Covid-19’s impact on labour and transport, combined with shortages caused in previous weeks from panic buying, have had a serious impact on availability within the fruit and veg industry as a whole.
Arguably, broccoli has been the worst effected over the last few weeks. Given the extremity of short supply, prices have almost quadrupled. However, an ease in price is expected in the early weeks of May. Similarly, for cauliflower too. However, the UK main crop on both is still 4-6 weeks away.
Carrots and potatoes are still tricky as supply shortens and we await the UK season to start.
Peppers are proving problematic as the season has all but finished in Spain and we move onto Holland for supply. The quality of produce is very good. However, availability is short while we wait for the main crop to come through.
Some cabbages are also a problem on the back of the consistent rainfall throughout February, delaying the crop and limiting availability.
Citrus produce as well as apples will see an increase on price from May onwards. The Northern Hemisphere season is coming to an end and we are moving to South America and South Africa for supply over the coming months until late summer/early autumn.
Moving onto some good news, we have some produce with an abundance of supply, good quality and sensible prices including Grapes, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Courgettes, Aubergines and Jersey Royals.
Given some of the potato issues faced in previous weeks, we will finish with a little bit more on the fabulous, unique potato that is the Jersey Royal…
“The first kidney-shaped Jersey Royals that arrive around now always seem like little capsules of hope, banishing winter and ushering in the spring. Their sweet, earthy flavour brings promise of warm sun on the skin, tennis whites, and the aroma of freshly mown grass. Jersey Royals are here, spring has sprung” (Clare Hargreaves, Countryfile).
As their name suggests, these creamy-white, waxy potatoes come from the Channel Island of Jersey, where the mild climate allows their precocious growth well ahead of mainland early spuds. They’ve been grown in Jersey since the 19th century but, like many great inventions, the potato’s beginnings were an accident – in fact its original name was Jersey Royal Fluke.
It all began with a post-ploughing supper thrown by a Jersey farmer called Hugh de la Haye in 1879. The conversation turned to spuds, and Hugh showed his guests two freakishly large potatoes he had been given. One had 15 ‘eyes’, just waiting for new plants to sprout, so he cut them up and stuck each of the eyes in the ground to see what would happen. The following spring a crop appeared, and while most of the potatoes were round, some had the characteristic kidney shape of what would later become known as the Jersey Royal.
The new spud may have been small and strangely shaped, but the wonderful taste was an instant hit both at home and on the mainland. By the late 1890s, annual exports had rocketed to nearly 67,000 tonnes. Today, exports total between 30,000 and 40,000 tonnes, because the amount of agricultural land on the island has decreased as the population has increased.
Along with milk and cream, Jersey Royals are one of the island’s gastronomic trump cards. The potato’s delicate flavour cannot be beaten or replicated – literally, as it is the only British vegetable to have coveted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which safeguards it against imitations.
Jersey Royals (never call them Jersey Royal potatoes) are still grown on small plots in much the way they have been grown for the past 120 years, using local vraic seaweed as a natural fertiliser, which adds to the taste. The earliest potatoes are lifted by hand – so delicate are their skins that they must be cosseted. To minimise bruising, the harvester digs under the crop and lifts the potatoes up, so they are cushioned by soil.
The potatoes are ideally suited to the island’s conditions. The soil is fertile, the climate is warm, and the island is made up of valleys that generally all slope southwards – allowing the soil to be drenched in sunshine.
The potatoes are planted early January and lifting them begins in early April. The last Jerseys are harvested at the end of June, after which seed is kept for next year’s crop. Freshness is key to enjoying the Jerseys’ earthy flavour and this flavour to some really is the first taste of spring.