eyelid now if, when talking about mushrooms in a recipe, you ask, ‘Which type?’ and talk about the difference between a porcini and a field mushroom. When will that question be so natural for cabbage, tomatoes, breeds of pig, and all the rest?
We’re lucky to be in a line of work where we can link up restaurants with these producers. There is plenty of work to do still, but it’s not about to go in reverse so, bring it on, and bring me more unconventionally-named food!