/ Food & Drink

Should we stick to eating seasonal veg?

winter veg

If ever there was a reason for eating in season and growing your own veg, it’s now.

Last week, a friend invited me over for dinner. She had her whole menu planned but couldn’t source one key ingredient – courgettes.

Having seen some for sale in my local shop the previous evening, I offered to pick some up for her and was completely shocked by the price when I did – £5.75 for five!

Even the cashier couldn’t quite believe it and weighed them three times before concluding, with an apologetic shrug, that that was indeed the price. Too embarrassed to put them back, I sucked up the cost.

Veg crisis

I’d heard that there was a shortage on due to wet and cold weather in Spain and Italy, where courgettes are mainly grown at this time of year, but hadn’t realised quite how much the price had risen because of it.

And it isn’t just courgettes that are affected. The supply of other veg, such as aubergines, tomatoes, broccoli, baby spinach, cauliflower, peppers and lettuce, is also down.

In fact, such is the deficit on iceberg lettuces, that both Tesco and Morrisons recently rationed their customers to three per visit. Naturally, the ban led to some sellers taking advantage of the situation, with one enterprising trader offering a box of a dozen iceberg lettuces for £50 on Gumtree.

Seasonal veg

The whole saga has got me thinking that perhaps I should change my diet and start eating according to the seasons.

Growing up, I wouldn’t have been eating courgettes or salad in the middle of February. In fact, it would be things like swede, parsnips, leeks and spring cabbage – and most of it would have come from my grandad’s allotment.

And although I’m not ready to put my name down for a plot just yet (the waiting lists in London are too long in any case), I’m thinking that I should turn some of my garden over to growing veg this year.

Top of the list would be courgettes, peppers, tomatoes and salad crops. But if I’m going to do that, I guess I’d better get in quick. Apparently, packets of lettuce and courgette seeds are currently flying off garden centre shelves…

Do you eat according to the seasons? Has the veg shortage in southern Europe got you rethinking your ways? Are you planning to grow your own this year?

Do you grow your own vegetables?

No - I buy all my veg (56%, 856 Votes)

Yes - quite successfully (23%, 343 Votes)

I try to (21%, 319 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,518

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Good morning Duncan, are you able to explain where you’re seeing these errors? I’ll do some digging and try and get this resolved – screen shots to conversation.comments@which.co.uk would be helpful. Thank you

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Hi Duncan, I’m doing some digging to see what the issue is. We did push an update on Convo on Friday which may have done something here – when did these errors start to appear?

I welcome seasonal fruit and vegetables. Transporting food half way round the world is very wasteful and having seasonal produce gives us something to look forward to.

So far as possible we avoid imported salads and vegetables. Most of them have been produced under industrial conditions and spend too long in ‘post-production’ going through unnatural processes to standardise them for the supermarkets.

I look for UK and preferably local produce. Fruit that has been picked well before it is ripe so that it can be transported and stored can be rather tasteless.

Buying some fruit in supermarkets is unavoidable as farm shops and farmers’ markets cannot supply the range out of season. I notice that people look for packaged fruit [like berries, grapes, peaches, plums, etc] that have the longest dates on them. We take the opposite approach and buy those that need to be eaten immediately or very soon as the house is too warm to ripen things properly whereas the major supermarkets do at least seem to keep produce at the right temperature all the the way through the supply chain even if it is too drawn out. M&S and Waitrose seem to get it right more than other stores but they are thirty miles away so compromises occasionally have to be made and we find Sainsbury’s satisfactory.

I avoid buying overpriced and over-packaged fruit described as ‘perfectly ripe’ or similar. I will buy it when the price is reduced for quick sale, but often it has to be kept for days before it is perfectly ripe.

In our experience, if M&S say it’s ‘perfectly ripe and ready to eat’ then it usually is.

Catherine says:
14 February 2017

Yes I always buy UK now when I can and am trying to support local shops when I can and avoid the supermarket so we keep our farmers. Big chains undercut initially to get rid of competitors then when there is no more local produce to compete with the prices will go up.

I was under the impression that Iceberg lettuce was not particularly nutritious, so why is it so popular?

We try to eat foods in their season. We buy about two lettuces a week when plentiful, usually Romaine. We used to grow our own, Webb’s Wonder – a very British lettuce with nice floppy leaves and a pleasant taste.

