Monday, 7 November 2011

weather-damaged apples to be sold in Waitrose

In the Daily Mail last week there was an article that said the Waitrose supermarket will start selling weather-damaged apples at a lower price than their usual cosmetically perfect ones. An EU ban was lifted in 2009 which had meant that 20% of farm produce was thrown away or fed to livestock because it was misshapen or bruised.

A few years ago I started going to Borough Market in London. Chegworth Valley Juices is a company that have their own farm and sell direct to the public. They sell a lot of fruit juices but it is the apples that I am interested in. Apples that are sold in supermarkets and the usual street markets are sold underripe and never develop their full flavour.

Usually when a farmer sees that his apple crop has developed full colour and some sweetness he or she will harvest them. This makes it easier for the farmer and for the supermarket because underripe fruit can be transported with less damage and it has a longer shelf life. However, even if you try to ripen the fruit at home it will never develop its full flavour. Most people don't know what an apple variety is meant to taste like. You need to leave the fruit on the tree for it to develop its distinctive and often delicious flavour.

If you go into a supermarket you may see Asian pears. You might think how wonderful it is that we can have such a wide variety of fruit from all over the world. Asian pears look like big russet apples but are pears. If you try one it has a crunchy texture with some sweetness. You will never know that when an Asian pear is ripe it tastes like a melon. Not an ordinary melon, a delicious melon such as a Charentais.

I know this because I once grew an Asian pear on my allotment. I don't have it anymore but I have several apple trees. My favourite variety of apple is Spartan, which I discovered at Borough Market. It has a wonderful rich flavour. So I have that variety on my allotment. I also have my other favourite variety, Discovery.

People say that Cox's Orange Pippin is the best flavoured variety but it's not such a good one to grow on an allotment because it can be susceptible to disease. So I have a couple of Cox types, Sunset and Kidd's Orange Red. I have had an abundant crop of Discovery apples for several years, and this year my new Spartan tree gave me 3 fruit. Next year I hope to get many more, and of course I leave them on the tree as long as I can so that they develop flavour.

I think that people often say they like a crisp apple because they have never tasted a full flavoured properly ripened fruit. They can't judge an apple on flavour because they all tend to taste all the same, so they judge them on texture. It seems that old varieties of apple are being replaced by new varieties that have been developed to taste better even when underripe. People think that their supermarkets give them wonderful taste experiences but in most cases this is false.

Last year Waitrose had some Spartan apples on sale. This was the first time I had seen Spartan apples on sale apart from at Borough Market and Broadway Market. I bought a bag, but they were underripe and tasted just like any other supermarket apple. They don't have them this year, and I haven't seen these weather-damaged apples on sale either. I can imagine people buying a bag of Spartan apples, getting them home and thinking "I don't think much of these". If only they knew.

Spartan apples are available now at Borough Market and Broadway Market. I have been buying them. Chegworth Valley sell them at both these markets but other people sell them there too. Curiously, whereas supermarkets take great effort to present only cosmetically perfect apples to their customers, at Borough and Broadway Markets they make no effort at all. These apples are small, often misshapen and have blemishes. They would be regarded as poor quality and be rejected by supermarkets and yet they have the most important quality of all - flavour.

So I shall continue to buy apples from Borough and Broadway Markets, because to me flavour is the most important thing. It looks as if I'm not the only one who thinks that way, Chegworth Valley seem to be thriving with new outlets opening in different places. They have a new shop in Borough Market that is bigger than their old one.

The photo below I took myself at the new Chegworth Valley shop in Borough Market.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

butterfly paradises

For a few years I have noticed areas of land in London where buildings have been demolished but nothing has been built in their place. The land has just been left vacant but fenced off. I call them 'butterfly paradises' because often they are completely overgrown with Buddleia. This bush has many small flowers that provide plentiful nectar for insects. Buddleia is often called 'the butterfly bush'.

There is a big one at the southern end of London Road in Croydon where a hospital used to be. I see it when I am going past on the top deck of a bus. It is anoying because all it would take would be the addition of a few bee hives to make the land productive. I often have a fantasy of a local beekeeper trying to find who owns the land and visiting them in their offices in a tower in Canary Wharf or somewhere. I don't think people who earn millions would be interested in a few jars of honey though.

What seems to be happening is something called 'land banking'. Someone buys land with no intention of building on it or using it for some productive purpose. They intend to hold on to it until they can sell it for a big profit. It's an investment. They could keep it for years. I suspect that a plot of land might be sold over and over again by different speculators.

I think this is a very good example of when the free market does not work in the interest of society. Land should be built upon to provide affordable high density housing. It's funny how only poor people are thought of as antisocial. This week the global population has passed an estimated 7 billion. Recently half the world's population has become urban. We can't afford not to use urban land.

There are other uses for this land. Some of them are temporary and wouldn't cause a problem for land bankers. Car parks, dog exercise areas, community parks and food producing areas are some alternatives. Or maybe space is needed for a market.

I used to go to a branch of Lambeth College in West Norwood. This branch was closed down and the land sold. Half the land was use for a self storage warehouse, even though there is another one in West Norwood. The other half was just fenced off and left. I go past it often on the bus.

Not any longer though. An eco-camp has been set up. I read in the South London Press that a group has set up the 'Knights Hill Ecological Peace Camp' and they plan to clear rubbish and make a garden. They have something on YouTube about the eco-camp.

There will be a court case this month. The owners will try to remove the eco-camp. Why? They're not using the land. It should make no difference to them if the eco-camp is removed now or when they're ready to sell. Let the eco-camp stay.

The photo below I took myself yesterday when I went to have a look.