We buy up big in December. We anticipate it so much we save for it all year. From extra groceries to huge boxes of fruit to bags of ice, we lay it on.
Unlike most of the rest of the world, we are spoilt for choice in our purchases at Christmas. We are not restrained by winter. No wonder there is such huge variety in our celebratory feasting – whether it’s turkey with all the trimmings or seafood and salads, there is no better time of the year for the breadth and range of seasonal produce.
This is the peak time of the year for mangoes, strawberries and cherries, and in the vegetable world, now is your last chance to get decent asparagus, broad beans and spring garlic. December means new season peas, raspberries, corn, tomatoes, rambutans and lychees and, just in time for Christmas, the first pick of white grapes. Eat well. Continue reading
Those of you who follow the In Season posts regularly will know that there are certain ‘cross-over’ times of the year that blend the end of one season with the beginning of the next. November, with burgeoning displays of spring greens and the first kiss of summer fruits is one such time.
With good prices on leafy salad vegetables and asian greens, you can also get good prices on beetroot, new season peas and locally grown spring or bulb garlic. New-season mangoes is coming down in price next to perfect spring strawberries and the first stone fruit of the season giving you many ways to celebrate the warming weather. What follows is a list of fruit, vegetables and seafood that represents outstanding value for money. Quite simply, there’s a lot of it around at this time of year.
Likewise, if you grow vegetables in a garden of your own, these are the sorts of produce that should be thriving right about now. If you are in colder climates in the south of the country, some items will take another couple of weeks to reach your markets, so look out for them. Continue reading
A box of perfectly fresh, tender and sweetly just-picked broccolini arrived on my doorstep earlier last week courtesy of the terrific people at Perfection Fresh and I immediately went into overdrive. I was inspired by the sensational produce and wanted to get to work straightaway to make the very best of this beautiful baby green vegetable.
I was swamped by choices. I could have used them in asian style stir fries, in a health-giving green smoothie, even as a souffle. But then my stomach gurgled and helped me realise that I should perhaps have some breakfast before setting to work.
This is what I came up with.
Once upon a time I did a weekly seasonal update highlighting a fruit or vegetable that represented outstanding value for money and the very best of local produce. Rather than do this every week, I’m hoping to start on a once a month project. What follows is a list of fruit, vegetables, even seafood and types of meat that represents outstanding value for money. Quite simply, there’s a lot of it around at this time of year.
Likewise, if you attempt to grow vegetables in a garden of your own, these are the sorts of produce that should be thriving right about now. If you are in colder climates in the south of the country, some items will take another couple of weeks to reach your markets, so look out for them.
If you are looking for suitable recipes for some of these items, type in the ingredient in the search box to the right of this post. Up will come all the recipes for that ingredient, as well as any items that have been featured in Best Buys. (Ignore them, unless you want to compare prices.) Continue reading
If you needed any proof about the seasonality of tomatoes, you only had to go to the markets this week: From punnets of cherry tomatoes to wholesale boxes, there were specials galore. Having bought roma tomatoes for just $1.50 a kilo I came home and found a flyer in my letterbox for a local business. The deals were all for bottling and preserving equipment, entreating me to have a go at making my own passata.
Yes folks, it’s tomato time.
When the Spanish went looking for gold in the New World, they couldn’t have envisaged that the riches they would find could perhaps be a little more edible than they expected, but the plants they bought back from Inca farmers have revolutionised our lives. From the same plant family as eggplant, potatoes and chillies (all of them native to Mexico and South America), tomatoes came back to Spain where they were ignored for a century or so until, the story goes, an enterprising Italian mama threw a couple of over-ripe tomatoes into a meat sauce one night.
It’s hard to believe but the blueberry, one of the most popular of all fruits in this country, was barely heard of a generation ago. A native of both North and South America, commercial cultivation began here in the early 1970s. They are grown from mid-north Queensland down to Tasmania and these days you can buy blueberries for ten months of the year. The new season is starting now, with Queensland-grown blueberries now available, with the peak season in December to February as the harvest from northern New South Wales comes to the shops.
