Britain’s great salad crisis, and other news from Britain

As I write this, the UK’s in the midst of a salad shortage. The critics are talking mostly about the tomatoes, but if you listen carefully (keep the noise down out there, will you?), you can hear the lettuces and all their salady friends singing backup.

What’s happening is that tomatoes are scarce, and if you find any on the store shelves they’re expensive. They’re also, as Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey informs us, sorry looking specifmens. 

How short are the shortages? Not long ago, I was in my local supermarket looking for what I call an eggplant and the British call an aubergine. When I couldn’t find it, I asked a guy stocking sliced meats nearby if I could ask him a fruit-and-veg question.

“We haven’t got any,” he said wearily.

Since the fruit and veg section wasn’t completely empty, I told him what I was looking for anyway and he pointed them out. He seemed to be relieved to get rid of me without hearing any more moaning about tomatoes.

Irrelevant photo: Lesser celandine–one of the first wildflowers of the season, currently appearing at the base of a hedgerow near you. Or if not near you, at least near me.

So where’d the tomatoes go? As usual, the answer depends on who you ask. Everyone agrees that cold weather in Spain and Morocco are part of the problem. Most will add that growers in Britain didn’t plant much–or anything–this season because at this time of year they have to grow the tender little beasts in heated greenhouses and high energy prices have made that somewhere in between not economically viable and too depressing to even hallucinate about. 

You could add, if you like, that climate change will be doing this sort of thing regularly and we might want to, ahem, think about that. Or you could skip that and ask the weary guy in the supermarket what’s happened to the tomatoes, hoping to get an answer you like better. 

UK growers will add that they’re being put off not only by high fuel prices but by the low prices that supermarkets are willing to pay them. Consumers will choke on their turnips and ask what low prices the growers have in mind, exactly, because prices have gone up to maybe-I’ll-make-you-a-salad-for-your-birthday levels.

Why am I talking about turnips? We’ll get to that.

Some people will add that Brexit has a lot to do with the shortages. It’s made the UK more difficult and more expensive to export to, so sellers move it to the back of the line (or queue if you’re British), and when a product is scarce guess who drops off. Reports from France say they have no shortages of salad veg, although the prices have gone up. 

But as any British news addict can tell you, Brexit was supposed to let the country negotiate more favorable trade deals than it had in the EU. What happened? My impression is that it hasn’t been a screaming success. The new deal with Morocco has apparently made us harder to trade with, not easier, again moving us to the back of the line. 

Sorry, I don’t know the details of the deal and don’t have the oomph it would take to chase them down, that’s why I dropped in a well-worn apparently. I trust they’re suitably absurd.

Since we’ve been having shortages of fairly random products for some time now (I work at our village shop and it makes me aware of how random they are, and how frequent), we could expand the question and add that the just-in-time business model means any hiccup in the supply chain (Covid, anyone?) will lead to shortages of all sorts of products.

It wouldn’t be hard to find people who’ll add that it’s not a viable long-term strategy to depend as heavily as the UK does on India, China, and other countries that produce goods cheaply and ship them long distances. 

But back to our salad crisis: The environment minister, Therese Coffey, is trying to guide us through it by encouraging us to eat less imported food and cherish our turnips, which grow locally in whatever ridiculous weather we throw at them. 

Are we cherishihng them? Well, the head of an organic vegetable box delivery company is all for eating locally but said, “Winter turnips are an abomination. . . . We don’t grow them. Wouldn’t want to inflict them on our customers.”

Coffey’s intervention hasn’t quieted the tomatoratti, but that’s okay, she didn’t expect to. The government strategy is to keep us making jokes about turnips until warmer weather comes, when the government will claim credit for the victorious return of salad. Any day now, they’ll point that the shortage started under Tony Blair and was Labour’s fault. 


To ease us through these trying times, the Guardian devoted a two-page spread to recipes that substitute everything short of socket wrenches for tomatoes. You can, it turns out, make a red pasta sauce out of carrots, celery, butternut squash, and beets–or as the British call them, beetroot. Add vinegar, olive oil, honey, onion, and garlic. Cook everything, blitz it, add fine herbs, and then, whatever you do, don’t serve it to me. I’d get as much joy out of cooking my spaghetti with red food coloring.

You could also forgo the redness and make a sauce involving butternut squash, egg yolks, and yogurt. Or one that uses onion, carrots, ground beef, toasted oats, and black pudding.

