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​Q&A with Gerald Stratford, author of Big Veg

Posted by Lucy H on 24th Aug 2021

​Q&A with Gerald Stratford, author of Big Veg

Big Veg Cover photo

Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?

The person I would most love to read my book is my father, he would read it cover-to-cover and if he thought something wasn’t right or accurate, he would make it known. He’d be incredibly proud of all the family knowledge that has gone into the book.

Do you have a favourite genre or author? What books or authors would you say were significant influences on you?

When I was growing up, there was a famous English angler called Richard Walker and he was known for his record carp. His books were my bible and the one in particular that had the most impact on me was No need to Lie which is filled with interesting discussion points and valuable knowledge. Another huge influence for me was Bernard Venables, one of angling journalism’s finest writers. He was the creator of Mr Crabtree, a cartoon strip about fishing in the Daily Mirror and I used to love seeing it every week.

Your Twitter account has been a huge cultural phenomenon over lockdown. You have over 300 thousand followers from all over the world. How much time does it take to deal with them?

Whenever I sit down for a cup of tea and I’ve got my mobile in front of me, I’ll spend between 3 – 5 hours a day responding to messages and answering questions and queries. I do my best to try and answer every single one. If someone else has taken the time and patience to sit down and respond to a video or a photograph I’ve put out, it’s only right that I take the time to do it back. The Twitter community is so warm and welcoming, it’s always a joy for me.

Do you enjoy gardening TV shows, and would you ever want to take part in one?

I was a great fan of broadcaster Geoffrey Hamilton when he was the presenter of Gardeners’ World, it was one of my favourite shows. I’d love to take part in one and I do have a dream of fronting a vegetable programme in the future.

Virtual socialising in lockdown has been invaluable. Now that we’re allowed to meet up in person again, who would be on your fantasy garden party list and why?

Prince Charles would be at the top of my list. Many moons ago I was fishing for salmon in Wales and one day my friends and I were told we couldn’t fish on a specific part of the water. We found out it was because Prince Charles was there. The next day I went and stood on the same rock he stood on and I caught a salmon, it was magic. He also loves his garden so we would have lots to talk about.

And of course, what would you feed them?

A hearty dish of squash stuffed with a mix of savoury mince and home-grown vegetables from the garden. That, or a platter of freshly sliced tomatoes on toast, sprinkled with sea salt and cracked black pepper to bring out their flavour. Sometimes, simple is best! Dessert would be a summer pudding filled with all types of currants, gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries padded down with slices of bread. Once it’s been in the fridge to firm up and all the lovely juices from the fruit have melded together, it’ll be sliced up and served with fresh cream.

The COVID-19 situation has affected us all in different ways. How have you been managing in the lockdowns?

Because we’re retired, Elizabeth and I spend lots of time together. It hasn’t affected us as much as I can imagine it has for a young family or loved ones so far apart from each other. At times it was hard to deal with when we couldn’t see our extended family, especially children and grandchildren, but with social media it made it so easy to stay connected and talk on the phone or video on Zoom.

Access to outdoor space is so important for people’s mental health, and lockdown has brought that home to so many of us. What do you think about guerrilla gardening and community projects? Have you ever been involved in anything like that?

I definitely support any projects, I usually donate lots of veggies to the local residential homes in our area which I’ll continue to do for as long as I can. A charitable Trust was set up in our village by the children of a doctor who sadly passed away at a young age, the Trust is in place to try and help people with terminal illnesses. Every Saturday throughout the summer, we each donate as much produce as we can. For the first time we put on an event – a day dedicated to donating pumpkins! It was very popular and the whole community really came together to lend a hand and offer support.

If you were teaching children to grow things, what would you start with?

I would start with one bucket and one potato because it’s not fiddly and would be a very easy, simple and rewarding project. Neither of these items will take up much space if space is limited and all you have to do is fill the bucket with compost, put the potato in and water it once a week, the rest of the work you can leave to mother nature. The produce will grow fairly quickly so each child follow its journey of growth along the way. In the end, they’ll have enough potatoes to feed themselves and their families!

What’s the most unusual vegetable you’ve ever grown? Which “unfashionable” vegetables would you like to see being more available to cooks?

The most unusual vegetable I’ve grown is a Tromboncino. It’s gourd and grows quite tall like a squash but is shaped like a trombone. The one I grew was 50 inches long, about the size of my leg. I’m now growing a similar unusual gourd called a Cobra snake.

The vegetable I think should be used more often in meals is Scorzonera, a member of the salsify family. It has an oyster-like taste and is grown in the summer months for a winter harvest. It’s a root and looks like a big gnarly finger, you wash it and roast it with your meat dishes. I eat mine with a lovely piece of pork, roasted in the same dish to mop up all the juices. It’d be perfect added to any slow cooking recipes or winter casseroles.

What would your perfect day look like, and what’s the first place you want to visit after lockdown?

My perfect day would start in the middle of the summer. I’d get up at first light, make cup of tea and a walk round the garden to check everything’s ok. I’d then plan the future of the allotments, stop for a light lunch (usually vegetable-based with crackers, a bit of cheese and tomato). If the weather’s nice, 40 winks outside in the shade of my Indian Bean tree. Then a hard day’s work in the garden before retiring for a dinner of homemade salads and ham – lovely!

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m re-reading my book, Big Veg!

Thank you very much for speaking to us, we wish you every success with the book.

Order your copy of Big Veg HERE