Traditional British Food Is
Making A Comeback
When we think of vegetables most of us
all think of the same old things. Peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and so on - basically the vegetables we
have on our Sunday roast dinner. This is because these are the vegetables we have grown up eating; they are mass
produced and sold to us from every supermarket in the country.
Currently British farmers grow about a million tons of carrots
a year and 40,000 tons of leeks. A total of 112,000 tons of brassicas are also grown. About two thirds of these are
cauliflower and cabbage, with the rest made up of broccoli and Brussels sprouts. But things were not always this
Traditionally Britain has grown a diverse and fascinating
selection of vegetables which, for one reason or another, have been forgotten about or simply just gone out of
fashion - vegetables such as curly kale, beetroot and celeriac. These vegetable are still grown in the UK and are
available if you look hard enough. But rather than hunting them out why don’t we simply grow our
kale for instance – maybe the very essence
of traditional British food, it has been cultivated in the UK for well over 2000 years, its popularity declined
when the cabbage was introduced in the Middle Ages.
Back in 19th century Scotland curly kale was consumed in such
abundance that the word kale was the common term for ‘dinner’. It comes as no surprise that kale was so widely
grown, as not only is it packed with iron and vitamins, it is also very hardy and one of the few vegetables that is
more abundant in the chilly winter months.
Curly kale was traditionally used in soups such as
Scotch broth but also makes an ideal alternative to cabbage or spinach (try it fried with bacon or pancetta for a
beautiful accompaniment to a roast chicken).
Although considered a traditional British food
the Beetroot is actually believed to hail
from the Mediterranean, where it was cultivated as far back as the second millennium BC. The plant was grown mainly
for its leafy foliage but lost favour when spinach was introduced. Nowadays the beetroot gets a hard press, as for
years we have stuffed it into a jar and doused it in malt vinegar, killing all the natural flavour and
We rarely use the leaves of the plant nowadays but they are
delicious and well worth the effort. Spinach beet leaves can be eaten as a pot herb. Young leaves of the garden
beet are sometimes used similarly. The midribs of Swiss chard are best eaten boiled while the whole leaf blades are
eaten as spinach beet. The leaves and stems of young plants are steamed briefly and eaten as a vegetable; older
leaves and stems are nice when stir fried.
The root is best peeled and steamed, then sliced and pan fried
in butter. It is also fantastic roasted as a vegetable.
Celeriac is a strange vegetable, a member of the parsley family that smells of celery and closely
resembles a turnip. Traditionally used in soups (it forms a fantastic partnership with stilton) it can also be
grated and used in salads. It also can be baked or boiled and served as a vegetable.
Celeriac is a great healthy alternative to mashed potato and works extremely well as a topping for cottage,
shepherds or even fish pie.
Larger celeriac can be a bit woody so a tip is to buy smaller
ones or harvest them young if you are growing your own. The season is very short so if you are looking to buy them
October is your best bet.
All of these vegetables are interesting and delicious in their
own right. They are worth trying; whether you are buying them or - even better - if you grow your own. Give
yourself a break from the run of the mill supermarket fare and try these forgotten traditional British food