Did the wealthy and well fed eat courgettes with their silver spoons in Davos? Only they could afford them.
George Soros didn’t mention courgettes in his after dinner speech at the Davos Economic Forum. He predicted that Donald Trump will fail in his trade war and that Theresa May’s government will fall over Brexit but he overlooked one commodity making a lot of money at the moment. Courgettes have quadrupled in price. This has been the week of the courgette crisis.
It is Britain’s tenth most popular vegetable. It grows anywhere, mixes into any dish and can be spiralized by the fashion conscious. Courgettes are a key ingredient in the January health recovery plan but you will struggle to find one in your supermarket today. The price has rocketed and the shelves are bare.
Floods and then snow in southern Spain have ruined the courgette crop and the little baby marrows will not be back in the shops at a reasonable price for months to come. To keep up to date, follow #courgettecrisis .
My crisis strategy has been to sign up for a supply of locally produced organic vegetables from The Paddock at High Spen. The proprietor, young entrepreneur of the year Laura Jayne Burlison, brings round a box with a smile every Thursday night.
Laura is scathing about the courgette crisis. Her grandparents never eat courgettes in January. They waited until the British season started in June. Instead Laura offers Jerusalem artichokes and purple sprouting broccoli and tells me to spiralize a purple carrot instead.
Courgettes are big in Denmark. The latest Scandinavian craze sweeping the country is ‘folkeligt’ which is the warm sense of pride that comes from eating courgettes and other organic vegetables. The Danes celebrate Okodag or Organic Day every Spring when the cows are put back out to pasture. They spend £141 per head a year on organic food whereas we weigh in at a measly £24. That is all about to change, thanks to what may be one the last scheme funded in Brussels, as a £9m campaign persuades us to go folkeligt. Hygge is old hat.
There are questions about whether organic produce is all that it seems and whether the price is payable but the arrival of odd shaped root vegetables and muddy potatoes on the doorstep is so much more heartening and infinitely more tasty than picking up perfect produce flown into our supermarkets from all over the world.
Up the road in Finland, another crazy idea is being piloted. Out of work Finns will receive a guaranteed minimum income for two years even if they get a job. It will transform the demeaning way we treat people all too often regarded as scroungers. The Scots are interested and I hope it catches on here too.
Mr Woodreeve’s courgettes
Matthew the Woodreeve went folkeligt years ago . His secret round acre small holding somewhere in the Tyne Valley surely includes a courgette crop. Woodreeves are ancient keepers of the forest and Matthew’s story is told in my friend Robert Bluck’s first novel, Mr Woodreeve’s Reflection. The book is launched tonight after 150 odd subscribers to Robert’s crowdfunding appeal allow Unbound to publish it.
The story is set west of Hexham in locations you almost recognise. I think I have tracked down Mathew’s cottage but I am not giving anything away. Mr Woodreeve is an utterly absorbing romp of a read with a clever plot revealed in a succession of secret letters and only unravelled on the final page.
All too often books promoted as dealing with family secrets are full of fear and foreboding but in this case the secrets are joyous and life enhancing. There is a mysterious, supernatural element in the story as well which challenges the reader to see the world differently. It has taken Robert five years to write and is a triumph.
Lew Feldstein’s zucchini festival
My old friend and one time colleague, Lew Feldstein, also a courgette champion though, as an American, he calls them zucchini. The courgette seed originally came from the Americas but became popular in Italy in the late nineteenth century under its more appealing name of zucchini. Lew once put a sleepy New Hampshire town on the map by starting an annual zucchini festival showing that the courgette can lead to urban regeneration.
Lew spoke at a conference in Newcastle nine years ago alongside the political scientist Robert Putnam about how communities rich in courgettes will prosper. Over dinner afterwards, they told the story of how a young and unknown black politician had joined their prestigious civic leadership seminar at Harvard. No one had heard of the junior senator from Illinois but within a year Obama had won everyone round and become the most respected person in the group.
Barack Obama had then just won the nomination. Feldstein and Puttnam feared for the future of their protégé and worried that expectations would be far too high. I thought of Lew this weekend and wondered if, like me, he had smiled at George’s Soros’s prediction. In these extreme and frightening times, we have to hang on to the hope that the green sprouts of courginis will break through the ground again.
Published in Newcastle Journal 24th January 2017