Related to azaleas and rhododendrons, blueberries are in the same family as cranberries and their less-well known cousins ligonberries and bilberries, both of which are grown extensively in Europe. They are an antioxidant super-food and a great source of vitamins A and C. Blueberries go with strawberries, kiwifruit, maple syrup, vanilla, nuts, especially almonds, cream, cream cheese and mascarpone, ice cream, sesame seed, camembert and brie, yoghurt and milk, white wine, especially dessert wine or sparkling wine, ricotta and orange juice.
Broad beans together with lamb and asparagus form the Spring trilogy for many food lovers, but there are just as many who remain unconvinced of their delicate flavour or who think they are too tricky to prepare.
I can only suggest you try them – just the once.
Broad beans are in season from now until the beginning of December and will come down in price over the next six weeks. Encased in fat pale green pods, they are a mystery wrapped in an enigma – all but the very smallest beans require double shelling, that is, they need to be removed from their furry pods, then the waxy grey shell around each bean needs to be removed after they are cooked. It can be a time-consuming business, especially if you want to eat broad beans warm as a side dish.
There are some dishes so special and so symbolic that they are enjoyed just once a year. Christmas dinner. A birthday cake. Mother’s Day breakfast in bed.
In my house, this meal is one of the handful of special-circumstances-once-a-year meals. New season asparagus with the simplest of butter sauces. Eaten at table with the good china. With my fingers.
Asparagus is like that.
One of the oldest cultivated vegetables anywhere in the world, kale is a member of the Brassica family that includes cabbage, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. It grows best in icy and frosty conditions, often at times of the year when very little else grows. For this reason alone it was one of the staple foods of medieval europe and to this day is found in european cuisines ranging from Ireland to Scandinavia to Italy to Portugal.
Kale is very similar to cabbage leaves but does not form a flowering head. It’s the leaves that provide interest. Rich in beta-carotenes, Vitamin K, Vitamin C and calcium, it works best in braises, soups and stews. Continue reading
Leeks are in the same Alium family as onions and garlic. Although they look a little like overgrown spring onions, their flavour is very gentle and sweet compared to their skinnier cousins.
Unlike onions, leeks can not be eaten raw. They are a good source of folate, iron and vitamin B6. They can be cooked in any way you would cook an onion and are especially nice when slow roasted or braised in butter.
From the cabbage family and a close relative of broccoli, cauliflower grows and thrives in colder conditions, with a resulting flavour that well matches other foods available at this time of year. Cauliflower grows as tightly packed florets in a head that can grow to about 30cm in diameter. It is surrounded by very large dark leaves that grow over the head resulting in white flesh. These days you can get varieties that are purple, orange or even a bright green broccoli-cross called, imaginatively, broccolflower, but white cauliflower is the most common and cheapest. Look for cauliflower that is a creamy-white, with as little discolouration as possible and one that is heavy for its size.
I have to admit, I have a very soft spot in my culinary heart for swede and take a perverse joy in picking them off the shelf in full view of people who clearly have never used them before and have no knowledge of their taste.
In the same family as turnips, swede is called Neeps in Scotland and Rutabaga in the US – why they are called swede by the English I have no idea, but no doubt it is a contraction of some older word. What the Swedish make of our use of this word for such an ordinary looking vegetable, I have no idea.
Strictly speaking, the season for passionfruit runs from October to May, with peak eating in both spring and autumn. Now that the cooler weather is with us, a spoonful of passionfruit on our palates brings a promise of warmth. It’s still possible to buy passionfruit at reasonable prices for a little while longer, and passionfruit pulp is widely available in cans and are a good substitute.
