London and Paris are closely intertwined; only two hundred miles separate the cities. So we’ve always shared the best of our cultures - including our finest fresh produce.
I’m just back from a visit over there, to meet traders who supply this Market. Links with French growers, I discovered, are stronger than ever.
Demand for different foods
For both countries, the season is just shifting into gear. Here in London, all the buzz is about the first 'grass' (asparagus) - a product that’s the envy of the French. More on this later...
Other highlights include native wild garlic, early broad beans and peas from the Continent, and rare fronds of Italian agretti, sold by L’Orto di Sorrento.
Rewind the centuries, and Covent Garden (trading on its old site) sold top fruit from France once our season was over. In the 1960’s, Parisian wholesalers flew in quality herbs for London chefs.
Today, the trade continues - and the product range has blossomed. Tastes and expectations have developed in London, explains Philip Marsh, managing director of The French Garden: "The cosmopolitan population of London demand different foods... quality is more important than price."
I met him in Rungis, the huge wholesale market on the edge of Paris. Here his company buys, packs and dispatches daily refrigerated lorries to Covent Garden. (European Salad Company also uses this supply route.)
'Mini' veg are bestselling lines - baby salad leaf, carrots, turnips, beets and the like. Some product is also shipped straight from the grower; special customer orders are fulfilled on request.
Salsify, purple cauliflower, shallots and garlic are among the produce currently on offer. Unseasonal sidelines include pastry, goose fat, dairy products, eggs and fresh yeast.
As for the asparagus, wholesalers at Covent Garden bring it in from a variety of growers. At Side Salads, salesman Simon Collier-Ward describes his grower J.W.Allen and Sons in Norfolk.
"He promised last year he would have it by the first of April, but he beat it by a few days," he says. The Norfolk soil is firm, which improves flavour, as the spears take longer to force their way through the ground.
Asparagus prices fluctuate depending on weather and product grade: cold patches reduce crops; wind can bend them out of shape.
To me, the unpredictability adds to the excitement. I’ve just gorged on my first bundle - the first of many in the month to come.
Have your say
What are you looking forward to this month? Leave us your thoughts and comments below.