The red van draws up by the kitchen window, and I know something is about to be delivered. The excitement of a parcel arriving never dulls for me. Before you protest, I don’t have a rampant internet shopping habit, it’s simply that I live in what the census would describe as ‘an isolated rural hamlet’, and the niceties of shopping civilisation are a long drive away.
Of all the things that arrive, the Friday delivery is my favourite. I can’t wait to rip off the tape and reveal the goodies inside. It might surprise you, if you don’t know me, to note that it is not clothes, shoes, household furnishings, or indeed, any commodity that might generally be thought to inspire glee, but rather a box of freshly picked, mostly UK grown, organic fruit and veg! As I peel back the tape and the prise open the cardboard and packaging, it feels like Christmas; even though I obviously know what I’ve ordered, the suspense is palpable.
Before you consign this article to the bin -though I would rather the compost heap- let me explain further. This time of year is not known for its wondrous abundance of fresh fruit and veg – most of the root veg are stored over winter, and there’s certainly no local fruit about, however, we are just beginning to see the first peeps of asparagus, and the blush of the first rhubarb; and purple sprouting broccoli –vastly superior to calabrese, in my view, the bog standard green broccoli on sale in supermarkets- is coming on stream, a saviour in the gap between the winter veg and spring greens. New season Scottish carrots are making an appearance, and the cauliflowers are superb. The local herb growers are producing the first bunches of the year, and this week I allowed myself a treat of the first lot of artichokes (albeit from Italy).
As I solicitously unpack this seasonal cornucopia, my mind starts racing with all manner of meal ideas, tasty treats and recipes. The delectable artichokes will be devoured for lunch tomorrow, with a garlic and herb oil, and maybe some bread, plucked leaf by leaf, until the prize of heart is discovered, and divvied up for dunking; the cauli and coriander will make a delightfully fragrant curry along with store cupboard chickpeas, and the rhubarb, of course, will make a healthy, oaty crumble. The possibilities are endless, and my imagination takes flight!
I generally get a local organic veg box each week from The Natural Vegetable Company, but this is only available when I can collect it from town – an 80 mile round trip which is unjustifiable when I’m not at work. Otherwise, my Friday order from Real Foods is the norm. The company has been established for 50 years, and excels at supplying fresh local organic veg from their Edinburgh store. Although they do stock some imported items, their extensive fruit and veg list is based largely on UK suppliers, often local, so the list is predominantly seasonal. For me, this is what makes the deliveries so exciting: the first rhubarb and asparagus, the last of the Seville oranges – for a whole year- and when the time is right we will get the first strawberries and Scottish raspberries. It’s inspiring. The same can’t be said of the supermarket fruit and veg aisle, and whilst I won’t make this a ‘bash the supermarket’ moment, there is no way they can compete with the freshness and vitality of this calibre of fresh produce. You will see exotic items from all over the globe, no doubt, but the quality is dubious –even though they may be the same shape and size- and the flavour is always a disappointment. A strawberry ‘fresh’ from a plastic punnet, is nothing like a ripe, un-refrigerated berry, carefully packed and rapidly shipped to the dribbling-mouthed recipient. For organic veg you will probably find that the price of a box from a local box scheme, or a local supplier, or farm shop selling their own produce, is very favourable compared to supermarket equivalents, and very often cheaper.
I would encourage you to give an organic veg box scheme a go. If you live in Scotland you can order from Real Foods, though if you’re concerned about food miles try a local scheme. Other national suppliers include Abel and Cole, and Riverford, both of whom I can recommend. Give it a go, and you could soon have your own box of delights racing its way to your door!