Thursday 10th March 2011
Devotees of PSB (as she’s known to her friends) will have been pleased to see that this darling of winter veg has finally become available in recent weeks. Our planting schedule was designed to provide a relatively steady flow of the brassica 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. The plan was that we’d have Rudolf in your boxes by January or February, but the extraordinarily cold period at the end of November and early December (including three or four consecutive nights at -17ºC) meant the crop was entirely lost.
However our sister farms have fared a little better, and have enough to let us offer it on our extras list for now. Hopefully come the April flush, you’ll be finding it in your box too. Given that the plants were frozen solid or snow-blanketed for the best part of five weeks, it’s remarkable that any survived around the country at all. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – or in this case – tastier.
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.
For those new to this champion veg, remember that 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.