Borough Market and Franchi Seeds celebrate fruit and vegetables in all their glorious diversity with a new pop-up in the Market Hall: Jojo Tulloh, author of The Modern Peasant and recent winner of the F&M Cookery Writer Award, pops by to see what it’s all about
Words: Jojo Tulloh
If you’ve ever had a go at growing your own, you’ll know how hard it is to create the kind of perfection that’s on display at Borough Market year-round. One of the joys of shopping here is the wide range of superlative seasonal fruit and vegetables available without any of the hard slog of producing them. Sometimes, however, it’s good to be reminded that without seeds of every variety, the Market’s stalls would be empty.
Shoppers are being given a very colourful nudge in that direction via the Franchi Seeds‘ pop-up, Seed Embassy, which is running in the Market Hall until 29th June.
The pod entices would-be growers to browse Franchi’s Eden Project range, inspired by the Mediterranean biome at the Eden Project in Cornwall, featuring the likes of muscade de Provence pumpkin seeds, San Marzano tomato seeds from Bolsena, and basil from Portofino.
It’s a timely event. The rattle of seeds in a packet has to be one of the most hopeful sounds in the world. Planting a seed is a contract with the future to keep tending your garden, even in dark times. Borough Market development officer David Matchett agreed: “It’s all about hope and looking forward. Seeds are representative of sustainability and bio diversity—these are key values of Borough Market.”
Celebration of regional variety
We were gathered in the Market Hall on a hot Tuesday night, at a party hosted by Paolo Arrigo of Franchi Seeds, to talk vegetables and celebrate regional variety. The mood was set with plenty of prosecco and classic Italian melodies, courtesy of accordion player (and keen tomato grower) Romano Viazzani.
“The first to step towards good food is planting a seed,” said guest of honour Antonio Carluccio. He asked me what I grew on my allotment and when I mentioned cardoons, I got two wonderful recipes straight from the horse’s mouth.
This passion to share your knowledge seems to be universal among gardener-cooks. It’s inspiring to get serious and highly specific about what we grow. As cooks and eaters, we’ve re-learnt the lesson supermarkets helped us to forget—that fruit and vegetables taste best eaten in season—now, it’s time to get a little more selective.
“Seed to plate is what we do,” said Paolo Arrigo, “it’s all about provenance and regionality—we don’t sell bog-standard varieties.” He is proud of Franchi’s Slow Food accreditation. “Slow Food is about artisan production and biodiversity,” added chair of Slow Food UK Shane Holland. “The link between seeds and food is obvious, but Franchi are the only ones doing it.”
The Italian Riviera
Gordon Seabright, chief executive at the Eden Project, had come up from Cornwall especially to support Borough Market and Franchi Seeds. “When you eat a meal in our restaurant, you are surrounded by beautiful plants grown from Franchi seeds. It’s as close as you’ll get to the Italian Riviera in England and we are thrilled with this partnership.”
One of the other reasons for this party was to preview the Franchi Seeds show garden at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. The theme is ‘kitchen garden’ (a kitchen literally planted up as a garden), with strawberry plants pouring out of jam pans, tea plants in a teapot, watercress in a sink and a colourful floor of pasted-on seed packets.
The garden is the brainchild of Maureen Chapman. “I hope it will make people giggle,” she said. It’s the third garden Maureen’s made with Franchi Seeds (a previous one featured planted up piano accordions), but this one is a little bit different.
Maureen has a new job with Autism Plus, a charity that supports young adults with autism and learning difficulties. Maureen’s project, Easiworks, is a social enterprise based just outside the North Yorkshire market town of Easingwold, which teaches horticultural skills. As well as growing all the plants for the garden, Easiworks’ users sell all their surplus plants on a market stall.
The plants for the show garden have all been grown from Franchi Seeds, with the majority from the Eden Project range. Two of Maureen’s favourites are the white-flowered squash serpente di Sicilia or ‘Sicilian snakes’, and the cavolo nero, nero di Toscana. “It’s so beautiful, so sculptural,” said Maureen of the latter.
But while she’s enjoying making the garden for Franchi, it’s the dramatic effect horticulture has had on the young people she’s working with that’s been most inspiring. “For me it’s not about winning a medal. It’s the amazing feeling of pride. The thing I’ve loved seeing is their awakening.”
Whether you visit RHS Hampton Court to see the Franchi show garden or head down to Borough Market to pick up a packet of seeds or buy yourself a bag of Kentish cherries, some peas from Essex or cider from Somerset, you’ll find that taking time to think about where the fruit and vegetables you grow or eat come from can only bring a deeper level of pleasure and enjoyment. It’s good to remind yourself that one of the best things in life is also one of the simplest: fresh fruit and vegetables in season, grown with love.