There seem to be an exceptional number of superstitions about vegetables. For instance, that sprouts must have had a frost on them before they are worth eating: in fact, if frost has any effect on them it is as a destroyer. Not long ago I found I’d grown a sprout variety, new to me, that was already in perfect condition in August. It was excellent in every way and so free of slug damage as to be scarcely recognizable as my own product. And really sprouts with roast lamb in high summer are every bit as welcome as they will be in the winter. And you can eat your own newly made rowan jelly with the same course, for the fruits of Sorbus aucuparia, the mountain ash, should not all be left to the birds.
Cucumbers, the outdoor ridge kind, grow best on myheap, sharing it with mushrooms which always turn up here, even though the heap (but not its site) is changed annually. Certainly, ridge don’t look as good as those grown under glass and they curl up into all kinds of awkward shapes, but they taste best of all and that is surely what counts above everything. Since they develop in super-abundance I make a lot of soup with them and deep-freeze some of it.
The fashion for seedless cucumbers — the all-female, unpollinated kind — is misdirected. Cucumbers are less than half-grown when we eat them and their seeds are soft, sweet and altogether innocuous. That other practice of reducing raw cucumber to a pulp with salt so that all its crispness is lost, also strikes me as dubious. A gardener is supposed to eat his produce so I see no reason for holding my tongue on these culinary issues.
Anyway, the most exciting and also the most enjoyable salad I’ve ever eaten was mixed salad beautifully packaged by an old friend! She identified the ingredients for me over lunch — there were seventeen of them and although some were, individually, alarmingly hot, their heat was absorbed by the cool salad elements when it came to ingesting them.
A long, tapering carrot may appeal to the judges when laid out for exhibition, but it has no practical value. The length means that you have to cultivate your ground exceptionally deep, and that’s not funny on a clay. The taper ensures that the carrot will snap prematurely when you’re scraping it in readiness for cooking. Stump-rooted carrots are far more practical in every way and the same remarks apply to . To create a parsnip for exhibition you have to make a deep hole with a crowbar, getting it into a parsnip shape by circular leverage and then filling this cavity with special soil. Fun’s fun, but when the end product is a monster for which there isn’t room in your kitchen let alone in your family’s bellies, things have gone too far. And unless you’re nuts on winning prizes don’t grow any leek with a name like ‘Prizetaker’. Huge and coarse, its size is won at the expense of flavour.
There seems to be an English tradition thatshould be curled and mossy. I’m all in favour of that when I’m growing it as a bedding-out plant for display, but otherwise would plump for the plain-leaved parsley that’s used on the Continent every time. Its delicious parsley flavour is far stronger. Last year I also grew turnip-rooted parsley for the first time, sown in June. This was a great success. After using its leaves all through the autumn and up till Christmas (Constance Spry has a recipe for parsley soup that I return to many times) we ate the roots — a lovely contrast to parsnips, artichokes, carrots and other roots, when cooked with oxtail. They say you can use every part of a pig except its squeal and I felt I’d had similar value from my turnip-rooted parsley.