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.