I bet on horses twice a year: The Grand National, and Cheltenham Gold Cup. Having blown a whole tenner on some daft nag at Cheltenham (I think he’s probably still trying to find the finishing line), I shovelled copious amounts of well rotted gee-gee dung on to my veg patch and thought to myself, ‘this is all they’re useful for’.
By bespattering half of my garden with semi-digested straw I welcome in spring and think about the treats that lie ahead. New potatoes will probably go in first after they’ve enjoyed a good chit on a warm window-sill. To remind myself just how lovely a home grown early spud is, I bought myself a bag of Jersey Royals, which as they have done every year for the last decade or so, bought nothing but disappointment in the eating.
I’m not one for gastronomic nostalgia – very few things tasted better back in the good old days – but Jerseys sure as heck used to be so much tastier. Mr Farmer the greengrocer tells me that they no longer use seaweed (or vraic, as they call it over there) as a fertiliser, a fact that used to contribute to their unique and delicious flavour. Whatever the reasons, until my own taters are ready I’ll be unfashionably opting for the imported Majorcan earlies, which taste like a new potato ought to. Stuff the air miles, quite frankly.
I’ll also be getting my onion sets in soon, although I’m not really sure why I bother growing a vegetable that can be bought so cheaply and ubiquitously. You pop a baby onion in the ground, wait a few months, you pull up a bigger one. Pretty boring horticulture really.
However, the onion is the one vegetable, and possibly any ingredient, that gets more use in my kitchen than any other.
Pretty much every meal I prepare will involve this most handy of all alliums, although more often than not it plays an essential, but cameo role. Think of Ghostbusters without Dr Egon Spengler. See? It’s unimaginable. Well, that’s the onion. Often appearing alongside carrots and celery in a classic mirepoix or sofrito in braises, soups and stews, an onion will provide savoury bottom notes when cooked soft and slow without being allowed to take on colour and caramel flavours.
I should let onions play the protagonist more frequently. Baked whole with cream and cheese, pureed to go with lamb, I love a deep French onion soup, a sticky tangle on a pissaladiere (a southern French - and utterly delicious – version of pizza). Yummy yum. Perhaps it is worth growing a few of my own after all.