Package Holidays: The seeds that will bring the taste of a Continental getaway to your plate
Sunday 02 February 2014
In the middle of the night, hidden beneath the covers, I start laughing at the idea of anyone else finding out what I'm Googling. No, I'm not funding the dark web, I'm not streaming illegal stuff of any kind, I'm not even shopping for kittens; I'm soothing my troubled insomniac brow on frenchclick.co.uk, gazing at things formerly only purchasable in French supermarkets, now brought all the way across the Channel to my London front door – with no delivery charge on orders of more than £35. (More than £35? Pah. I can spend over £35 on biscuits alone in a French supermarket.)
As well as deranged sleepless excitement, I have an odd feeling of regret about this development. Surely holiday food is for, well, holidays? For looking forward to all year, and then over-indulging for a weight-swelling fortnight before returning to the grey aisles of British superstores. Yet more and more of us are coming back from a trip abroad with culinary daydreams they'd like to make real: packets of local specialities, even seeds.
One of the holiday treats Frenchclick can't (yet) quite replicate about France itself is those big market trays of mixed salad leaves, loose and waiting. This is one area where the modern gardener has a huge advantage over pretty much all shops, because cut leaves last only hours before starting to wilt.
Suttons does a nice "French Mix" with some baby spinach, fine chervil and a bit of rocket: that's a good green salad, I'd say. Ready within two to three weeks, at £2.55 for 1,000 seeds, you are going to grow beaucoup salade for the price of two supermarket bags.
For an even Frenchier mesclun, I prefer Dobies' Leaf Salad French seeds mix, at £1.85, which has a few of those pretty burgundy leaves, red batavian lettuce, and a baby radicchio, to give bistro authenticité. But you could also concoct your own leaf-salad mix, beginning with one of those utterly Français butterhead-type lettuces with big floppy leaves to mop up oil and vinegar. "Rouge de Montpelier", a fine wine-coloured lettuce, comes from Seeds of Italy (paradoxically) for £1.99 a packet, or for the same price it also does another Rouge "Grenobloise", a French "Alpine" lettuce to perfectly suit our constantly disappointing climate.
Baby Italian kale (pictured) is another good salad addition, and you couldn't find a better supplier than Seeds of Italy, which does a packet for £1.99. To use raw, this needs to be picked very young, while the leaves are just a fingerlength. Yum. And for me a French salad needs to have some "mâche", as they like to call lamb's lettuce. Again Seeds of Italy does a great one, "Verte de Cambrai", which can be sown from March, giving tiny soft leaves with a melting flavour when just picked: £1.99 for a packet of plenty.
But look, if all this sounds a bit daunting, check out Seeds of Italy's "Easy to Grow" selection, giving you batavia, chicory, escarole, mâche and even plain ole "Salad Bag" for £1.85 each.
Where I tend to really get in trouble is the tomato seeds. I'm not going to complain (too much) about British supermarket suppliers, which have done a pretty good job of widening our options in the UK. But then I go to France and stand in the shops wanting to weep over how many more tomatoes they get to choose from. How much more delicious can you get than Tomato "St Pierre" (£1.99, Seeds of Italy), a good French salad tomato for sowing right now?. This tomato is the rock upon which my salad is founded, etc. Now pass the vinaigrette.
MIXED SALAD FROM POLAND TO JAPAN
Polish Radish Szlata
Let's agree that the Poles know their pickles, and embrace this golden yellow radish. Can be sown from March to August. £2.49, seedsofitaly.com
From Japan, Shungiku is a salad addition that does well in spring-growing weather. Also nice shredded in a stir-fry. £1.29 a packet, realseeds.co.uk
Easy red and Green
This will grow really nicely in a balcony windowbox or flower pot with just a little sun, so there's no excuse not to give it a go. £1.85, seedsofitaly.com
Mix in a little of this and it would make even a plate of iceberg taste French, it's so evocative of flavour. £1.99, seedsofitaly.com
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