Stay in season with fruit and veg, it’s cheaper and so much better – Sally writes for ES

February 13, 2017

I wonder why this tweeter needed a courgette so badly in mid-January: “went to 3 shops for a courgette no luck”, he exclaimed. It’s a mystery to me why anyone in Britain would want a courgette (or a strawberry, raspberry or asparagus) in midwinter — why all the fuss when there are so many ingredients actually in season? 

For well over 30 years we have celebrated the fact that vegetables, salads and fruits show themselves at their best and most flavourful at different times of the year, and that every year the weather will slightly adjust the calendar of their availability. To see as much, take a trip to a local farmers’ market.

At last Saturday’s market in Notting Hill Gate, in the pouring rain, the choice ranged from rainbow carrots to Jerusalem artichokes, purple kale sprouts (my favourite), fabulous forced rhubarb from Yorkshire and six different varieties of apples and pears from last year’s harvest.

As I look around our restaurant kitchen this morning to inspect the deliveries I see that we have British-grown purple sprouting broccoli, cavolo nero, parsnips, beetroot, cauliflower, leeks and three different types of potatoes. They will find their way into soups, braises, risotto and ravioli or be roasted and served alongside corn-fed chicken, Lancashire duck or Welsh fallow deer. Cornish and Scottish fish will be served perhaps on a bed of steamed purple and green curly kale; wafer thin slices of four different root vegetables fried to a more-ish crispness might be sprinkled on top. There is no end to the winter and early spring opportunities.

Our menus are created from the ingredients our suppliers tell us are being picked, dug and cut at the moment. Most of them send weekly reports to us pinpointing what is in, what is nearly in and what is going out of season. They are the ones who, in essence, write our menus. They literally have their fingers on the pulses and see first-hand what arrives from the provinces and from abroad.

They also see the prices fluctuate, and this often relates to the weather and, of course, the season. Buying in season equals buying economically. When there is a glut of pumpkin and squash in the autumn the price goes down and when everyone is selling tomatoes the same thing happens. Supermarkets, corner shops and market stalls will all tell you the same thing — if you buy seasonally (and may I add locally) as a shopper you’re in a win-win situation.

In high summer, crates of salad leaves and greens arriving from Italy and Spain often wilt in the heat to such a degree that they have to be thrown away. In the winter, the earth can be so cold and hard that digging for root vegetables becomes almost impossible.  But these are the joys and disappointments of seasonality — the rhythm of working with ingredients to follow their peaks and troughs of abundance allows us, the cooks, to present the best in nutrition and flavour to our friends, families and customers.

I look forward with relish to May, June and July, when the courgettes will be in abundance, relatively inexpensive and at their best. They will be shiny, firm, bright green and delicious. They will be grilled, roasted, served raw in salads, they may even go into a chutney or savoury muffins with goats’ cheese and spring onions. Who knows… we will have to wait.