I can live without aubergines and courgettes but would miss tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, peppers and cauliflower if the shortages became permanent or the prices were too high. I can understand why people will try to grow their own salads – apart from the savings the produce is better. We’re buying more celery at the moment, for snacking mainly.

John, I think I can tell you some reasons why Iceberg lettuce is popular. It doesn’t have much flavour, especially it has no bitterness; it’s sweet and above all crunchy (all crunchy foods are popular in the West. Think of wontons: in China they are normally served steamed; here they must be deep fried).

But above all I suspect because it needs little or no washing: the head is so tightly packed no dirt gets into the lettuce, so it’s easy to prepare. I don’t mind it once in a blue moon, but my husband detests it, so we don’t eat it.

And I doubt that many people consider nutrition in connection with salads.

Made me think of Wompoms…

Thank you, Lone. I was hoping someone would have an opinion on Iceberg lettuces and reinforce my view that they are an expensive decoration and sandwich filler.

Apart from the crunch, Iceberg doesn’t have a lot going for it. Romaine is also my favourite as it has some substance to it. Have you noticed they are at their best just before and after summer? Cos can be bitter so I don’t get it.

According to Wikipedia, Cos and Romaine lettuce are the same thing but “Romaine” is the name used in America and “Cos” everywhere else, but I agree with you and think the Romaine lettuce sold in the UK [presumably imported] is different from the home-grown Cos and has a more pleasant and less bitter taste. I certainly think two Romaine leaves look nicer than Iceberg on a plate of salad.

In the shops, although they look similar, Cos leaves are usually rounder and Romaine longer.

So I’ve done a bit of digging, so to speak………. and come up with a few varieties:
Claremont (Romaine/Cos)
Sweet Success (Iceberg/Romaine)
Elyburg (Iceberg/Cos
Intred (Romaine/Cos)

I have to admit to chopping Romaine leaves into ribbons for a mixed salad.

Fascinating report on the lettuce crossbreeds.

I prefer whole leaves rather then the shreds most restaurants supply. I am always intrigued by places that serve half a tomato: would it be too much to expect a whole one? And what do they do with the other half? – save it for someone else?

Half tomatoes can get upcycled to the next plate 💔

Whatever next? Half a mushroom?!!

Half tomatoes are semitomatoes. Other types of note are demisemitomatoes (chopped tomatoes) and hemidemisemitomatoes (puree).

I have, in the shelf in the kitchen a packet of mixed lettuce sees awaiting warmer soil (although I will start them off under glass). 6 varieties are all green hearting but I doubt I’ll know which is which. I do prefer small -leaved lettuce with that slightly bitter taste, not big watery iceberg. 800 seeds, so a 5% success should keep us going from June onwards. With spring onions, tomatoes, cucumber, landcress and rocket I think our salad days will be covered.

You can buy half-cucumbers (not east to grow) but not half tomatoes, so choose a smaller variety like Gardeners’ Delight. But if, like me, you like tomato sandwiches and fried halves you’ll also need a larger version like Alicante.

I wonder when restaurants will include the specific variety of vegetable and salad items on their menus………………?

No salad is complete without a beetroot or two and some shallots.

We had a butcher friend who used to make his own pickled red cabbage. A great crunchy accompaniment to cold meat and pork pie.

I agree about the beetroot and I prefer to cook my own. Why do food producers feel the need to add sugar to beetroot? Even soup can contain added sugar. 🙁

I do like to eat seasonally and if I want anything out of season I look to buy it canned or frozen. Generally, fruit and vegetables out of season are not as tasty or good looking as those that are current/currant. My sister buys strawberries which are almost inedible. Some green vegetables now seem to be on the shelves all year, imported from abroad, and carrots are always available. Prices for in season produce are usually lower and there is a good supply to choose from.
Sadly, the law of supply and demand applies and the present growing problems in Spain and elsewhere triggers shortages. These have to be perceived as shortages by the shopping public and not as something temporarily unavailable unless at exorbitant cost. That they have to have lettuce and courgette what ever the price, maybe because they are in short supply, says something about those shoppers who can’t exist without their usual salad and greenery. The rest of us just get on with what there is, provided it isn’t on the basic shopping list of staples.

