Gluts and glory

Categories: News and previews

Ahead of her inaugural demo, Kathy Slack of Gluts and Gluttony talks market shopping, making the most of gluts, and why there should be no such thing as a January courgette crisis

Portrait: Andy Hockridge

There’s something magical about vegetables. You take tiny, unassuming little seeds, pop them in the ground, water them and wait and in a few weeks, you have a great bucket load of food. I’ve found over the last eight years of growing my own food that being the agent of this miraculous change is addictively satisfying. But even if you’re not doing the actual growing, the wondrous transformation from modest seed to hulking great triffid piled high in the grocer’s window is spectacular.

No less spectacular is the way a well-grown vegetable tastes. Proper varieties, grown in proper soil, at the proper time of year without chemicals, heated greenhouses or packaging pumped with preserving gases taste different. They taste earthier for a start. And they are probably a bit knobbly or scarred. But a carrot will taste extra carroty, a tomato will taste more tomato-y and a courgette… well don’t get me started on the out-of-season, watery and insipid courgette (how is there a courgette ‘crisis’ in January—it’s January—there shouldn’t be any courgettes).

It won’t come as a surprise then, that I’m a passionate advocate of seasonal fruit and vegetables, whether it’s home grown or not. And synonymous with seasonality are gluts.

Pile high, sell cheap
Bargain offers on beetroots in the grocers. Mountains of apples at farmers’ markets come October. Allotment-owning friends foisting courgettes on you with panicked desperation. Gluts are everywhere. When produce is plentiful, grocers pile it high and sell it cheap—and it is always at its tastiest then, too. Really it’s a no-brainer to eat the gluts of the season.

If you do grow your own, gluts are an inevitable (and glorious!) part of the growing year. In fact, I can only grow gluts. In my veg patch, things either fail completely or we are gorging ourselves on an enormity of crops that arrive all at once. But I have come to love these gluts. I now dive headlong into week-long feasts of courgettes, beetroot with everything, kale for breakfast, lunch and supper (well, that last one wears off pretty quickly).

If you’re not a grower, then buying seasonal veg is best done in a market. You get a much better idea of what’s in season and where it’s come from than in a supermarket, which generally stock the most popular produce regardless of season. Plus, grocers may have a smaller range of produce, but a much higher proportion of that offering will be local and seasonal since they don’t have to cater for, say, people wanting asparagus in October.

Niche produce
Grocers, untethered from long supply chains that can deal only with mass volume, also tend to have more niche produce. So while you may not get broccoli from market traders in January, you could well have the choice of five different varieties of winter cabbage.

You’ll also get a great sense of what’s most abundant. Late August markets are brimming with crops that need a whole summer of sun, then all arrive at once—aubergines, fennel, tomatoes and so on. There will be great gluts of soft fruit like plums, all rich and juicy—different beasts to the supermarket ‘ripen at home’ (or not at all) punnets.

But get them while you can, because these harvests are fleeting jewels of the season and need to be enjoyed now, because they won’t keep. Kale, onions, celeriac and pumpkins will store well and have a much longer cropping season, but the gluts of late summer veg must be pounced on and devoured before the first frosts of autumn catch them.

So do join me for a harvest feast, making the most of the season’s gluts and enjoying the last summer bounty.

Join Kathy for tips, tastings and recipes on Friday 25th August in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm