Describing veg

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).

Frigid Air

Given my nationality and the looming prospect of the inevitable descent into winter, you may be fearing that this post will degenerate into a discussion of the weather.  Well, other than a chilly spell last week, it remains pretty mild: so the air is far from frigid, though it has been hurled at the denizens of South Cambridgeshire with more than normal force these last few days.  OK, I feel that covers expectations – so now I can wander off at a tangent with a clear conscience.

This post will instead handle one of my favourite subjects: food.  As has been mentioned before, while at home I am mostly vegetarian – and becoming more so (though if required, fish and shellfish can still be re-classified as vegetables).  As a result, my house contains quite large quantities of fruit and vegetables (though, I do know of those who pursue a vegetarian diet without much use of either fruit or veg).  Given their perishable nature, this does place some strain on my refrigerator.  At this point, I should come clean and admit that my fridge is a CBA rather than a Frigidaire – but the latter brand furnished a much better post title.

For historic reasons, I feel the need to keep as much of this fruit and veg in the crisper section at the base of my fridge as possible – though, now that I think about it, I have no idea if this is in any way beneficial.  The typical fridge (of which mine is a minor example) is much taller than it is wide – but for those in need of crisper space, the reverse would be a much better bet.  As a result of its conventional design, my crisper is always dreadfully over full – and edibles from the kingdoms of both plants and fungi spill out into the main body of the fridge.  This does tend to increase food wastage, as items from the crisper equivalent of the pre-Cambrian can be “lost” and so manage to spoil before they can be eaten (despite this, I should imagine that my food waste is a good few standard deviations from the mean, on the “good” side of the distribution).  Even when not lost to my digestive system, the over-crowding often necessitates an extended search for the desired item – which can’t be doing my electricity consumption any favours.

Reading the sticker on a Waitrose aubergine (oh yes, I have money to burn), while bored recently, revealed the interesting fact that it should not be stored in the fridge at all (as, I regret to say, its many predecessors had been).  I have no idea why this should be so, but it did allow a small volume to be reclaimed in my crisper – though at the cost of a corresponding loss of volume in the fruit bowl.

I also vaguely recall reading that keeping tomatoes in the fridge destroys some essential benefit that their consumption would otherwise impart.  The tomato is the love fruit so perhaps the fridge is cooling their ardour.  I suppose the late Nancy Mitford would know, having written on Love in a Cold Climate.

But, other than these two fruits – everything else still wants a piece of my fridge.  Surely other vegetarians with a decent appetite must exist?  I wonder how they solve this storage problem?  Or do they eschew fresh food, and rely largely on tinned and dried goods for their provender?

Perhaps it is time for me to develop (and later market) my new fridge for the discerning vegetarian: one where the crisper makes up a much large proportion of its total useable volume?  Yes, I am planning to bring the world the chest fridge.  No, not an aid for those with an overly warm embonpoint but a device inspired by the well proven chest freezer: after all, the two devices are basically the same (it’s just a matter of degree(s) – or the lack thereof).  The chest fridge would, I suppose, also necessitate some re-design of the traditional kitchen layout – but I can see clear benefits when coupled with a freezer to create the chest fridge freezer.  The combined device would be low enough in height (a) to benefit the shorter user and (b) leave room for more traditional storage either above or below depending on the height, flexibility and preferences of the user.

Vegetables are generally cheaper than meat – or so Katherine Whitehorn informed via the medium of print back in the mid 80s – so veggies should have higher disposable income available to spend on a new kitchen.  I really think I could be on to a winner here.  Coming soon to an out-of-town retail park near (but not very near) you: Fish Kitchens!  (The similar Kitch Fishing will have to await further development and a later post.)