England has many things that define it and things that are ‘national’ staples. Our national drink is tea (originally from India and China), our national sport is football (FIFA have acknowledged that the Chinese game of Cuju is the first example of ‘modern football’), our national meal is the Tikka Masala (an Indian dish devised to cater to the English love of all things gravy) and our national flower is a rose (almost all native roses are from Asia and mainland Europe or the New World).
One thing we are missing is a national vegetable. We seem to be lacking something that symbolises us as a nation in a veg form.
There is where the slight issue with this need for a national veg starts to show itself; not many vegetables are indigenous to England. They were bought here by invaders and explorers alike throughout history. We see peas and carrots coming from Syria and Afghanistan respectively. Garlic has been claimed by the French as a native plant, leeks are that of the Welsh and potatoes are from the Andes and were brought to Europe by the Spanish in the back half of the 16th Century.
The Welsh are, to be fair, the only country to have a national vegetable. All of the other countries that make up the United Kingdom have been assigned flowers, much like most of the word, that tie into their patron saints. Wales has the daffodil, Scotland the thistle and the Scottish bluebell (yes, they have two), England the rose and Northern Ireland have the shamrock.
So none of the vegetables you would consider ‘traditionally British’ are that. As a nation though we should make a choice, it may not be from our country but we still have learnt to love it and make it our own. Obviously though potatoes seem like a easy choice, they are delicious and versatile. However I feel that Ireland’s historic relationship with the potato would be like getting with your friend’s ex after they have broken up – not too cool. Although it would also be nice to help take the stereotype away from Ireland about potatoes, after all they were not the only people affected by the famine, just the worst affected.
So what does that actually leave us with?
Well asparagus is a good choice, we do grow the best in the world – specifically in a two month period but nevertheless it is outstanding. Apart from being a little woody in texture and making your urine more vibrant in odour it is a perfectly good vegetable to pick. It symbolises the craftsmanship and dedication of the people of England; just watching asparagus pickers on the One Show a few months back indicated to me that there is more to this veg than previously assumed. One down side is that there is an elitism to how to pick the crop. They all have to be the same size, or worth, to be considered for selling (I know this happens with almost all veg) but asparagus farmers take the biscuit with this. The slight window in harvesting is around St. George’s Day, obvious connection to national patron saint day is too obvious to be ignored making it a strong contender.
Broccoli is actually quite versatile. Along with cauliflower, which the two are not as closely related as you may expect. These can be covered in delicious cheese sauce or steam cooked perfectly with a slight crispness. Perhaps roasted and put with a salad – hey, do not judge me on that check out roasted cauliflower and chickpea salad recipes, they are delicious. With the growing popularity between health nuts about broccoli and cauliflower rice as a healthy alternative for the starchy grain, why should we turn down the opportunity to back such a trendy vegetable? We could change the way people thought of these vegetables. Inspire children to learn to love them as they would a chicken nugget.
Spinach and/or kale are similar to the broccoli and cauliflower outlook. These are trendy health foods and are actually really tasty. Spinach is perfectly delicious uncooked or cooked, put it in a cream cheese and salmon sandwich and thank me later, or cook some and throw it in a tomato pasta sauce or curry. Heck, blend them in a smoothie and take them to wherever you have to be in the morning. Kale is a little bit more intense. It is a more woody than spinach and steaming it or frying it in garlic butter to go with a roast (I know, not that healthy but everyone is allowed a cheat day) and you have a delicious side to go with any major meal.
Vegetables are not as heavily favoured as fruit is, everyone wants an apple or a banana. We, the British public, need to find a new passion for the humble veg and change our attitudes toward them as not only necessary but also different in flavours and textures. Black berries are native to the English countryside. Hedgerows of blackberries and nettles is all we seem to have – and though not vegetables these should be celebrated for being able to remain part of the iconic scenery of our countrysides.
Traditional English cooking leaves little to the imagination, often filled with drab colours and bland flavours – there is not many traditional dishes to be named after all. Pies were a French way of carrying stew, they would remove the lid before eating the filling and discard the pastry (though the pastry was only made of flour and water and not much else). Fish and chips come our way thanks to Jewish immigrants. Like the French with pies, they would remove the batter, which was only there to hold the fish, and eat the fish inside. However with both of these English people learnt to love the fatty pastry and batter, which did improve over time but only because we insisted on eating it. I would be darned if the only truly English food was jellied eels, offered traditionally in the East End of London. It seems to sum most things up in terms of ‘English cooking’ in my mind. Give me an exquisite Italian dish or a generous helping of a earthy-flavoursome Moroccan dinner any day and I will be happy.
We may not seem to have a wide range of things are truly, genuinely ‘English’. Though there is a slight sense of irony in that. We are a nation of diversity and change. Should we really be bolstered down with a singular vegetable to identify with?
As we continue to travel through the 21st Century we should probably consider our ethnically diverse landscape and embrace the range and scope of what is on offer to us. Spices, herbs, fruit and vegetables allow us to experiment in different ways with new and exciting flavours and textures.
Maybe it is time to crack open the polling stations once more and it should be put to a vote, allow the nation to decide, or maybe we should just leave it alone, and let the individual decide when they choose. Although widespread riots over broccoli, probably would not be too welcome – if not a slight change of pace from Brexit and other national affairs.
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