Autumn and early winter see an abundance of veg on Riverford’s farm, with the last of the salads and peppers overlapping with the first parsnips, kale and Brussel sprouts. With a long winter looming there are a few seasonal stars that really shine and make the dropping temperatures and shorter days a little more welcome. Here, Riverford’s founder and farmer Guy Watson talks through them.
Sweetcorn: September to October
The arrival of sweetcorn, one of the very few ergonomically designed vegetables, is a welcome relief to the back after a summer bent double picking lettuces and courgettes; corn bears its cobs at the perfect height. In the UK we are on the climatic extreme for growing the crop so it really struggles to ripen in a poor summer. We coax it along with crop covers but it’s often not ripe until September when the BBQs are beginning to be packed away.
Providing the weather holds out, our favourite cooking method is to soak the cobs in water for a few minutes then cook them patiently on a BBQ so they can steam inside their husk. When they start to catch the husks can be peeled back, making a good handle for eating the cob smothered in butter and/or chilli sauce.
Romanesco cauliflower: September to November
Romanesco cauliflower (also called romanesco broccoli) has beautiful, fractal-patterned green curds. You might think it is a fancy modern invention – the latest supermarket gimmick – but actually, it’s an old Italian variety. It’s at its best from September through to November and can be treated pretty much like white-curded cauliflower, though it is slightly crunchier and nuttier in flavour.
Kale: September to April
Kale was originally grown largely to see cows and sheep through the winter. Given half a chance our cows will eat radicchio, asparagus and grapefruit too – to me they occasionally seem more discerning in their tastes than many human beings. Like cabbages, kales are members of the brassica family; virtually anywhere in the world, from the tropics to the Arctic circle, you will find varieties that have been bred to suit local conditions and culinary traditions. As with most vegetables, the dark green leaves are the richest in nutrition, and, as kale does not have a centre that has been deprived of light, it is among the best sources of vitamins and minerals.
Red Russian kale is usually the earliest of them all, ready for harvest in early October. Cavolo nero or black kale soon follows and is the prince of kales; a slow growing, dark green plant with elegant, elongated leaves.
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