4 February 2015

What's in season in February

February is a funny old month. It is the month that in the UK can bring some of the harshest winter weather, and I write this having travelled through a fair bit of snow to get to work today. People are usually getting sick of winter, but spring still seems a way off. That said, the days are definitely getting longer, and towards the end of the month we sometimes get the odd nice day that suggests that spring is maybe not so far away. It is a similar story in terms of seasonal ingredients, at the start of the month we're still looking at a lot of winter staples: roots and brassicas, and we wave goodbye to most game birds for another season, but towards the end of the month we start to see a few new things that hint of the approaching change of seasons.

The end of January heralds the end of the game season for pheasant, partridge, mallard and various other game species, which gives them time to breed and raise young before the next season. The end of the season is the last day on which these animals can legally be shot, and the birds from the final shoots of the season can be found for sale in the first week or so of February. If you enjoy game, wood pigeon and rabbits, both of which are cheap, tasty and plentiful, don't have a closed season, and are usually readily available well into the spring. Venison is also still readily available in February and March.

As in December and January, there are plenty of brassicas about: cabbages, kale and cavolo nero. One tends not to see so many Brussels sprouts for sale after Christmas, but there are late varieties that harvest in February. In the veg plot, I usually find that the first of the early varieties of purple sprouting broccoli are ready in February. Their appearance is a sign that spring is not so far away. Hardy roots such as swedes and parsnips are still in season, along with leeks. Over-wintered Swiss chard starts to put on new growth as the days get longer. Chives, which die-back over winter, start to produce new shoots in February. I’ve put a pot in my cold-frame, in the hope that I will be able to harvest a few by the end of the month.

One of the highlights of February is the appearance of the first of the English Rhubarb, usually forced in sheds in the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle. These first shoots are more tender than summer field rhubarb, and make a great ingredient in crumbles, pies and other desserts. February also marks the last month of the southern European citrus season, so get those blood oranges and clementines in while you can. There should still be plenty of English apples around, which store well over the winter.

In the woods and hedgerows…
If you head into the countryside there are plenty of bulbs and other plants starting to put on growth. Towards the end of the month it is possible to find the first of the wild garlic leaves. Stinging nettles start to put on their first growth, and if you fancy giving them a go (wilt them like spinach), the young spring leaves are the best to eat. If you do decide to pick some, a pair of rubber gloves will make the job easier.

Not a seasonal ingredient as such, but one of the things I always look forward to in February is pancake day. What better way to sped a wintery Tuesday evening than eating vast amounts of fried batter.

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