A Celebration Of Local Food At Covent Garden

Posted on: 08 February 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Michael Wale visits Covent Garden Market and finds local food producers.

It was an event for the food trade, but I have suggested to the organizers, that so successful was the format that it should, in future be staged in a London park and opened to the public.

The idea of 'A Celebration of Local Food' was to bring producers of local food to Covent Garden fruit and veg market with their wares to meet those who might buy it in the future. It is all part of the move across Britain to get people to think local and eat local. A rumour even swept around the spacious marquee that a leading supermarket was about to drop their Taste The Difference-type top range brands and re-place it with Taste Local products.

Lucy Carroll of Heritage Potatoes had traveled the furthest, all the way from Tiptoe Farm in the River Till Valle, Northumberland, where she and her husband Anthony specialize in growing gourmet potatoes such as the strange looking blue bodied salad Blue, which dates from the early 1900’s to the French cuisine classic Ratte, which dates back to 1872. I found some Ratte seed potatoes some years ago and they were small and wonderful in a salad, but I have lost track of the firm that supplied it.

From the Isle of Wight came Colin Boswell, now 52, who for the last 30 years has grown nothing but garlic.

“I was from the Isle of Wight originally but worked in London doing market research and advertising," he told me.  "Then one day came that moment when I had got married and decided I could not face living and working in London anymore, and returned home. It was the hot summer of 1976 and my mother grew some garlic in the garden. She got a beautiful crop and I thought that was what we would do in future."

"Mind you, we didn’t get quite as good a summer for some time and our crops weren’t so easy to grow. We trialled a lot of different types of garlic, and found that the best to grow in the UK came from the Auvergne in France."

"Over the years we have produced our own garlic called Solent Wight, that stays hard for a very long time. You can plant it in the autumn or the spring. We do 12 different strains and a few years back we started our own smokery so that we could produce smoked garlic. It was during the period when the market was going for that sort of thing.  Mind you one buyer did come to us and ask if we could grow more of the smoked garlic!  There are probably about 500 different strains of garlic in the world.”

A lot of the garlic that is offered for sale in local shops comes from China. I have found it unsatisfactory, but Colin says that it is all right as long as it used in Chinese cooking, because that is why it is produced.

Garlic is easy enough to grow for the allotment holder or gardener. Just break it into separate bulbs and plant it six inches apart. The result if the conditions are right is the production of a whole bulb. Up to ten for the price of one!

And Colin gives a tip to those who don’t want to smell too much of garlic.  

“Never eat garlic that has green shoots. That is what makes you smell.  Although people don’t smell after eating garlic these days because the standard is much higher than it was, and everyone eats it.”

A husband and wife team Christiane and Richard Pollen brought their speciality tomato sauces, chutneys and pestos and mayonnaise up from Hampshire, where they run Pollen Organics from their home.  It all started in Christiane’s kitchen seven years ago.  

“At last I had some time after bringing up seven children,” she told me.  “I started making all these chutneys and mayonnaise . I sold them locally and at farmers markets. After three years the business began to take off so after expanding to employing two women to help me in my kitchen I decided we would build our own stainless steel kitchens in a barn and stableyard at the back of the house. My husband gave up his job to market and sell our produce.”

From that moment the firm has grown and grown, even supplying supermarkets.  But as Chrstiane says, “You cannot succeed without selling to the multiples.”

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