Sturdy wooden fruit and vegetable crates – known as ‘Bushel boxes’ – were used (pre-plastic) by growers to pack up fresh produce safely for the journey from the countryside to market. Growers wisely stamped their names and the town they were from on the side so they could keep track of their boxes, which means you can track down one from an area you know and love; I have a few labelled: ‘EVESHAM’ (where I grew up), where asparagus, plums and apples were grown by market gardeners.
Most vintage crates have weathered and faded to a pale, rustic, dark grey colour but are still incredibly strong, thanks to metal corner supports. They stack brilliantly of course, so are useful for creating rustic shelving units. I’ve also seen them turned on their side and screwed to the wall as cubby holes, used on-end as beside tables and fitted with castors as mobile log holders or toy boxes.
Bushel boxes have been trendy for a while, so they’re scarce these days, but, if you’re lucky, you can find them for around £20-£30 each at antiques markets. Don’t be fooled by reproductions, which look similar to the real thing, but are altogether a bit too orangey, light-weight and perfect to look authentic and are often stamped with suspiciously neat, samey names.
Like with most obsessions, it doesn’t end with the crates. I’d love a stack of shallow fruit trays, too, for my allotment shed – they’re handy for storing apples wrapped in newspaper in the autumn or chitting potatoes in cardboard egg boxes in the spring. I’ve also got a thing for tricky-to-find vintage balsa wood fruit punnets (see salad grower and antiques dealer William Fletcher’s website: Bushel Boxes ‘n’ Stuff), which look beautiful filled with redcurrants and are essential props for food stylists. They might not be as hygienic as modern plastic designs, but they’re berry beautiful indeed.