Magazine article The Spectator

A Good Green Thing

Magazine article The Spectator

A Good Green Thing

Article excerpt

A small town in south-west Texas, not far from the Mexican border, will be holding its annual spinach festival this weekend. Quite inappropriately, it is called Crystal City, and describes itself as the spinach capital of the world - a claim which, for all I know, may well be justified. At any rate, while passing through Crystal City a couple of years ago, I was delighted to see a statue, put up in 1937, of the monocular, pipe-smoking sailor Popeye. I had no idea that he had been around for so long, or that, as a local resident informed me, the cartoon character was credited, in that prewar decade alone, with increasing the consumption of spinach in the USA by a third.

Apart from the iron and calcium and vitamins in spinach, I now read that a protein taken from it may be effective in curing an age-related eye disease which can lead to blindness. What a wonderful vegetable spinach is, even before we have mentioned its taste or its uses in cooking. Apparently it is to the Persians, or possibly the Moors, that we must give thanks for the introduction of spinach to Europe, where it became known in the 16th century. In Britain it was first regarded as medicinal, then used in tarts, well sweetened with sugar, spices and raisins. Nowadays spinach is used in almost everything except puddings.

There is some debate about the vegetable. The seed catalogues list a number of varieties and then go on to offer `Perpetual', which, they say, is not a 'true' spinach and is classified as spinach beet. Without wishing to quibble, I would say without hesitation that Perpetual is far and away the best variety to grow. It is almost true to its name, producing large leaves which keep on growing for most of the year. The more it is cut, the more vigorously it seems to come again, and we expect to go on enjoying the spinach sown in spring at least until Christmas.

If you buy spinach in a supermarket, the chances are that you will have to make do with a bag of silly little triangular leaves with long stalks, which boil down to almost nothing. To my mind, spinach beet, also known as seakale beet or Swiss chard, has a darker, crinkly leaf, and a thick white stem which some people like to cook separately. …

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