Despite the fact that in our country they are not so common, from time to time curious news about vegetables or fruits that break records of size and weight appear in the media. Here we like better the dishes prepared in a big way – be they gigantic paellas, huge nougats or kilometer-long pizzas – but it is inevitable not to be curious about those enormous vegetables that win competitions all over the world. But what about behind the largest vegetables in the world? Why this madness?
A few months ago we commented here how the competitions for the biggest pumpkins arouse passions in different championships. In some places they are already expectant with the preparations for the new editions this fall, and it is that the pumpkin is the queen of the contests because of the enormous size it can reach. But she is not the only one who submits to the weight and the eye of the jury, behind is a whole competitive world of true fans of the giant vegetables.
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What are the giant vegetable contests?
It is true that you can find this type of contest all over the planet, but in general the Anglo-Saxon world seems much more amateur to the art of growing giant vegetables. Adding some European events, it is in the United Kingdom and the United States where the largest competitions of this type are organized, some already with a long tradition and many editions behind them.
Sometimes they are activities included in the program of a festival, especially those organized in smaller towns on the occasion of harvests or calendar festivals. In regions where the agrarian world is still the mainstay of the community, they are usually celebrated fairs and parties around local products, as we have seen many times on American television and movies. But other times it is an event in itself where vegetables take center stage, as in the United Kingdom with the Giant Vegetable Championship.
The mechanics of these contests are very simple. Those interested in participating must register in the different categories, come with their products on the stipulated dates and submit to the evaluation of the jury. The evaluation system It may be based solely on weight, but sometimes length is also measured, and sometimes overall appearance or aesthetics are evaluated, leaving it up to the judges. But total weight is still the most used parameter and the one that most interests the general public, who seeks above all to see vegetables of excessive proportions.
A true passion that unites in community
What prompts participants to present their huge vegetables? Was it the chance of a random harvest? On rare occasions this may be the case, but the truth is that when we talk about these competitions the contestants are actually true fans of this art who have turned their hobby into almost an obsession. Many of them have been farmers all their lives who began to taste the world of giant vegetables, while others are retirees who now devote all their attention to this particular world. In general they come from families with a long tradition in the world of cultivation, and they live by and for their enormous vegetables.
Most agree that it is a job that hooks, because it is not easy but it ends up absorbing you by the level of care and attention that these crops require. Kevin Fortey, holder of several records and author of the well-known website of the Giant Vegetables world, tells how it was his father who started the tradition several decades ago together with some friends in Wales, until the event was getting bigger. His father in particular showed another of the typical profiles of these monstrous vegetable producers: they are scientists as well as farmers.
And it is that obtaining record vegetables is not easy, nor the result of chance. There are a lot of research behind, selection of seeds and many failures as a result of trial and error. In recent years, this sector has also benefited from the power of the networks, since today there is a large virtual community of amateurs and semi-professionals who are dedicated to sharing tips, tricks and guides to achieve the largest vegetables.
In the end the goal is to competeBut that does not prevent the creation of an atmosphere of camaraderie and a certain friendship between the participants, especially since many repeat each year and meet again in different competitions. Today there is a degree of specialization such that there are even many seedbeds and specialized gardening and crop stores that offer special seeds for giant vegetables and all kinds of equipment, products and accessories to be successful.
How do you grow giant vegetables?
Nature is capricious and from time to time the harvests surprise with specimens of curious shapes or exceptionally large sizes, but they are rare exceptions. Those who dedicate body and soul to growing giant vegetables know that it is not the result of chance, requires many months of continuous work, care and testing in the field or in the greenhouses. And also a bit of lucky.
It all starts with the seeds, which after meticulous laboratory and research work are genetically selected for very specific crops, and some belong to lineages of several generations of which records are even kept. The market for buying and selling large vegetable seeds is another world apart, but fans do not usually hesitate to share them since most of the work comes after germination. This is a long-term sport that requires many months of daily care. First you have to prepare the land well and then dedicate several hours each day to avoid pests and diseases, ensure the best temperature and water conditions, control nutrition, pruning, etc.
Depending on the type of vegetable, the care necessary for them to become lush and gigantic specimens will be different, and in the end every master has his own trick. The great specialists easily find huge vegetables in their gardens, but at the end of the season only occasionally do some of them grow to be true winners capable of breaking all records.
What do you do with these monstrosities next?
It is clear that taste and gastronomic quality is not the goal that growers of giant vegetables are looking for. In fact, practically nothing matters, since here what matters is size above all else. They have to be healthy and lush vegetables, within their monstrous deformity, but in general the varieties used are not the most recommended for culinary use, and usually the larger the less flavor they will have.
In smaller competitions in which farmers usually participate who do it by chance yes, tastings are sometimes shared of the vegetables presented, especially if it is a fair that revolves around a single product -for example, melon-. However, in the big contests most vegetables end up spoiling by the mere exhibition or after several days of transfers and outdoor exhibition, and more in the case of the winners.
Sometimes auctions are organized with the best specimens, but with a charitable end and not as a competition between restaurateurs to get valuable pieces – as happens with, for example, cheese or tuna auctions. There are juicy prizes in some competitions that can exceed € 1000 in prizes, but it is not a business to profit from. The investment and work that goes into these crops is such that profits are rarely made once expenses are covered.
Some growers they return with their pieces to use as decoration in their plantations or greenhouses, while others are dedicated to finding more creative uses. Popular are smash pumpkins games to blows, although I like this idea more of transforming them into small boats to race on the water after the competition. Be that as it may, their gastronomic value is rather zero, all the benefit that they aspire to achieve with them is that of the prizes.
There is no denying that this whole world of giant vegetables has some freakiness, in their own way. Perhaps it is a passion that can be very strange to those of us who are oblivious to all this, but the general public always We will be attracted to the images of these plant enormities that occasionally appear in the press. Deep down we love oddities and exaggerations, and it is inevitable to be surprised when reading figures such as the 8.5 kg onion or the pumpkin that exceeds a ton in weight.
Photos | Photos | Harrogate Autumn Flower Show, FarOutFlora
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