A walk in the field

Sustainable stewardship in the field should be the vital first step in any recipe.

This week’s newsletter is by Bob Andrew, who has been one of our farm chefs for over 12 years. Bob creates the weekly recipes in your veg box, as well as for our website and social media.  

When I started cooking for a living my relationship with veg was brutally transactional. You could finish a restaurant shift at 11pm, leave an order on the answerphone of the “veg man” and he would turn up the next morning, all bluster and barrow boy banter, with his exotically liveried boxes of whatever you wanted, no matter the season. As my tastes developed, and I realised food might be a vocation and not merely a job, seasonal simplicity felt like the more honest, and frankly delicious, choice. It was the quote from Wendell Berry that “eating is an agricultural act” that really solidified my path into what, at the time, was called field-to-fork cooking. 

That is how I find myself, many years later, stood in a windy field of spring greens with our resident crop walker, Hannah Croft, seeking tell-tale signs that something is ready to be picked. The first thing we do is taste – what better test? Regularly swapping my apron for a pair of wellies has been essential in deepening my appreciation; making me look anew at things we so often take for granted.

When picked at the apex of growth, these things are unmistakable. Seed-bearing fruits such as apples, tomatoes and courgettes are the fulfilment of the plant’s life cycle, giving off tantalising signs of ripeness and readiness. They want to be eaten, preferably by an animal who will spread their seeds.

What I find intriguing is that much of the veg we eat is delectable to us at much earlier stages of the plant’s life, and this is the point when taste and texture are reliant on the grower’s knowledge of just the right time to pick. When we harvest an asparagus spear or cut a head of cauliflower, we are terminating growth at the moment of optimal taste. A plump radish is a reward for our thievery of the plant’s energy store, before it has a chance to draw upon it. Pity the artichoke, so close to flowering before being beheaded for that small nugget of flesh. 

As spring moves towards summer, the windows of readiness get smaller and the rewards on our plates become all the more fleeting, tender and prized. It’s a long way from my ol’ barrow boy, but sustainable stewardship in the field feels to me like the vital first step in any recipe.


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