Longstanding customers normally tell us that flavour is the main reason they buy our boxes, so we have to deliver. Mostly we do (I am proud of about 80% of what we sell about 90% of the time), but flavour is very hard to manage and requires constant vigilance to avoid slipping into safe but bland mediocrity. Flavour comes from an interaction of variety, soil type and growing conditions. Peats and sands are normally the easiest soils to manage, but our experience is that loams, with a good mix of organic matter and minerals, produce the best flavour. As a general rule anything that speeds up growth (most notably excess water and nitrogen) detracts from flavour; a little hardship improves taste and longevity but too much produces bitterness, off flavours and premature ageing.
It is a frequently quoted rule of management that “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”; an irritating adage but, after 25 years in business, I have to admit, largely true. The problem with flavour is that it is subjective. Exceptions are pressure testing (quantifies squidginess of an apple) and brix testing (measures sugar content). Unsurprisingly, since the advent of these gadgets, apples have become sweeter and more juicy. We have satisfied these simple tastes but as is often the case with immediate gratification, the end result is ultimately boring; hence the rise in interest in heritage varieties with more subtle flavours.
Perhaps this is, in part, food snobbery. Sweet and juicy can be good, but so can a whole range of unquantifiable flavours and textures that are being lost as growers manage their crops to achieve the measurable at the minimum cost. Last week we ran a tomato tasting panel using staff (who we have tested and selected for their palates) and volunteers who were lunching in the Field Kitchen. A small minority liked the slow-grown, outdoor, more deeply flavoured (I thought) Marmande varieties from a loam soil but, to my horror, far more went for the sweet and juicy, indoor-grown cherry tomatoes. Maybe I’m a snob. Maybe I am just wrong. For now we will stick with the cherries, but like all frustrated pollsters, we will ask again next year.
This week Guy talks about sugar snap peas, tomatoes, spinach, hispi cabbage, carrots and kohl rabi.
Sugar snap peas
To prepare, break the end and strip it down and it will take the string out. Take the string off each side and then you can steam or boil (for 3-5 minutes). You also can eat them in a stirfry or raw.
We’ve just come into the tomato season and have had good sunlight so they taste really sweet. Try making your own fresh salsa by chopping them, adding red or fresh onions and a green herb and well as a squeeze of lemon, vinegar and a bit of sugar, salt and pepper. It’s great with tortilla chips or on a courgette fritter.
They are tasting fantastic. Don’t bother peeling them. If you want to cook them, theyre great if roast them with kohl rabi. Peel and chop the kohlrabi and roast with the carrots for around 30 minutes.
True spinach has fine and succulent leaves. Wash it, leave the water on and cook it in a pan, turn it over, take it out push it into a colander, chop it up finely and then you can use it in all sorts of ways.
Shred these finely, blanch and drain. You could add a squeeze of lemon as well as a little bit of butter and pepper.
This week Jane talks about bunched carrots, radish and cucumber, cherry tomatoes and french beans.
bunched carrots (0 mins, 12 secs)
Rather than peel bunched carrots, you can just wash them. Try roasting them in the oven with a bit of cumin and then mashing them before adding olive oil and feta.
radish + cucumber (0 mins, 39 secs)
Try thinly slicing the radish and cucumber and mixing it with a bit of smoked fish. You can bind it with some creme fraiche and horseradish.
cherry tomatoes (1 mins, 1 secs)
You don’t have to do too much with these. They go well with mozzarella, so you can slice them up with mozzarella, olive oil and basil.
french beans (1 mins, 42 secs)
The season’s just started so you’ll see a lot more of them over the coming weeks. Top and tail them and blanch in boiling salted water for a couple of water. They need to have a squeak when you bite into them. Try tossing them with shredded slow cooked tomatoes, diced olives and fresh basil.
This week Kirsty talks about kohl rabi and tomatoes. kohl rabi (0 mins, 7 secs) To prepare your kohl rabi, trim off the top leaves and stems, trim the base and if it’s large, peel the outer leaves. One way to use it is to slice it thinly but you can also grate it and put it into an asian coleslaw. If you have pointed cabbage in your box, you can use that instead of the kohl rabi. Tomatoes (1 min, 30 secs)
More proof – if proof were needed – that organic farming is good for wildlife, Martin found this bird’s nest lurking down among the tomatoes in one of the polytunnels…
Reported in The Times* and The Telegraph* today are the results of a 10-year study comparing organic tomatoes with rival produce suggests they have almost double the amount of antioxidants called flavonoids that protect the heart. According to the findings, levels of quercetin and kaempferol were found to be on average 79 per cent and 97 per cent higher, respectively, in organic tomatoes.
Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, is quoted in The Times, “We welcome the now rapidly growing body of evidence which shows significant differences between the nutritional composition of organic and non-organic food. As further scientific evidence emerges from new research looking at differences between organic and non-organic food, the Soil Association will be asking the FSA to keep their nutritional advice to consumers under review.”
*please note: as this is an older blog post, some of the original links in this article have been changed or removed