Fruit and vegetables have become a contentious issue these days. To go organic or not? Is your banana fair trade? What about the carbon footprint of air freighting? Is your produce of choice seasonal? And what about the spiralling prices of our weekly favourites? Then there’s the whole “are you getting your five-a-day?” bandwagon that continues to clatter around the nation. I could go on, but you catch my drift.
I struggle with supermarket produce. My discomfiture started as a niggle, and now it’s practically full-blown armed conflict. It all looks so uniform: tomatoes all the same size, big glossy apples all the same size, plastic nets half-full of clementines on buy-one-get-one-free, tiny figs clustered in fours in plastic boxes, scrubbed potatoes and bleached salad greens in their polythene bags. It’s all so shiny and convenient…
And yet so regimented and sterile and bland. Those mass-produced, hydroponically-grown tomatoes taste of… well, not very much at all, never mind tomato. Leafy things that remain an improbable shade of bright green for a week or more, and taste of water regardless of whether you pick up an iceberg or a cos lettuce. And the selection doesn’t vary seasonally: shoppers seemed to be offered exactly the same range of fruit and vegetables throughout the year – and that’s regardless of whether they’re organic. I shudder to think of the food miles, I really do.
Ok, I’ll stop beating round the bush: I loathe supermarkets, I really do. I try to limit my food shopping at such establishments to cat biscuits and tins of baked beans. I do my best to spend my money at independent stores and cash-and-carry outlets; local butchers in Tooting whose shops also seem to double-up as greengrocers and purveyors of boxes of mangoes for under £10. We don’t eat a huge amount of meat – chicken, turkey, fish and (less frequently) pork – so my main concern is fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses, cheeses and so on. None of this is made any easier by the fact that I’m a nosey old moo and want to know where my food has come from and who has produced it.
Thankfully, the latter task is getting easier with the emergence of home delivery services offering organic produce. Got veggies? Check. Got fruit? Check. Got milk? Aye, that too. Think of an organic product, and one or other – or even all – of the companies vying for customers will stock it and deliver it to your front door.
Deciding on a delivery company can be as tricky as choosing your products. Nearly all seem to follow the same model: choose a box of produce from a range that caters for families of all sizes. Don’t like potatoes? There are boxes sans pommes de terre. The wonderful thing about these boxes is (a) the produce is seasonal and changes every week; (b) it’s sourced from small-scale producers and farmers who are local to you (i.e. in counties neighbouring urban centres), so fewer food miles; (c) the fruit and vegetables are fresh, gorgeous and high-quality; and (d) the delivery system is convenient, with your order placed where you ask if you’re not at home when the delivery (wo)man comes to visit. Oh, and when you sit and do the maths – and believe me, I have at some length – the prices are very competitive when compared with those set by the supermarket behemoths.
So, in my quest to escape the clutches of the soulless corporations (which quest is, I admit, much simpler when you live in a city), last week I placed an order with Riverford for a roots-and-greens box and a fruit bag.
The box is priced at £12.95 and, on this occasion, contained potatoes, onions, Savoy cabbage, green cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, kale and four enormous beetroot – and a ‘mystery item’ which turned out to be a romanesco cauliflower. I was in utter paroxysms of glee.
The fruit bag is £6.45, the contents of which last week were apples, pears and kiwis. The pears are firm and will need to ripen a little in the fruit bowl, while the apples are sweet and juicy (and I usually don’t eat apples unless they’re in pie or cake or bread form). I have yet to try the kiwis.
All in all, I’m wildly impressed by this first delivery – impressed enough to sign up for further fortnightly boxes of produce. It’s an extravagance, I know – and I really can’t imagine spending £20 every week on veggies. There’s only so many spuds a girl can consume in a lifetime.
So I found myself with a veritable bounty of fresh vegetables, herbs in the garden and sausages in the fridge. What to cook? Well, I made this, a tinkered version of yet another recipe found on BBC Good Food:
Italian sausage stew with garlic and rosemary mash (serves 4)
Ingredients for the stew
1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed (I hate having smelly garlic fingers so use a press)
2 sprigs of rosemary, one chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 tin butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
700ml chicken stock
handful of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Ingredients for the mash
1kg potatoes, peeled and diced
150 ml milk
butter and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or (better still) a stockpot over a medium heat. Add the sausages and cook until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen roll.
Keep the pan on the heat; add the onion and 2 cloves of garlic and cook until the onion is translucent.
Add the carrots and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, until soft.
Add the tomatoes and chopped rosemary and stir before adding the mushrooms. Cook for another couple of minutes ’til the mushrooms look cooked and then add the stock and the butter beans.
Put the sausages back in the pan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 mins. Remove the lid and simmer uncovered for a further 15 mins. Season to taste.
In the interim, make the mash. Place the potatoes in enough salted water to cover and boil until cooked (about 15 minutes). While the potatoes are cooking, place the milk in a small pan with the second sprig of rosemary and the remaining crushed/chopped garlic and bring to near-boiling point. Turn off the heat. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain, return to their pan and strain the milk over them. Mash to your preferred texture (I don’t mind lumpy mash, Him Indoors can’t stand it), adding butter to taste. Season.
Then… A couple of dollops of mash; sausages, veggies and and gravy over the top. Eat and enjoy.
Note: If you’re interested in ordering organic produce from Riverford, their website is lovely and super user-friendly. Go to http://www.riverford.co.uk