Top of the veg

by James Alexander-Sinclair

My father tells a story of when he was in the army. A particularly pompous officer lifted the lid of a dish of vegetables and snorted "carrots are not an officer's vegetable" before storming off.

vegetablesMy father tells a story of when he was in the army. A particularly pompous officer lifted the lid of a dish of vegetables and snorted "carrots are not an officer's vegetable" before storming off.

I mention this in light of a brief discussion I had earlier in the week with my fellow Bloggista, Pippa Greenwood, and the delicious Kay Maguire - Horticultural Editor of this magazine - about what constituted a Classy vegetable. Both of them know much, much more about vegetables than I do but the results of the conversation were something along these lines...

There are the obvious posh vegetables like asparagus and artichokes - because of their very short seasons and, probably because of the large amount of drippingly melted butter involved in their consumption. Both vegetables also make good additions to the border - asparagus has gorgeous ferny foliage and artichoke flowers are bee magnets (Jerusalem artichokes are, however, excluded due to the possibility of indelicate post-prandial thunderings). Less obvious is the fiddlehead - these are the emerging fronds of ferns such as Osmunda regalis or Matteucia struthiopteris. Popular in America, slightly toxic if undercooked and, according to my wife (whose taste I trust absolutely), absolutely disgusting.

The mange tout gets a place at the top table because it has a French name and in spite of the fact that it is really just a pea in an overcoat.

Pippa is not that keen on the brassicas and to a certain extent I agree: too many of us have vivid memories of grey school cabbage and that sour smell that haunts institutional kitchens. But I leap to defend purple sprouting broccoli (very classy), red cabbage (with cloves and bacon) and the white curds of cauliflowers. The beetroot used to be considered rather dodgy when it was only available bottled in vinegar. Roasted or boiled, however, it is not only delicious but a wonderful colour so I propose it as a new entry in the charts.

Turnips are very definitely low on the list along with long leathery runner beans. The kohlrabi is too bizarre to be taken seriously. However, there is an absolute King of Vegetables (Kay agrees with this while Pippa still needs to be completely convinced).

Perfect raw or cooked, easy to grow, simple to prepare and the pods make excellent compost. (My children used to sing a song about them "sleeping in a blankety bed" at Harvest festivals which always made me smile). All hail the broad bean, Emperor of Pulses.

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Gardeners' World Web User 17/04/2007 at 20:57

Last summer I tried to grow carrots for the first time. I grew them in a large plant pot on the path, they grew to about finger size and then something upturned the pot and ate them but left their tops. Could it have been a badger as the pot was too heavy for a small animal.

Gardeners' World Web User 23/11/2007 at 13:35

kholrabi is far from being too bizarre to be taken seriously. Fast cropping, small (so good for tiny gardens, where many other brassicas aren't) and delicious. I've got my team hooked. You need to eat when they are somewhere between a golf and tennis ball. Peel, boil till tender, slice and smother with butter and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard. Yummy.

Gardeners' World Web User 23/11/2007 at 18:27

my memories of school cabbage are overcooked and the smell was disgusting. However gently stir fried with bacon and cashew nuts it is rather tasty and makes an easy meal.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/11/2007 at 12:27

Looking at Alys's Berryfields blog there is a lot of lunching going on - I'm surprised that any gardening gets done! Just because Kohlrabi can be delicious (and I must admit that my memories of eating it are dominated by weird German recipes involving vinegar) doesn't mean they don't look bizarre.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/11/2007 at 20:55

Nice to see Ms deThame looking after her diet ( Gardners' World Special BBC 2 30/Nov.) but why does she need a B***** great 4x4 to collect a few vegetables? The air we breath is just as important as the foods we eat. We can choose the foods we eat, but not the air we breath. Ms de Thame might set an example by driving something a little kinder to the environment.

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