The type of passionfruit that is typically grown in backyards, the purple variety, is small, has dark skin and is slightly wrinkly. Inside, the small black seeds are suspended in yellow jelly, a delicious tangy flavour but without sourness. Other passionfruit varieties can include the larger panama passionfruit or banana passionfruit, the flesh of which is a little more sweet than the purple variety.
Celeriac is never going to win any prizes for good looks and that’s to the great advantage of the budget cook. Constantly overlooked and under-appreciated, celeriac is a standout vegetable to have over the coming winter months.
Celeriac is a member of the celery family and you will notice that the leaves are very similar to the celery plant. Celeriac is a large bulbous root, sometimes called knob celery and common in northern european cuisines. It is milder than celery and when cooked, mashes down to a silky consistency.
Technically a fruit and a member of the gourd family that includes zucchini, squash and marrow, pumpkin is now at the height of their season across the southern states of Australia.
Much loved throughout the country, the many uses for pumpkin is a revelation for the British for whom it is relegated to use as stock feed or as a novelty item during Halloween. Pumpkin is a good source of potassium, magnesium and phosphorus as well as beta-carotenes, niacin and folate. Continue reading
“They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,”
-Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat
Originally from south east Asia, quince is a very traditional fruit and even now, not one that everyone is familiar with. Used for centuries in desserts and jams and jellies, quince, in the same family as apples and pears, is more suited to the chill of a cold climate winter than warm asian weather.
I adore this fruit, mainly for it’s ugly duckling properties. Without doubt one of the ugliest fruits you will ever buy, they are large, knobbly, sometimes covered in a downy fur and as hard as teak. They are impossible to eat raw, too tough and far too astringent, like eating lemons. So why all the fuss?
A quick whip around the fruit and vegetable displays earlier this week confirmed everything you already know about Autumn – it’s apple time and there are dozens of varieties to choose from in the peak of the season between now and the end of June, with some varieties available right up until the end of October .
Because of their suitability for long storage, apples are available throughout the year, but don’t be persuaded by the look of Granny Smiths in November – now is the time to enjoy them, crisp, crunchy, incredibly sweet and juicy, a thousand percent improvement on their cold-stored cousins.
A cousin of peaches and apricots, plums are a fruit that gives throughout the late summer months and bring in the cooler autumn air. Like the season that surrounds it, plums have all sorts of different coloured skins, but skins alone give no sign of the colour of the flesh within. Plums can range from a pale creamy colour to a damson green to a greengage yellow to a dark reddish-purple. My favourite cooking plums, for sheer colour alone, are blood plums, available towards the end of the season
There are dozens of varieties available in fruit shops throughout the next six to eight weeks depending on where you live. Fresh plums are available from late February through to the end of May.Each has a small almond-shaped pit that should be removed before someone cracks their teeth on it. Depending on how you cook them, it’s often easier to retrieve the stones after they have cooked. If plums seem a little hard, leave them at room temperature for a few days to soften up, but be aware they will not actually ripen further to develop more sugar like some fruits. Refrigerate ripe plums in a plastic bag and use within four days. Wash just before using.
Every week I look forward to this post perhaps more than any other. For me, it marks the passing of the seasons and the delights to be found from trying something new, sometimes for the first time.
So it was something of a shock to realise that this week, I am back right at the place I started. Almost a year ago, pears were the very first item to be featured in In Season. William pears are back in the shops again, the first of many varieties that will be seen from now until June, with all the attendant delights that cooking this beauty provides.
In her seminal 1986 book, Much Depends on Dinner, writer Margaret Visser sits down to a simple meal of roast chicken and corn with a salad, followed by a bowl of ice-cream. What follows is an extraordinary deconstruction of her meal, analysing the history, economic, geo-political and social importance of each ingredient of her meal. It provides an amazing insight into the true costs of what we put on our plate, a full twenty years before it became fashionable to think in such terms. Her book was the first of many advocating local production and analysing the food industry in such terms.
Guess which ingredient made up the biggest section of her book?