Tag Archives: bitter leaves

Guy’s Newsletter: hasty veg & a bitter imposition

We are finally enjoying some very welcome cold, dry and bright weather. It will take another week before our most free-draining land dries enough to allow any soil preparation for planting though; spring still feels a long way off. Most winter crops are running four to six weeks ahead of schedule due to the mild winter so far, while our other fields look worryingly bare; it will be three or four months before the spring crops are ready. We still have plenty of roots, kale and leeks, but there will be gaps left by the hasty cauliflowers and cabbages, so we will have to juggle our box contents planning a little.

In contrast to this, over on our farm in France a break in the weather allowed us to plant the first batavia lettuce this week, as the sandy soils there are more forgiving. The first cos lettuce will go into the ground tomorrow; the seed bed was prepared and covered back in October, avoiding the need for any cultivation now when it is difficult to get machinery on the wet land. We plant by hand this early in the year, but still need a tractor to bend hoops and lay the low-level polytunnels that will protect and advance the crop, allowing us to start cutting in late March. Overall our farm in the Vendée has come a long way to filling the UK’s Hungry Gap, but it looks as if that gap might be wider than usual this year. Thankfully, after five years on our own, an organic neighbour will be growing spinach for your boxes in late April and May.

Most of the crop planning for the coming season is done, and seeds and plants ordered with just a few details to refine; I would be grateful if some of you could pass comment on the pale green, solid-ish, bitter and crunchy heads of pain de sucre (salad chicory) that have been in some boxes over the last month. I love growing and eating them and they provide some winter variety without the need to go 1000 miles south, but is this a bitter imposition or do you like them too? There is a very, very brief questionnaire at www.riverford.co.uk/paindesucre; I am just as keen to hear from the haters as the lovers.

Guy Watson

A question about pain de sucre

pain de sucre

Pain de sucre; how much do you like it?

Pain de sucre, also known as sugar loaf chicory, looks like a pale, solid conical cos lettuce, but is actually part of the radicchio family. It has a milder, sweeter flavour and lots of crunch. I am a fan, both as a grower and a cook.

Thanks for taking the time to get this far; only one question to answer.

Thanks for your help
Guy Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: bitter leaves & talking veg

As light levels drop, our last lettuces (planted in early August) are losing the lust for life; with that departing vitality goes flavour, and almost certainly nutritional value. For salad lovers it is time to move on to more robust leaves like mizuna, land cress, claytonia and mustards from our polytunnels and, for those with a bitter palate, the cold-tolerant dandelion relatives from our fields in Devon and the Vendée. This might include radicchio, pain de sucre (solid conical heads of smooth, pale leaves), curly endive and even a few dandelion leaves; I have even been foraging chicory (believed to help in controlling parasites in dairy herds) ahead of the cows from my brother’s pastures.

I love the whole family and will be feasting on bitter salads until the last finally succumb to winter, normally in January. Reluctantly I have to acknowledge that not everyone shares my enthusiasm, which has been curbed by our crop planner Luke who loves all things sweet. His influence means their appearance in the boxes will be rare and we will always offer bitter-free boxes each week for those with sweeter palates to retreat to. I hope however you will at least take consolation from the benefits to the kidneys, liver and bladder attributed to these leaves. You will find they get sweeter as the weather gets colder; the fainthearted can also dilute their flavour with milder leaves or offset it with a sweet dressing. You will find they keep remarkably well in your fridge, allowing you to eat them over a week or two, or even a month for radicchio and pain de sucre. They are also good cooked; typically by braising or in a risotto. See overleaf for more recipe ideas.

I’m pleased to say that my enthusiasm for bitter leaves is shared by the vegetarian cook and food writer Anna Jones; I met her at our pub in London recently and we could have talked veg for hours. I’m very glad that she will be a guest chef on our recipe boxes for the next four weeks; she’s almost as much of a veg nerd as I am.

Guy Watson