This article might be classed as typical August fare (well September now), and it does meander through more than one theme, but it does get to the headline story eventually and there is a political message.

The humble beetroot is a beautiful vegetable, from root to leaves, with many different shades of green & red and yellow.This glorious painting is on the side of our allotment storage container, at Headingley Station (West) allotments and can be seen by passengers on the line to Harrogate that goes through Horsforth.It was part of the successful Kirkstall Art Trail held at the end of July.One of the allotment holders, Ali, a scenery painter in real life, spent a day preparing a giant “paint by numbers” on the side of the former horse-box.All dozen or so colours were pre-mixed, and the visitors were invited to lift a brush or two.It proved very popular, and from the end result, you’ll agree, very successful, Ali providing hints on improving one’s brush technique.

Photo 1 the finished beetroot, Ali completed the background, changing from the original white


Photo 2 Councillor John Illingworth concentrating hard on No9, parts of the red stalks.


Remember the time when you couldn’t buy fresh raw beetroot easily? Niche greengrocers perhaps stocked it, and Leeds market, even less perhaps; and all the supermarkets had were those packets of pre-boiled beetroot, often boiled in vinegar.We grew it on our allotment because John liked fresh beetroot.I had a psychological hatred block of it because of all those early 1950’s primary school dinners of spam, boiled in vinegar beetroot and mashed potato.

Mid 1990’s and one of our CLP stalwarts, who also then worked at Leeds University, bemoaned the lack of easily available fresh beetroot.So, naturally I would drop into the Maths department on regular occasions, a few beetroots.This particular occasion, it was August, typical Summer vacation time, lots of locked doors & unmanned reception desks.Short of time that particular day to return to the Maths department, I packed the beetroots in one of the Uni’s brown transit envelopes, & put it in the internal mail.The transit envelopes, foolscap size, were designed for multiple re-use, and had a grid of “Name” and “Department” columns.I heard the end of the story from Alan the next day, when a brown envelope with rounded lumps was on the reception desk.The University did have its share of bomb scares and alarms from terrorists and extremist groups.Alan looked at the transit envelope, and then saw my name as the previous recipient of the envelope, and re-assured the staff that the contents were just 4 or 5 beetroots.I made sure to time my deliveries for the rest of the Summer for when the doors were unlocked & the reception desk manned!

Fresh beetroot is now readily available in most big shops, most of the time.This week I saw some lovely bunches of fresh beetroot on more than one Leeds market stall.What’s changed?Besides the fact I now like beetroot, and prepare it quite often.Our tastes and demands have expanded the range of fresh vegetables available to buy.It’s not only been the Mediterranean & Long Haul holidays, but the diversity of people who’ve come to live & work in the UK.There were a couple of Eastern Europeans who raced off a bus when they spotted my then, very unusual yellow courgettes on a charity stall – but that’s another story.

A wider range of “foreign” veg is being grown successfully in the UK, so reducing the “food miles”.First things that spring to mind are sweetcorn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, oriental salads, and so much more.Our shop and market counters are brimming with a huge range of fresh fruit and veg for us to buy, cook & eat.However, fresh vegetables and the wherewithal to prepare & cook them are often beyond the means of many in our society, and many of us are working to try to change this.

Groups and charities are doing things which make a difference.This is a plea to all those who run out of relatives, friends & neighbours to take their surplus veg. & fruit.Remember the “junk food cafes”, and take your surpluses to them.The 3 I know of– and there are many more throughout Leeds which might be more convenient for you are: Sensory Leeds at Headingley station, Rainbow Cafe at All Hallow’s Church, Hyde Parkand St Georges Crypt in the City Centre, near the infirmary.They provide delicious & nutritious meals at very low cost (or no cost) with donated ingredients used most ingeniously.


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