Fruit and Veg

July's Fruit and Veg Market Report

Written by Tom Moggach
July 01, 2011

Memories are long on the Market. Its atmosphere and trade are built on friendships, companies, rituals and history that stretch way back.

But few memories rival that of John Watts, 80, who began work as a Market porter more than 60 years ago. This month, I finally met him for a chat in his office above the Buyers' Walk.

Awash with glorious fruit

First, though - to the cherries. The all-too-brief Kentish season has arrived, and the Market is awash with the glorious fruit. Taste your way carefully to find top quality.

"[Price] all depends on grower and varieties," explains Eddy Barrett, manager on H.G.Walker.

White currants are another English treat, and the most classy fruit to garnish a plate. (Sold by tray or punnet; Dutch also available).

Gooseberries - my favourites - are for sale in various grades and colours, from culinary to sweet purple dessert varieties or the late-season Leveller.

They will stretch until the middle of the month, at the latest.

Tomatoes, of course, are well-priced and excellent quality. English peas and salads are abundant. Summer carrots and beetroot are available in the range of colours, from golden to purple.

Terrific flat peaches (Spanish or superior French), purple garlic and fresh borlotti beans are another highlight.

It’s your last chance for British asparagus, mainly from the Wye Valley.

'Plenty of characters'

It’s the porters, of course, who carry your orders to customers’ vehicles. I bumped into Steve Russell, one of the younger generation, as he deftly maneuvered his fork lift outside.

The best bits about your job? "Plenty of characters," he replies. "There’s a hell of a lot of banter ... You also get free fruit and veg – that’s appreciated."

Later, I visit John’s office. He is now branch secretary of the porters’ Unite union and works every Thursday from 5:30am. The walls are decorated with framed old photos of Market life.

John worked for many years in the old market, slap bang in the heart of London. Back then, he recalls, the selection was far smaller. British tastes were less exotic.

When he first saw mushrooms, he had to ask his salesman how they tasted. ("The average working class person could never afford them.")

Avocadoes were another mystery; salads were invariably Cos lettuce and tomatoes. "Now the variety is unbelievable," he says.

Around 130 porters now work at New Covent Garden. "Portering is part of the lifeblood of the Market". The role is now less arduous, as his deputy Jim Hounsell then explained. Pulling heavy barrows up James Street was no joke, he says.

Both still describe this as the 'new' market, even though it’s been on site for 37 years. It just goes to show how each market is unique: "There is a vast difference in each market – the characters, the salesman … [Markets] develop their own way of life," concludes John.

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