At about this time every year it becomes quite a challenge to keep things interesting and varied for you, our valued customers. Whilst the days are getting longer, we’re actually heading into the quietest time of the growing calendar, known as the “hunger gap” – where quite a few winter crops (either stored or freshly harvested) start to wind up, but spring plantings are yet to yield their bounty. This year has thrown up some fresh challenges – our regular supplier of parsnips has sold the farm, a poor season means we’re already out of walnuts and the heirloom pumpkins from The Old Farm that we usually enjoy suffered from much the same issues, Brussels sprouts look set to have an early finish, and leafy green vegetables have been especially hard to source for a variety of reasons. On the plus side, I’ve already been discussing the season ahead with a few key growers – Grown for Taste, Dendra Market Gardens, Brandsema – and there’s some exciting developments in the works!
The good news is that whilst the range of produce in the boxes is starting to narrow, most winter crops are actually extremely versatile, so there’s no need to get stuck in a rut in the kitchen just because there’s less variety.
Apples are a quick and easy snack, but they’re also a great addition to salads, especially with other crisp ingredients like radish and walnuts. Speaking of radish, don’t forget that it’s quite a different vegetable if you cook it – this removes much of the angry mustard flavour – much like onion, which goes all the way from spicy and sulphurous when raw to deliciously sweet when cooked low and slow. I run the gamut of cooking techniques with beetroot: finely sliced raw beetroot makes a great salad ingredient, cut and roasted has chew but whole and roasted until blistering gives a smokey edge, and boiled, especially with a bit of vinegar, yields tender, soft red flesh, plus a red liquid that can be used for colouring other ingredients – or blitz it with the beetroot for soup. Steaming and roasting give very different character when it comes to brassica like cauliflower, broccoli and sprouts, and kale doesn’t need to be a soft green thing – crisp kale chips are a modern standard, but if you give the hardy leaves a beating in a stand mixer with a delicious dressing, eating it raw is nowhere near as “virtuous” as it sounds.