Many people in England hanker after the good old days of fruit & veg, don’t they? Yes, in the distant past it was an era when in the Country we had greengrocer shops, if you have ever heard of them? They were the shops that sold really fresh local stuff, and people shopped in them every day, or other day, to get good wholesome food to cook for their family dinners – mainly vegetables though, as many fruits were often a treat.
How times have changed, eh? Yep, the bloody supermarkets have put the bespoke greengrocers out of business, haven’t they? Too true, so they now control the whole fruit & veg market and do so at the total demise and expense both of the consumer and of the suppliers, don’t they?
The most bizarre aspect of the dominant supermarket control is their obsessive control over the vegetables and fruit that reach market through their shelves – they demand that growers ditch massive amounts of stuff that doesn’t meet their unfathomable specific beauty requirements of size and shape – if you are an ugly parsnip, a few millimetres too long carrot, an off white cauliflower, or a less than perfectly round apple, you will never reach the shopping trolley, but will end up being ploughed back in or fed to the pigs (and dam the starving millions in the World, eh?). This crass obsession by the supermarket overlords not only puts growers out of business but means we all pay a damn sight more for our stuff than we should
In those old days it was all about taste and flavour when it came down to vegetables, wasn’t it? Well not nowadays, it is all about ‘yield’ so growers go for the varieties that deliver that, so consequently modern families in this Country have never experienced, and never will, the joy of eating the best tasting locally grown seasonal vegetables, will they?
Consumers in our modern well developed society have become pig ignorant about vegetables and bone lazy when it comes to preparing them, cooking them, and providing them on the plate, aren’t they? They have no idea what a really fresh vegetable should be like and rely on its sell-by-date, if they even bother to look at that? That is why they are constantly coerced and encouraged to buy the likes of packaged salad leaves that are already half dead despite chemical treatment, rather than a proper freshly harvested by hand head of lettuce, semi dried out tasteless carrot sticks instead of a feisty whole carrot (and even that will be many months old), plastic packets of wilting cauliflower and broccoli florets instead of the full scrumptious flowering heads, or the like
The biggest laugh if not the greatest con in the land has to be potatoes, isn’t it? In past times, we used to buy potatoes weighed out of a sack freshly dug-up from the farm. Now they all come in sealed plastic packs, all pretty and washed (it used to be illegal to sell washed potatoes) but now they are as old as old boots, aren’t they? Yes, well they have been stored for months upon end (perhaps a year) before they ever see sight of a supermarket sales bin – that is why we all find that our supposedly fine spuds are actually sprouting before we can cook them, so they no longer have a usability life (the supermarkets love it because we all have to ditch them and buy more).
Indubitably, they are all at it using prolonged periods of storage after harvesting – including Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Their spuds are also chemically treated of course and buggered about with and sod the taste, to make them keep– well until you are conned into buying them that is.
In the years long gone, we used to buy new potatoes around April for a few months when the plants first cropped, and that was a wonderful experience eating the young sweet crop with their special waxy texture. For years though supermarkets’ so called ‘new potatoes’ were far from new out of the ground and were likely already some half year old, and had long since lost that unique unstarchy flavour. How the hell are supermarkets were allowed to call them ‘new’ and get away with it for years on end goodness only knows (their claim was that they are new ‘in style’ when what they mean is FALSE, eh?). They are still selling this stored product and renaming it to fool you into thinking these non-seasonal new looking potatoes are the real thing and worth eating – don’t put them in your trolley, will you?
If you think that the situation with vegetables is dire, it is nothing compared to that which exists with fruit, is it? No, you can’t buy decent fruit in the UK these days, and it’s the supermarkets to blame.
Our fruit used to grow on trees or on bushes and when it was ripe and juicy it was picked and rushed to market so we could buy it fresh from our greengrocer who had collected it in the early hours. Fruit these days is plucked from the source BEFORE it is ripe and enjoys the flavour, nutrients, and zest from its mother plant. It is then stored for months on end, subjected to all manner of suspect treatment including chemicals and gases to keep it and ripen it just before it hits the supermarket shelves. Even more frequently these days the supermarkets don’t even bother to ripen it and label it “ripen in the bowl” whence it relies on the warm kitchen atmosphere to soften it – that’s why we are faced with the likes of peaches and plums with the texture of a crisp apple and why all fruit we buy nowadays tastes the same – TASTLESS, ISNT IT?
Now, we all used to accept that bananas were picked when they were still green in Jamaica as they faced a sea voyage of many weeks to get to this Country, and we accepted there had to be a loss of value in taste (if you have been there and tasted the real thing you would know it). But there is less need for that these days in an era of air transport by jumbo jets and fast ships, and no need to apply that principle to all other locally grown fruits. Is there?
Even the iconic English apple hasn’t been safe, has it. We used to eat some marvellous varieties with a set of tastes to die for, as they came into season in the late summer until the end of autumn. Not nowadays of course, as the older varieties are ditched in favour of those that give better yield, or keep better, or can be marketed at greatest profit – so we end up with adulterated products on the supermarket shelves to pick (without a word of warning about what we are about to eat, eh?). They are anything but fresh from the orchard tree, aren’t they? No, they have been stored away in a controlled sealed room for up to a year and sent to sleep, before you are likely to see them. What do you think that does to the actual taste of the apple fruit then, even if it looks normal?
There is currently one saving grace for the English real fruit lover, isn’t there? Yes, take a walk in the countryside, take a bag, and pick yourself a couple of pounds of wild blackberries – they are full of flavour and taste wonderful (and they are free, to boot).
[Real fruit & veg can still be sampled in the likes of France and Spain though, can’t it?]
WHAT’S IN SEASON and being harvested?
January: leeks, green cabbages, parsnips, turnips, sprouts, celeriac, jerusalem artichokes, shallots, mushrooms, forced rhubarb; February: early winter cauliflower, leeks, turnips, protected spinach, swede, celeriac, chard, carrots, forced rhubarb; March: purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, spring greens, radishes, parsley, leeks, carrots, early rhubarb; April: new season’s lettuce, watercress, overwintered spinach, radishes, purple sprouting broccoli, rhubarb; May: first new potatoes, asparagus, radishes, rhubarb; June: new potatoes, asparagus, new carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, fennel, peppers, broad beans, chinese leaves, green beans, herbs, blackcurrants, strawberries, gooseberries, cherries; July: summer cabbage, spring cabbage, new potatoes, courgettes, broad beans, fennel, the first outdoor french beans, tomatoes, watercress, new cauliflower, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, broccoli, strawberries, loganberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, tayberries; August: lettuce, peppers, new potatoes, courgettes, leeks, sweetcorn, peas, aubergines, , herbs, chard, courgettes, fennel, main crop carrots, broccoli, onions. first apples, victoria plums, strawberries, loganberries, gooseberries; September: spinach, onions, all of the cabbages, curly kale, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, french beans, courgettes, red onions, peppers, aubergines, marrows, sweetcorn, leeks, red cabbage, beetroot, broccoli, swedes, sprouts. Main crop potatoes, blackberries, early apples, damsons, early pears, plums, figs; October: sweetcorn, marrrow, mushrooms, beetroots, squash, watercress, onions, leeks, jerusalem artichoke, cauliflowers ,main crop potatoes, carrots, sprouts, broccoli, lettuce, courgettes, first bramleys, figs; November: cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, leeks, swede, parsnips, quinces, sprouts, apples, pears; December: sprouts, turnips, swede, parsnips