Tag Archives: purple sprouting broccoli

Guy’s newsletter: surprising spring abundance

Walking around the barn, I find myself surprisingly happy with the veg boxes we are packing. As the old season ends, this is the time of year when I expect to start begging forgiveness for sprouting potatoes, too many leeks and excessive repetition in the boxes. Worse still, I often start making premature promises about the arrival of new season crops. Perhaps it is our 30 years of experience, perhaps it is good fortune, but this year we seem to have got it right.

Our purple sprouting broccoli is finally sending out an abundance of tender, sweet spears and flower heads; with lengthening days there is a rush to procreate and it will be a challenge to get everything picked before the buds open. The gathering deluge will appear in most boxes, most weeks through April, but I make no apologies; the season is brief and I have yet to meet a customer who doesn’t like PSB. Stir-fry, steam, griddle or boil; whatever you do, don’t overcook it. Meanwhile cauliflower, after decades in that culinary backwater that harbours out-of-fashion vegetables, seems to be pushing back into the mainstream. Just as well because there will be plenty of them over the next month. If you find yourself struggling for inspiration, try roasting. It was a revelation to me and you’ll find lots of other recipes on our website, including cauliflower rice. Again the season is drawing to an end; from early May you will not see a cauliflower again until September.

Our farming co-op grew a huge crop of carrots last year that taste very good and have stored so well that we have a surplus. Don’t let the cows get them; for the juicers among you we have dropped the 5kg bag from £5.65 to £4.65.

Meanwhile I will keep on shamelessly plugging our recipe boxes to the timestrapped among you wanting supper without shopping or planning, or those wishing to spread their culinary wings a little. Some of next week’s recipes come from my own kitchen and unsurprisingly include PSB (with a potato hash and poached egg, one of my favourite suppers or brunches), wet and wild garlic risotto and an especially good spring green, chilli, lentil and chicken dish.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: seismic gulps & bonus PSB

I am writing this from our farm in the Vendée, France, where a trailer and team of pickers are edging their way across the field, harvesting the first outdoor lettuce of the season. It is a glorious morning, with the dew still heavy on the crisp heads of Batavia that will be in your boxes shortly. Ten days ago amid gloom and rain, we thought these lettuces were done for as mildew took hold.

We’ve already lost the entire 20,000 lettuces from our greenhouse to aphids, so I was wishing for a tectonic plate shift under the Vendée to swallow the whole disastrous project in one seismic gulp. Thankfully all that was needed was an opening in the clouds. After a few days of sun the farm and its crops have been transformed. Our sun-loving lettuce have grown out of the grip of the mildew allowing us to trim off the infected leaves to produce a fair crop. Meanwhile the spinach, courgette, garlic, turnips and cabbage are all racing away under their crop covers. All being well we will finish planting the last peppers, chillies, tomatillos and sweetcorn in the next ten days, just as harvest starts in earnest.

Back in Devon we are entering the depths of the hungry gap and it will be another month or two before we start harvesting spring-planted crops. My Vendéen folly was borne out of the desire to keep you in greens through this period without travelling four times as far to Spain or Italy. The problem with such rationality is the freakish weather hidden behind the climatic averages. It’s been relentlessly grey and rainy this year, but every year my neighbours tell me they have never known a year like it. I think I also underestimated the life draining, blood sucking nature of French bureaucracy and tax. This is our fifth year and we are yet to make a profit but with a fresh, dew-dripping lettuce in your hands on a lovely morning, hope springs eternal; I will not be defeated.

At home the season is finishing with an avalanche of purple sprouting broccoli. Rather than hold stock or let it go to waste, we have upped the portions in your boxes so enjoy it while it lasts. Along with leeks and cauliflower, you won’t see it again for nine months.

Guy Watson

Ed’s Farm Blog – Racing round the PSB

 

One of the nice things about purple sprouting broccoli is the way that varietal names all tend to reflect the red/purple nature of the crop. We have been slowly munching through Rudolf and Red spear since mid-November and although they are now over, Red Head is in full swing, Mendocino started last week and we picked the first of the Cardinal crop on Sunday. Next up will be Claret followed by some Late Purple in April. Peak production is approaching fast and by early April we could be picking four tonnes a week at our farm in Devon alone.

 

Each crop will be picked over several times. The first time through is usually quite light, where we take out the primaries (the main head at the top of the plant). This encourages growth in the secondary shoots that grow up the sides of the stalk: these are the more familiar spears that look (and cook) much like asparagus. I personally love PSB – it is one of my seasonal benchmarks – but it’s back breaking work to pick and by late April most pickers have purple spots dancing before their eyes and are praying for the final pick to come.

organic purple sprouting broccoli

 

Every field comes with its own challenges and our main PSB field is no exception. Called ‘Racecourse’, it is slap bang in the middle of a former horse racing track. Races have been held here since 1883 but the course closed in 1960 and is just used for occasional point-to-pointing nowadays; and the next race is on Sunday. The upshot of this is that we won’t be able to pick anything from that field for a couple of days prior to the race as it is readied for action: fences going up, facilities set up for bookies and punters, and so on. So the field gets a couple of days rest and we will have a look at it on Monday to see how much of our crop has been trashed by stampeding horses…

 

Veg hero – purple sprouting broccoli

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.

Puple sprouting broccoli

This seasonal favourite is typically harvested from January through to April, when homegrown produce is scarce. It can take some cold weather, and usually, in Devon we would expect 7 or 8 serious frosts every winter. This time, we’ve had 40 heavy frosts already and temperatures have dropped to as low as -16˚C, killing off some varieties of purple sprouting broccoli and stunting the growth of others. Because of that, we’re harvesting later than normal this year. The price won’t be affected as we pay a fixed price to our growers, so the good years cover the bad years. Our box prices are set too.

We usually have a glut of cauliflower around this time of year too, but the frost has killed off a lot of them as well. Their outer leaves can take a lot of cold weather, but not as much as we’ve had this winter. Cauliflower grows best on the mild coastal fringes of the country. We now have some starting to come through, from our SDOP grower Peter Wastenage in Budleigh Salteron on the South Devon coast.