People accustomed to eating seasonally are at least familiar with the term “Hungry Gap” – that period in early summer where last year’s stores run bare before the new season crops are ready to bring in. The term refers to the “staples”: potatoes, carrots, onions, apples: but the vast majority of our fruit and veg has its season, and, conversely, its own “gap”.
Small scale growers like us have begun to master the art of all-year-round salad leaves, as the public begins to welcome this fresh handout of winter vitamins. This is done by gradually replacing ageing lettuce, mibuna etc. throughout the spring and summer, thus ensuring a steady supply of an ever evolving mix. This is fairly straight forward, or rather would be if I was more organised, but the winter salads are a bit trickier.
You see, in the UK there is a growing season, and therefore a growing gap. Put simple and starkly, nothing bothers to grow much for a good five months of the year. The key to providing winter salads then, is to have all plants well established by October to enable light cropping in the coming dark months. Plant too early, and they try to run to flower before the dormant season; too late, and they remain tiny seedlings, sitting there helplessly as the blizzards descend. What this means is that, at this time of year, most of the leaves have to be replanted in one fell swoop rather than gradual succession, then we have to wait a month for them to get to harvesting size.This, my friends, is the Salad Gap, and we are slap bang in the middle of it.
This is not to say there are absolutely no leaves to be had: we’ve been scraping together a motley assortment to meet our regular commitments, but I can’t pretend, as I normally do, that they represent a crafted blend of well-balanced flavours, textures and colour. So last week, with a cry of “let them eat tomatoes and cucumbers!”, we sent no salad bags to the stall or box scheme.
There has been a small outcry over this, so we’ll be sending salad gap bags to the stall this week, only I’d advise people to “cut” them with a head of lettuce, and perhaps a dressing sweetened with honey or maple syrup. By the end of September normal salad service should be resumed , with the host of delightful winter leaves – miners lettuce, corn salad, endive, chicory, baby kale, rucola rocket – to provide some sort of crisp consolation in the dying days.