Living in a country where supermarket shelves are dominated by discounted and ‘value range’ fruit and vegetables, it’s nice to come across a story of reassuringly expensive food once in a while. Truffles may be famous for the high prices they command, but what about peas? How much would you be willing to pay for a particularly spectacular-tasting pea?
I came across this article thanks to a link tweeted by Emma Cooper (her own blog is pretty good for interesting food stories too). It tells the tale of a pea called guisante lágrima, or tear-shaped pea. These highly prized vegetables grow in the Basque region where local the soil and climate, together with careful cultivation and a lot of hard work produce peas of remarkable flavour… at least that’s what I’ve read, it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever get to taste these peas myself. Add to this a short harvest season, proximity to some very good restaurants and a wee bit of clever marketing and the result is “vegetable caviar”. Isn’t it good to know that there are some food growers who are getting a fair price for their produce, and have customers who appreciate the work involved in producing their flavor-laden vegetables?
The story isn’t new of course, many years ago Yorkshire rhubarb was another food delicacy grown where local conditions came together to produce high quality harvests. Rhubarb likes the Yorkshire climate… yes, cold and lots of rain suit this plant. The soil it grew in was enriched with wool waste from the mills that were a major industry in the region at the time. The wool breaks down to provide nitrogen – important for strong growth in the leafy plants. Yorkshire was the first place where large sheds were built specifically for forcing rhubarb, and these shed could be heated with coal from mines in the area. So, all in all, growing conditions were near perfect. The coalfields also meant that there were good rail links, allowing the fresh pink stalks of rhubarb to be transported to the London markets in the fastest possible time. Times have changed – most of the mines and mills have closed, but forced Yorkshire rhubarb is still a seasonal delicacy that marks the end of winter.
There must be food stories like these across the world. Fruit, herbs and vegetables whose flavours are brought out by unique local growing conditions, and matched to the palates of consumers in the region. Anyone know of any more?