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Food & Drink

I’m not eating that!

October 5, 2013

Several times over the years I’ve been helping gardeners, I’ve heard the phrase “I’m not eating that”  whispered by newbies when they’ve spotted vegetables they don’t like the look of. Indeed I probably said it myself in years gone by.

At the end of this post there are two purple salad recipes made from this unappealing little Brassica pictured below but in the meantime, I’m wondering how many of you would be put off eating food because of its initial appearance?

Red Cabbage

Real Food: Red Cabbage

Many of us have grown up with perfectly shaped vegetables. We’ve become so acclimatised to the unblemished offerings sold to us in supermarkets that we’ve forgotten what real food grown without chemicals and treatments looks like. Peter Donegan of The Sodshow highlighted Ugly Veg back in 2011 and featured interviews from potato growers sharing just how much food is thrown away each year because it isn’t the perfect shape or size.

I’m now wondering how many cabbages are sent to compost heaps because they have a few holes in them.

Other things like our vegetables too...

Slugs, snails and insects like our vegetables too…

The reality of growing our own fruit and veg using organic principles is that sometimes they might not look very attractive. Most of them attract slugs and snails which slither and slime their way over the vegetables, having a munch as they do so. Butterflies land on the undersides of leaves, lay their eggs which hatch giving the tiny caterpillars an instant feed. As they grow they eat and poop, eat and poop leaving dark green cabbagy droppings all over the plant until those sweet little baby caterpillars that my daughter is so intent on rescuing, grow into cabbage destroying demons that pupate and fly away.  Real food is often holey, mucky and a bit ragged looking.

Cabbage white caterpillar rests next to a pile of it's excrement

Cabbage white caterpillar resting on a leaf next to another covered in dark green excrement

But here’s an admission. When I first started growing veg in our garden I remember turning my nose up too. I’d harvest the vegetables then look to see what might be lurking in them. I’d gingerly pick the caterpillars or slugs off with my thumb and index finger, shivering as I did so, then slowly chew each cooked, leafy mouthful with the desperate hope that I’d cleaned them properly. If only our great grandparents could see us, I’m sure they’d laugh or feel despair even at how soft and pampered we’ve become in our detachment from food.

Luckily I’m no longer squeamish and our children are growing up recognising real food. Once slugs and caterpillars have wiped out an entire crop that’s taken months to grow, fussiness quickly evaporate. We’ve learnt from experience that when we peel off a couple of layers, underneath we’ll likely find a perfect vegetable. If not, a good scrub with a stiff brush in the sink will soon sort them out..

Which is what happened when I took a good look at my favourite variety of cabbage pictured above.

In fact there was so much unblemished red cabbage beneath its tattered outer leaves, it made two very pretty purple seasonal salads that you might like to try.

Red Cabbage & Beetroot Salad

Red Cabbage & Beetroot Salad

Red Cabbage and Beetroot Salad


Half a red cabbage, sliced into bite sizes pieces
A couple of cooked beetroot (bake in the over or boil until cooked), thinly sliced or grated
A few thinly sliced gherkins

6 tbsp oil, extra olive or organic rapeseed
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp chopped dill

Place the beetroot, cabbage and gherkins into a serving bowl. Mix the dressing ingredients together until well combined then pour over.

Red Cabbage and Carrot Coleslaw Recipe

Red Cabbage Coleslaw Recipe

Red Cabbage & Cosmic Purple Carrot Coleslaw


Half a red cabbage, sliced and chopped into bite sized pieces
3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 onion
teaspoon wholegrain mustard
Mayonnaise (just enough to cover and bind everything, not swamp it.)


Mix all the ingredients together until thoroughly combined then season with freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.

So back to my original question, does it worry you how your vegetables look before they reach your kitchen?