I know, I shouldn’t dismiss this stuff without trying it, but I’ve been cooking long enough and I’ve lived in Britain long enough to have learned–or to think I’ve learned–when to look a recipe in the eye and say, “Sorry, but the kitchen is closed for repairs.”

Is it a cheap shot to make fun of British cooks and their recipes? Probably, but they do seem to get carried away with themselves. I mean, surely there are a hundred non-tomato ways to serve noodles without resorting to beets or black pudding. And I don’t say that to diminish Britain as a nation. It’s a wonderful country and I hope it survives the current government, but that doesn’t mean I have to retire my taste buds.

I’d love to give you a link to the article but I couldn’t find it online. Do you suppose someone thought better of it?


And since we’re talking about British politics…

I haven’t written about the Monster Raving Loony Party since early in my blogging non-career, when I had only three followers. Now that I’m up to four, one of which is a lawnmower company that subscribed but never hits Like, so I have to assume they don’t read the posts–

Where were we? Surely it’s time to detour back to that most British of political parties.

The Monster Raving Loonies were formed 40 years ago, in, um, whatever year that was (it’s 2023 now, in case that helps), when David Sutch ran in a Bermondsey by-election under the name Screaming Lord Sutch. 

He’d been running since the 1960s, primarily as a way to publicize his music, although you could probably say that his political non-career eclipsed his musical one. 

Or skip the “probably. Of course you could say it. The question is, would you be right? I haven’t a clue. The point is that this time it was different: He wasn’t running as one lone loony, he was at the forefront of an entire party of loonies.

In its 40 years, the party’s run candidates in 76 by-elections (they’re the off-schedule ones that happen when an incumbent dies or is convicted of larceny and needs to be replaced) and in every general election. Its candidates have included R. U. Seerius, the Flying Brick, Bananaman Owen, Mad Cow-Girl, Sir Oink A-Lot and Lady Lily The Pink. Not one of them has won and the party’s current leader, Howling Laud Hope, says that any candidate getting too many votes will be kicked out.

Embarrassingly, some of its policies have become law, including pet passports (adopted in 2000), a change to pub opening hours (adopted in 2005), and giving the vote to 16-year-olds (okay, only in some elections and only in Scotland and Wales, but still). The last change must’ve been too much for the party, because it’s now calling for 5-year-olds to be given the vote. 

The country’s current political state doesn’t make a good argument for adult competence, so I could be won over on this one. 

Howling Laud Hope now describes his party as the official think tank of Parliament.

It’s proposing a high-speed rail line to the Falkland Islands and “a year off from listening to our politicians.”

In 1985, the Conservative government tried to shoo the Loonies off the national stage by making candidates put up a deposit that they’d only get back if they won 5% of the vote. The Monster Raving Loonies coughed up the cash. 

How seriously should we take the party? In 2019, one perennial candidate announced that he wouldn’t be running this time because December was “a bloody stupid time for a general election.” On the other hand, John Major described Screaming Lord Sutch as by far his most intelligent opponent.

What’s the party’s future looks like? Screaming Lord Sutch died in 199 and the current chair is in his 80s (which I have to say looks younger all the time), so it might be time to talk about a replacement.

“We might just elect someone’s parrot,” Howling Laud Hope said.

48 thoughts on “Britain’s great salad crisis, and other news from Britain

  1. We’ve always had, and, indeed, needed, a slightly wacky element to help us survive ridiculous political decisions. I do wonder, though, how it can be that the Conservative Party is so such a blight these days!
    Maybe that’s why we call the Mother Country Old Blighty?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You had me in stitches! — Maybe get your hands on an old GDR cook book. They pretty much replaced anything and everything. Either that, or maybe people need to warm up to the idea that tomatoes do not grow in March in Northern Europe. Our shops are full of strawberries at the moment. (That taste like nothing but I COULD buy them.) What a messed up system.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Now that you mention it, we have strawberries on the shelf as well. And the taste is about the same as yours. I haven’t bothered to look at the price, but I assume it’d make me choke. It is a messed-up system.

      Since my German’s somewhere between limited and nonexistent, I’d probably do better to go back to the British recipes from WWII and after, when rationing was still in effect. Some theories hold that that’s where English cooking got its sterling reputation. I’m not at all sure it’s true, but it’s an interesting thought.

