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Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 21 October 2020
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Courgette shortage: Grow your own instead plus a recipe for pan-fried Jerusalem artichokes

A shortage of certain vegetables in our supermarkets has spurred a rise in the sale of seeds. It’s easy and very rewarding to grow your own, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

YOU’VE PROBABLY NOTICED in the news this week that there is a veg and salad crop shortage. Lots of our favourite vegetables, like courgettes, iceberg lettuce, aubergines and tomatoes, are in short supply due to a perfect storm of inclement weather conditions in southern Europe.

Every now and then a supply chain issue like this breaks through to the public consciousness and shakes us out of our apathy about our food chain. That’s probably not a bad thing, but unfortunately this time around it seems to me that we’ve completely missed the point.

The focus should not be on the fact that Spain’s southeastern Murcia region supplies 80% of Europe’s fresh produce during the winter, or that that region is suffering its coldest and wettest winter in 30 years. We should instead be talking about our obsession with unseasonal veg.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that all of the vegetables currently experiencing a shortage – courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce – are not in season currently, and to restore some sanity into the food chain we should be switching from these veg in the winter and relying instead on the crops our own climate, and our own growers, can provide us with.

Shifting to seasonal eating

Now before you say that I am just being contrary and trying to drag us back to the 1960s, let me offer two solid reasons why this would be a good idea. Firstly, I would argue that a shift to seasonal eating is better for our health. Our bodies don’t need thirst-quenching, water-filled vegetables like tomatoes at this time of the year.

Secondly, our reliance on unseasonal food locks us into an unstable reliance on foreign imports. Eating unseasonably might be great news for growers in Murcia (and I am sure they are fine fellows indeed) but it is terrible for Irish agriculture and jobs.

Irish growers are leaving the industry in their droves because they cannot compete with our taste for unseasonal food or the climate advantage of their continental competitors.

The Last Courgette

This current crisis is a timely reminder that we have become far too “recipe-led” when it comes to feeding ourselves. Open any magazine or newspaper this week and you will see celebrity chefs toting recipes that are laden with unseasonal ingredients.

Your local supermarket (a place where there are no seasons) will support this by ensuring these veg are available 365 days a year. This is unquestionably a marvel of modernity, but it does no favours for our health, for the health of our planet or for Irish farmers and growers.

So instead of scouring local supermarkets for the Last Courgette, which will be ridiculously over-priced and maybe under armed guard, buy some seasonal, Irish vegetables instead. Or better still, for the ultimate masterclass in seasonality, start growing some veg yourself.

Buying Tomato Seeds

shutterstock_104034200 Source: Shutterstock/Fotosenmeer

With an eye on summer crops, next week I will be sowing (and writing about sowing) my tomato, aubergine and pepper (sweet and chilli) seeds, so this is a great time to get your seeds on order. The beauty of growing your own tomatoes from seed is that you can try lots of different varieties.

I have to admit to a tomato obsession. I grow around 70 plants in a big polytunnel in the field beside our house. It gives us enough tomatoes to last between July and November and fills the larder with tomato sauce for use in pizzas, pastas and soups.

When buying seed, I am looking for a good mix of tastes, shapes, sizes and colours. I want some beefsteak and plenty of cherries. I want old reliables, some new experiments and the odd curiosity. I will generally go with about 12 to 15 different varieties. Here are ten of the varieties I am trying this year:

  1. Sungold. My favourite tomato  is a beautifully sweet, yellow/red cherry tomato, top of the taste tests.
  2. Shirley is a popular hybrid for early production with large trusses of medium sized fruit.
  3. Sweet Million is a sweet, shiney red cherry and a prolific cropper.
  4. Tigerella has red fruits with orange-yellow stripes and a fine flavor.
  5. Gardener’s Delight are bite sized, tangy tomatoes that taste like tomatoes used to taste.
  6. Golden Sunrise have a medium sized golden yellow fruit with a sweet, distinctive flavour.
  7. Alicante is another favourite of ours, and a prolific cropper with medium sized red fruits.
  8. Albenga produces large and distinctive pear-shaped beefsteak style fruits.
  9. Black Krim is an heirloom variety that produces slightly flattened, large beefsteak tomatoes.
  10. Sweet Aperitif is another taste test topper, a prolific red cherry with thin skins and excellent flavour.

To order seeds, check out shop.giy.ie. We can also recommend Seedaholic, The Organic Centre and Brown Envelope Seeds.

This Month at GROW HQ

Spring has sprung (just about) and this month at GROW HQ we’ve a range of courses, classes and events to kick off the growing season. We’ve also a range of cookery courses, and special seasonal eating events, including a silent mindful lunch and our monthly Friday Feast. For more check out www.growhq.org.

Recipe of the Week – Pan Fried Jerusalem Artichokes

shutterstock_446473768 Source: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

The default recipe for Jerusalem Artichokes tends to be using them for soup, but here’s a recipe that puts them centre stage. I’ve also been told they are very good indeed if baked in the oven, whole with skins on, and then smothered in hollandaise sauce. But I suppose most things taste very good indeed when smothered in hollandaise sauce.

Ingredients

  • 600g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • White wine vinegar

Fry the artichokes in some oil on a medium heat until golden on both sides, then add a few bay leaves, the garlic and a good splash of vinegar. Season well. Place a lid on top and cook for 20 minutes or until the artichokes have softened.

Take off the lid and cook for another few minutes, until the artichokes are golden brown. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ.

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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