4 December 2014

What's in season in December

Particularly since I started growing my own veg, I have quite got into eating seasonally (without being too anal about the whole thing). Partly for reasons of taste, partly because it seems a bit ridiculous to be shipping tonnes of food around the world or growing it in very artificial ways when we have so much food in Europe, partly because I like the idea of supporting local producers, and partly because seasonal produce is what is coming out of the veg patch. Eating seasonally marks the changes in the year. And things often just taste better in season. English strawberries grown outside and harvested in June taste so much better, and are considerably cheaper, than the insipid strawberries stocked by the supermarkets in winter that are grown under hydroponic lights.

In the middle of winter it often seems harder to eat seasonally, and I thought I would start a regular column of what is in season each month. It is not intended to be exhaustive, and I cannot promise to be totally consistent in what I consider seasonal. Some produce, particularly things like asparagus that grow particularly well in the UK, I consider in season when they are being harvested in the UK. Others, such as tomatoes and citrus fruit, I consider seasonal when they are being harvested elsewhere in Europe. It is a fairly personal definition, so bear with me (or rant away if you prefer!)

Veg: By December, we are into the winter veg season, and in the main that means brassicas and hardy roots. Great varieties of winter cabbage, such as January King, are now cropping, as are Brussels sprouts and curly kale. I am a big fan of steaming cabbage and sprouts and serving them with lashings of butter and pepper, and they also partner very well with bacon and chestnuts. On the root veg front, celeriac is still in season, and parsnips and swedes are coming into their own. Leeks are also good in winter. Swiss chard is usually still picking in December, and often can be picked all through mild winters.

Salad: Salads can get a bit challenging in winter, but there are a few hardy leaves which will survive well into winter, such as some mustards ('green in snow' is a good variety), claytonia (or miner's lettuce), land cress and lamb's lettuce (aka cornsalad or mache). Hardy winter lettuces can be grown in an unheated greenhouse or polytunnel. Winter radishes are often at their peak in December (but I find they tend to deteriorate if left in the ground into the new year). Radicchio and various other endives are usually available from southern Europe. Baby kale leaves and finely sliced raw sprouts also make a good addition to a winter salad.

Fruit: One of the real treats for me of December is that it heralds the start of the southern European citrus fruit season, when satsumas and clementines hit the shops. I think satsumas are usually at their best in December. Blood oranges from southern Italy, one of my real favourites, usually start to appear towards the end of December. As well as eating them as they are and using them in desserts, satsumas and blood oranges also make a good addition to a winter salad. Closer to home, many maincrop apples and pears are available in the UK in December. Those of you who are into medlars will find that they are usually sufficiently rotten (or 'bletted') by early December to be edible.

Wild mushrooms: The best time has passed for most wild mushrooms, however winter (or brown) chanterelles and wood blewits can still be found in good numbers.

wood blewits
Game: December is a good month for game, with pheasant, partridge and mallard all still in season. The grouse season closes on 10 December, so get some in quick if you still have the urge. It is also a good time for venison (and who doesn't enjoy a venison stew on a cold December evening) as most species of deer are in season.

Fish: Most shellfish are good in December (there being in 'r' in the month). Herrings, which are very tasty pickled, are also plentiful (and cheap) at this time of year.

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