Devotees of PSB (as she’s known to her friends) will be pleased to hear that this darling of winter veg is finally heading in from our fields. The plan was that we’d have the earliest variety, Rudolf, in your boxes by January or February, but the bitterly cold period around December meant the crop simply stopped growing. A fair chunk of the harvest has been lost, but given that the plants were frozen solid or snow-blanketed for the best part of five weeks, it’s remarkable how much has survived. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – or in this case – tastier.
Our planting schedule was designed to provide a relatively steady flow of PSB from January culminating in a ‘flush’ in late March and April. We plant varieties that harvest in consecutive months; Rudolf first, then Red Spear, Redhead, Claret (our highest yielder) followed by Cardinal. However because of the cold delay, much of it looks to be ready all at once in April, so there will be plenty to go around soon enough. Not so much of a failed harvest as a delayed one.
With its relatively recent appearance on supermarket shelves you would be forgiven for thinking that PSB is the result of some adventurous new veggie hybridisation. Yet step back into the ‘70s, a request for broccoli at your local greengrocer would be greeted with a fistful of these little beauties. PSB is the original broccoli, grown across much of the UK every spring. It fell out of favour as supermarkets opted for its Italian relative calabrese (named after Calabria in the south of the country where it originally was grown), which was easily manipulated to produce accommodating, neat-looking hybrids that grow year-round. PSB and her unruly spears were banished to the veg plots of ‘backward’ gardeners. Another example of how the supermarkets’ desire for uniform veg eclipsed the more fundamental qualities of flavour and seasonality.
You can order PSB from our extras range at the moment (there’s not enough coming in to put in all the boxes just yet), but come April when the flush hits, you’ll be able to fill your boots. The whole of the plant is edible, including the leaves. The trick is to get the stalk tender without overdoing the flower buds – try bunching the spears together and boiling standing up in a pan, asparagus-style.