The supermarkets of this land seem to be under the impression that we will not purchase their vegetables unless they have been given some serious adjectival pimping. I have talked before of the abomination that is ‘baby’ leaves – showing a woeful lack of botanical understanding in the nation’s grocers – and so will merely re-iterate that these leaves are merely young or small and try and leave it at that.
Waitrose is particularly keen to make its fresh herbs seems exciting. My mint is described as ‘cool cool’ (so cool they described it twice, apparently) and my curly leaf parsley (or ‘parsley’ as we used to call it) is described as ‘versatile, vigorous and vibrant’ – something more appropriate in a date (and I’m not talking deglet noor) than a little garnish. I would use some rather different descriptors for herbs, with basil being identified as their titular monarch with a taste for huntin’ and shootin’ and fishin’ while sage would be identified as ‘not very happy, in fact in a rage’. However, this may say more about my childhood viewing of a stop-motion animation series called The Herbs than it does about my suitability as a costermonger’s marketing assistant. Talking of The Herbs, it did introduce some really rather obscure leaves to my youthful mind: herbs which I have never encountered since, e.g. Good King Henry and Miss Jessop, and are even a challenge to find using the full power of internet search, e.g. pashana bedi.
However, we are not here to discuss Waitrose’ need to paint their herbs with adjectival rouge. My lunch today included some frozen peas: a store cupboard staple that is also a boon in the case of bruise or sprain. These were not just any old frozen peas, oh no, they were described as ‘garden peas’. I strongly suspect that this was not the case and that they had, in fact, come from a farm. I’m pretty sure that ‘garden pea’ is not a Linnaean classification and so presume it must be to contrast it with a ‘forest pea’, ‘deep sea pea’ or GD Pea (probably not to avoid confusion with the ‘sweet pea’ which is grown for its decorative and often scented flora, but is rarely frozen).
This contrasts with the treatment of rocket: the cruciform vegetable rather than the means of accessing Earth orbit. This is, almost invariably, described as ‘wild’. My imagination is strangely torn between Rowan Atkinson in a gorilla suit and the idea of machete-wielding workers gathering the rocket from its bosky lair. As with the peas, I’d be surprised if it had not started its journey to plastic-packed display on some sort of farm. Is there perhaps a tame rocket that we never see? Or was it too trusting around humans and has been hunted to extinction like the dodo?
A recent packet of mixed chillies – which I’ll admit are technically fruit, but it would take a braver man than I to place them in a fruit salad – merely carries the legend ‘pizzas, soups and noodles’. I assume this is an uncredited serving suggestion – or perhaps Lynne Truss’ next great work on grammar? Fascinatingly, a mere 100g of these chillies (roughly eight) would provide 1% of my daily energy needs – so I need only consume 800 for all my calorific requirements to be met (though I would rather overshoot my optimal protein intake). A strong argument there for a balanced diet!
Of course, it was these same supermarkets that revealed the tomato as a vine fruit – though I’ve yet to find any tomato wine (presumably it would be red?). I find my plums are now described as ‘tree-ripened’. The world has reached a pretty pass when allowing nature to take its course has to be remarked upon as a selling point for fruit.
As so often, research via the medium of Wikipedia slightly weakens my case and does suggest some very vague logic around the naming of the peas and rocket. Apparently, there exists something called the ‘field pea’ – but this is only available dried and I can never recall seeing it for sale. I feel it would be unexpected indeed should some shopper purchase ‘frozen peas’ and then be disappointed that these were not field peas. Similarly, there are two types of rocket: one from genus Diplotaxis and one from Eruca. Sadly, both – especially when ‘babies’ – are sold as rocket. I think in both cases, the grocers are garnishing the name for marketing rather than purely taxonomic purposes: peas need to appear friendly and harmless (no doubt to overcome their otherwise terrifying aspect) while rocket must carry an aura of danger and excitement (like the 15:17 to Cleethorpes – if you should doubt me, just ask the ISIRTA team).