Love may be fickle, but the fourteenth of February is still a reliable date. Handily set mid-month, it helps to perk up sales during an otherwise low key time of year.
The flower market, of course, gets the lion’s share. But the fruit and veg traders also benefit, and it’s more than just strawberries. "It creates about a week … of busier activity," explains Damian Fowler, director at wholesaler Gilgrove.
My crushes this month are all about colour – forced rhubarb, blood oranges, purple sprouting and red curly kale, all ravishing on the plate.
As I’ve wandered the market, I’ve also been thinking about the wider picture: how supplies into the market illustrate the impact of world events. More on that later.
Yorkshire rhubarb growers, such as E Oldroyd and Sons, are still celebrating last year’s award of EU protected status for their unique product.
The Timperley Early variety came in first, with Stockbridge Harbinger and Reeds Early Superb typically next. Thicker stalks are more pricey than the thin.
For blood oranges, Moro (the darkest) and Tarocco (sweeter, less colour) from Italy are the two most common varieties you’ll find.
British purple sprouting has been as rare as hen’s teeth, after the cold wiped out many crops. At the end of last month, I spotted a small batch arrive from the more benign microclimate of Cornwall.
"It was here ten minutes and it’s sold already," said salesman Justin Denyer at S Thorogood and Sons. Prices should now have settled down.
Red curly kale is another beauty, one of the wide range of home-grown brassicas available.
Other winter veg is still going strong, although maincrop spuds are rising in price as stores run low. Romanesco, with those sculptural lime-green florets, is a classy choice.
'Raw form of futures broking'
As for the bigger picture, it’s surprising how the two markets – flowers and fruit and veg - are sometimes linked together.
Take mange tout and sugar snaps, for example.
Much comes airfreight from Kenya, where roses are also big business. These flowers are pre-booked onto flights in time for Valentines, which can then squeeze out space for the veg – leading to erratic supply and higher prices.
Deluges and extreme weather has caused havoc with some fruit. Melons from Brazil have been affected. Watermelons are particularly tight. ("I’ve never known them to be so dear," says salesman Bill Oakden at The French Garden.)
Bananas (hurricanes in the Caribbean) have been more expensive than usual.
Over at Thorogood, Justin went on to describe how sourcing product tunes him in to the global climate, weather and changes in temperature.
"You see it all changing," he reflected, as he tries to predict shortfalls ahead. "It’s a raw form of futures broking."
Have your say
What are your top tips for fruit and veg this month? And what are you looking forward to sourcing?
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