Ps. I have grown my own in the past and would do so again if time permitted. I remember a constant battle with carrot fly and aphids and crops that didn’t repay the labour given to them. That was probably down to my horticulture skills which, like everything else, could and can be improved.

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No saag gosht or cauliflower cheese, disaster 😥

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We all have a choice of course, and many buy the fruit, salad and vegetables that appeal at the time – just as we import most of our flowers – rather topical this week. We personally follow our taste and are not concerned about the origin provided it tastes well. However, I have a reasonable size garden and greenhouse and grow certain vegetables, although their season is not very long. Runner beans, sweetcorn, tomatoes and cucumber cannot really be beaten for flavour from the garden; courgettes are great value as are spring greens and cut-and-come-again lettuce. Some veg are too much trouble – cabbage and cauliflower.

A good deal has been said about the decline in crops in the UK after Brexit due to lack of foreign workers. I don’t really understand how you can fly in workers, house them, pay them cheaper than employing UK workers. I would be happy to pay a little more for home-grown produce if it were genuinely necessary, but I do not see the logic. Perhaps a grower could enlighten me?

I am very fond of cauliflower cheese topped with bacon for lunch; whilst other brands are available, M&S do a nice one with a decent cheese sauce (bacon extra).

If summer salad fruit and veg that grow in the Southern Hemisphere (NZ, Australia S. Africa, S. America) during our wintertime can be flown in fairly quickly and we don’t have to solely rely on Iberian produce, then there shouldn’t necessarily be too much to worry about. Although probably not as nutritious as produce grown outside on open ground, a lot of salad stuff is grown in poly-tunnels in milder climatic regions.

UK fruit and vegetables are very nutritious and, at this time of year,
what can be better than a nice warming casserole or hotspot of English vegetables or a crisp golden Worcestershire grown apple or pear?
There is always a choice of frozen vegetables which are very nutritious and a useful standby in times of adverse weather growing conditions..
Frozen blueberries are cheaper than fresh and are a rich source of vitamin C, popped on top of plain yoghurt or on your morning porridge.

Don’t allow supermarkets to use produce shortages as an excuse to up their prices. There are plenty of alternatives to tide you over in the short term, and don’t forget there’s always canned exotic fruit, preferably in fruit juice if you can’t live without it, and of course the good old standby, baked beans with Lincolnshire sausage and mash………….lovely 🙂

Agreed, Beryl – going back to basics won’t do us any harm. Although English apples are five months old by now, provided they are properly stored they are still excellent to eat. I usually have at least one Cox apple a day and then round about March the New Zealand Cox’s come in but somehow they are not so nutty and lack the bite of the English variety. Still good with a flavour-full English cheese like Shropshire Blue or a tasty Cheshire or a medium Cheddar though. Port helps too.

Buying food out of season is a relatively modern phenomenon – I remember that only seasonal food was available in the 1970s. I have heard from a couple of naturopaths that I know that eating food that is in season is better for your health as it provides the right nutrients for the time of year, whether that is true or not I don’t know. It is a fact though that Brits are woefully ignorant about food, you can sell them food that Mediterranean people wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Across the Channel they have a greater awareness of food as fuel and the effects of different food on your health.

I’m puzzled that cauliflower is mentioned as being in short supply at the moment. We’ve had no problem buying it, and it’s not been expensive. Broccoli too is available.

Spotted this on Twitter

Cold damaging Spanish vineyards and causing cauliflower shortage in Italy https://t.co/nTMzit1BP0 pic.twitter.com/qVLR7qc7xH

— FreshPlaza (@FreshPlaza_com) January 24, 2017

I get mine either from our local market or from Waitrose. Sometimes they’re cheaper in Waitrose…

I loved your story about the beansprouts.

Mrs J Roberts says:
15 February 2017

I live in Portugal, most of our veg comes from Spain, we have no shortages and prices are lower than a few weeks ago. I think perhaps the growers are fed up of the supermarkets constantly pressurising them into reducing prices, and have found a way to push the prices up. Most veg at this time of year is grown in massive environment controlled greenhouses, so crops are not affected by rain or snow, though low temperatures may slow down production.
We have had frost and snow where I live, my outdoor lettuce are fine and I am still picking peppers from plants grown last year.