Over the fence

Over the fence Should taste and good­ness be just as im­por­tant as looks when grow­ing veg­eta­bles for ex­hi­bi­tions?

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

Looks vs. flavour in ex­hi­bi­tion veg

Veg­eta­bles must be ed­i­ble – that is their pur­pose. When veg­eta­bles are grown ‘to show’, they are grown to be the best of their type. The judg­ing rules give points for uni­for­mity, con­di­tion, colour and size, and only the best are cho­sen for the show bench. The ‘Show Per­fec­tion’ pea got its name be­cause it looks good when dis­played. This does not mean it can­not be eaten as well; in­deed, it has a lovely sweet taste. The large va­ri­eties of veg­eta­bles are large to start with and not a small va­ri­ety fed to be large – that would be just silly and wrong. They are grown to be per­fect, but the flavour is the same as if they were grown in a kitchen gar­den. Our ‘Mam­moth’ onion, like most larger va­ri­eties, has a mild Span­ish flavour, while ‘Mam­moth Red’ has a dif­fer­ent ori­gin and has a stronger flavour. Pota­toes that are grown for the show bench have the same flavour as those grown for the kitchen, but are given more at­ten­tion when washed and dis­played. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth eat­ing; leek and potato soup made with ex­hi­bi­tion­style veg­eta­bles is just as de­li­cious. Over­grown veg­eta­bles, which are clearly ined­i­ble and look like an over­weight cat, are not true to type and not what large ex­hi­bi­tion veg­eta­bles are about. Veg­eta­bles grown for show, when grown cor­rectly, have just as good a flavour as the more com­mer­cial va­ri­eties. Chef Philip Har­ben had con­ver­sa­tions with my fa­ther and grand­fa­ther in the mid-1900s about this very sub­ject. And now, in an age where baby veg and mi­cro greens are fash­ion­able, the de­bate rages on. As the old Chi­nese say­ing goes: “Do not de­spise the snake for hav­ing no horns, for who is to say it will not be­come a dragon”. That said, I feel on fairly safe ground de­spis­ing me­tre-long French beans for lack­ing sweet­ness and suc­cu­lence, for who’s to say they won’t be­come a decade’s sup­ply of chut­ney lurk­ing in the cup­board. Let me be clear: I’m per­fectly en­chanted by the sight of a young child sat atop an airbag of a squash, and only a cur­mud­geon wouldn’t take plea­sure in hold­ing a car­rot you could joust with. These are the Top Trumps of the veg­etable world, and a trib­ute to the skills of those who grow them, but I can think of no veg­etable where its flavour im­proves for grow­ing it larger or to be more visu­ally pleas­ing. Of­ten, the op­po­site is true. Show veg­eta­bles are grown to im­press in size, uni­for­mity and con­di­tion; their suc­cess is judged on this. They say that size doesn’t mat­ter, it’s what you do with it that counts, but when it comes to show veg­eta­bles, there’s usu­ally lit­tle else that can be done with them. Take the mar­row (please, take it). Visu­ally im­pres­sive as it may be, a mar­row is sim­ply a bot­tle of cour­get­te­flavoured squash that has had too much wa­ter – flavour­less­ness abounds. So, we hol­low out a gi­ant mar­row ca­noe, fill it with heav­ily spiced in­gre­di­ents to coun­ter­act its bland­ness, then eat only the con­tents. For me, grow­ing is about en­joy­ing food at it’s very best. My judg­ing cri­te­ria are flavour, tex­ture, vi­tal­ity and beauty. Of course, I cel­e­brate the skills of the grower and marvel at the per­fec­tion when I see a dis­play, but do I want any of them for my tea? I do not.

Leek and potato soup made with ex­hi­bi­tion veg is de­li­cious When it comes to show veg­eta­bles, lit­tle else can be done with them

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