Italy from Seed to Plate

On 15 February CHAPS members were treated to an excellent talk and entertainment by Paolo Arrigo of Franchi Seeds. We were taken through a brief history of seeds learning that the UK had native seeds for cabbage, lettuce, beans and parsnips which were then added to by the Romans. Parsnips are a peculiarly British vegetable. Emperor Tiberius loved parsnips and took seeds to Germany and had them grown there and delivered to him on mainland Europe. Even now you will find it difficult to buy parsnips outside the UK.
Vegetable growing in the UK became important during the Boer War when the lack of health and fitness in the soldiers became apparent. This was reinforced during WWI when the government realised that something had to be done about food production to stave off starvation. During WWII there was Dig for Victory and the Ministry of Food providing recipes to help people cook nutritious meals. Vegetables were the only foodstuff not rationed. In 1954 food rationing ended and this spelled the beginning of the end for allotments – things have now changed and there are long waiting lists for allotments.
Before WWII there were 40 British suppliers of vegetable seeds. Now there are none. China is the biggest supplier of seeds. As seeds sold in the UK are not produced here many seeds readily available are not appropriate for our climate. Franchi Seeds are all produced in Italy where the alpine climate means a lot of Italian seed varieties are very hardy and suited to UK weather.
The messages we left with were:
• Check the seed packets for country of origin and consider that country’s climate in relation to ours
• Store seeds in a cool dry place and plant them before the expiry date
• Many vegetables need frost or cool conditions so be sure to plant at the most appropriate time
Paolo had brought along his 90-year-old accordion beginning and ending the talk with a very enjoyable musical section.