      Liked by 3 people

      • That is a good idea. Those old books would be a good resource & they come in handy, when people can’t afford the internet any more ;) As for British cuisine, the first thing I think of is pudding (which is confusing) and minted peas. But they probably have some decent dishes, too

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve managed to avoid peas with mint for almost 17 years now. It hasn’t been that hard. What’s good? Desserts. Trifle, for example, is fabulous. Not the stuff made with what they call jelly and I call jello but with custard and cream and fruit and something boozy and some cake at the bottom to soak it all up. And cream tea, which isn’t a dessert–it’s filling enough to incapacitate you for the rest of the day.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Now that you mention tea, I loved high tea in Australia. That would come from the UK, I suppose. We found this wonderful place for high tea that offered free bubbly as much as you wanted … Aw, good times. I think that was the only time ever, we really did “girls things”, dressing up and all…

            Funny how I always jump the topics here but your posts just offer so much room for shenanigans


  3. As you’d probably expect I’m firmly on the side of the ‘why on earth do we expect to eat salad vegetables in winter?’ camp. I do eat them, but only because they’re there in the shops. Mind you, the last time I bought turnips, a couple of years ago, they were shockingly expensive for a vegetable that doesn’t taste of anything much. I won’t be trying to replace tomatoes or peppers or anything else in my recipes. I’ll be using different recipes, or just leaving them out. I don’t think I’ll come to any harm.

    Apparently, we could have as many tomatoes as we want, but supermarkets don’t think we’d be prepared to pay what would be required. Then I read on FB that an acquaintance of mine purchased a pepper this week for £2.50, proving that some people really are stupid enough to pay those prices.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In the village shop, most of us have taken to warning people, That costs £1.99. Do you want it? Some of it goes back on the shelves.

      I’m with you both on wondering why we’re eating off-season foods and then eating them because I can and on not trying to find one-for-one substitutes. I remember when I first stopped eating meat, people were trying to find one-for-one substitutes for various kinds of meat, and people who were giving up noodles for reasons I can’t even begin to remember (it wasn’t about gluten at that point) were trying to substitute tofu and squash, which worked about as well as you’d think. Just make something else. Use squash as a squash and tofu as tofu. You’ll be happier. And people won’t make as much fun of you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tofu is on the menu for this week, as tofu. I don’t know how else I could use it.

        I bought a pepper for 50p yesterday, mainly because I could. Having taken it out of the recipe for today’s dinner, it can now go back in.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Luxury!

          A hundred or so years ago–or maybe it was forty–I remember seeing recipes that substituted dried tofu for pasta. The tofu came as thin, narrow slabs, and when soaked in water continued (at least the one time I tried it) to be thin, narrow slabs. They were as much like pasta as I was like a concert pianist. (Both were food; both were human; the resemblance stopped there.) So yes, using it as tofu sounds like a good idea to me. No matter what you do to it, it won’t turn into pasta or green peas or potato chips.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I like my tofu to be tofu and my pasta to be pasta and my crisps (which is what I think you mean) to be crisps. Talking of crisps, my local has some wonderful ready-salted crisps at the moment. The landlady thinks I’m bonkers not to try the ten different flavoured crisps she stocks, but the plain are wonderful.

            Liked by 1 person

            • You’re right, I did mean crisps. It’s one of those British words that aren’t the first ones I reach for. I can come up with it if I put some effort into it, but it takes some digging. And sticking with the ones you like, by whatever name, makes sense to me.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. I must be in the minority of your followers in that I did have a Screaming Lord Sutch LP back in the day. It wasn’t exactly brilliant, but he used a lot of session musicians – some of them well-known ones – and did come up with a few decent covers of blues-rock standards. So, all-in-all more use than your average politician.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. On our little Scottish island, shortages are exacerbated by the ferry fiasco, in which we’re connected to the mainland only when one of CalMac’s superannuated boats happens to wander our way. People have been posting pictures of a tomato on our island Facebook page, offering to trade for a new PlayStation or an eBike. Or even the holy grail: a half-dozen eggs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Someone posted a photo of the back end of a truck on Facebook. Someone had written in the dirt, No tomatoes left in van overnight. As for eggs, they’ve gotten expensive but they’re not hard to find. Yet.

      Sounds like I should be grateful to be on the mainland.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well yes you should be grateful. Except… all the past week we’ve been watching the entire sky lit with waving sheets of pink and red and green as the northern lights put on an over the top display.

        Who needs tomatoes?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Now that you’ve managed to put the northern lights and tomatoes into the same comment, I feel duty-bound to find way to substitute tomatoes for the northern lights. The experimentation’s going to be expensive, but it has to be done.

          I’ve heard that the lights were visible here in the Southwest, but I confess I went to bed instead of watching for them. I’ve seen them in Minnesota. That doesn’t mean I’m blase about them–I’d love to watch them again. It’s just that my body’s done a reset in the last few years and is convinced that 9 pm is a reasonable bedtime. I’ve started to wonder who I am.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I got into that 9-pm-to-3-am sleeping groove for a few months in 2016 and wondered whether it’s a symptom of anything. It passed before I found out.

            I hope the salad situation improves soon, with spring weather, though…just before this one, read a post from Madagascar where they seemed to be running out of *all* vegetables. Can you raise tomatoes in LARGE window boxes? Indoors, near windows? Can you legally receive packets from the US?

            Liked by 1 person

            • I’m not sure about receiving shipments of vegetables, legally or illegally. I have a hunch that you’d ship tomatoes and we’d receive ketchup. And all the more so since the Royal Mail has gotten a little strange lately. I tried sending my goddaughter in Minneapolis a book for her son a while back and it got sent to Thailand not once but twice, and returned as (surprise, surprise) undeliverable. I do grow lettuce but it’s a little cold still to start the seeds. Soon, soon, soon. Tomatoes grow but having grown them in Minnesota turned me into a tomato snob. God, we could grow wonderful tomatoes there. Here, they’re okay but just not the same. I will grow some but–sigh–they won’t be anything like what I remember.


              • I did once bring some heirloom tomato seeds back from the US, thinking the problem with tomatoes here was that they’d narrowed themselves down to not-very-good varieties. (The homegrowns here don’t begin to compare with the ones we grew in Minnesota.) It turns out that what I should’ve smuggled in was warm nights. And more sunshine. Still, we can grow some, and I’ve had a few small homegrowns that almost rival Minnesota’s.

                Sorry–I got serious there for a minute. If I’m not careful, it will happen.


  6. I thought Lord Buckethead was a worthy successor to Scream Lord Sutch – one of my all time favourite photo was of all the candidates for the seat of Maidenhead lined up – they included Theresa May (the PM at the time) and Lord Buckethead. sadly we have had far too many “comedy” politicians (yes B. Johnson I mean you) who actually got elected to power for it to be funny any more.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think you have a slight turnip fixation ? Didn’t they materialise in one of your last posts ?
    Lord Sutch did some remarkable charity work for children. I vaguely remember that someone of the other board members mentioned that he was not only always attending meetings, but also prepared, informed, and in short, the one who took it serious.
    Maybe the Brits can return to more traditional cooking, and avoid these decadent European luxuries like pasta. Dead fish & potatoes in a newspaper – ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have a turnip fixation, the world does. I don’t invent the news, only, um, pick and choose what parts of it to play with.

      Someone in our village was reminiscing just yesterday about dead fish and fried potatoes wrapped in newspaper. The ink, she said fondly, used to bleed into the chips. Yum. Who needs pasta? Of course, I’m not sure we have enough readers of physical papers to support the fish-and-chip industry anymore. It may be dead fish and potatoes wrapped in old computer screens.

      I’m impressed with Screaming Lord Sutch–and somehow not surprised.


  8. Your rant (said with sympathy, not criticism) about making spaghetti sauce without tomatoes set off (in my head, since the cats are sleep) my own thoughts on “cauliflower pizza”. ARE YOU CRAZY???? CAULIFLOWER pizza ? Unsalted rice cakes are better – and they are unsalted styrofoam.!”
    There is a current commercial running where a girl reminisces about when she was a kid eating ketchup on her spaghetti…(it moirphs into a mention of all the current varieties of ketchup offered…all presumably tomato-based at least.)
    I saw a cartoon comparing your turnip-loving minister to Marie Antoinette…the implication that “Let ’em eat turnips” should lead to the same outcome as awaited Marie.

    The Former Colonies also have a Monster Raving Loony Party but it refers to itself by a more serious name.and has candidates on all the ballots.
    And where is the Party of the Flying Spaghetti Monster now that we need it ?
    You had Screaming Lord Sutch, we had Harold Stassen,

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d forgotten Harold Stassen, even though he was a Minnesotan and I spent 40 long, cold winters there. I wonder if the Monster Raving Loonies could convince their US branch to adopt their stance against winning elections, ever.

      I don’t think the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s likely to go into politics. Separation of church and state and all that stuff, you know. They’re a highly principled lot.

      Ketchup on spaghetti? The Guardian recipes missed that one.


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