6 June 2015

What's in season in June

June is the first month of summer (although at times in the fickle British weather it doesn't always feel that way). In the veg plot, June can herald something of a hiatus - the sowing and planting out of spring has finished, but most of the main crops are not yet ready to harvest. Excitingly, June heralds the beginning of the British summer fruit season, giving a real taste of summer. If you fancy a bit of foraging, elderflowers are at their peak in early June and can usually be found in both the town and countryside.

 In the veg plot

June sees the end of the British asparagus season. After mid June, growers stop picking asparagus, and let the spears develop into tall wispy fronds. This allows the roots of the plants to stockpile nutrients, enabling them to push up new spears the following spring. UK-grown globe artichokes, however, are usually at their best in late May and June. I love to pick them young and stuff them.

June is a great month for salad leaves, which have a tendency to want to run to seed after mid summer. Many main crops such as beetroots and brassicas need thinning out in June, and the thinnings make a great addition to the salad bowl. Broad beans planted the previous November, and mange tout and sugar snap peas planted in March, can often be picked in June. In mild areas, you may just get the first flush of French and runner beans at the end of the month. Commercial UK growers using polytunnels will be picking  tomatoes and courgettes in June, but when grown outside you'll have to wait until July or even August for these.

Summer fruits

June heralds the start of the British soft fruit season. Strawberries are the first, followed by cherries, raspberries, loganberries, gooseberries. At home I usually eat these fruits as they are and enjoy their natural flavours. If I want to create a fancy dessert, I am a real sucker for summer pudding. Mrs Room for a Radish and I usually go to a pick your own farm at least once a summer. We always get totally carried away and pick far too much, and spend the following day in the kitchen, sweating over pans of boiling fruit and sugar, making masses of jam. If you want to try something slightly different with strawberries, strawberry risotto is rather good.

Strawberry risotto
June also heralds the start of the southern European stone fruit season. Boxes of peaches, nectarines and apricots. I love these fruits too. In fact I spend much of the earlier summer gorging myself on fresh fruit.

Meat and fish

Sea trout
Whilst many fish are available on the fishmonger's slab all year round, fish do migrate as water temperatures change, and  there are some that are only available seasonally. A fish worth looking out for in June and July is sea trout. Sea trout are brown trout, a native freshwater fish, that for some reason get bored of living in rivers and decide to swim out to sea. Once they reach salt water, they undergo various physiological changes and in effect become a different species. Sea trout has a great flavour, which will give wild salmon a run for its money, but usually at about half the price per kilo. It is delicious poached hot with hollandaise or cold with mayonnaise.

As sea temperatures in the Channel rise, mackerel appear. This is a great, cheap (and plentiful) fish. Here's my recipe for smoked mackerel paté.

Much is made at Easter of new season's lamb. However, lamb at Easter has usually been born in mid-winter and brought on in sheds on feed. For really good lamb, wait until June when the new season's lamb will be grass fed. Grass-fed meat usually has a more complex flavour, and better muscle development than shed-bred animals.

Wild food

One of the wild highlights of late May and early June are elderflowers. Elder trees can be found growing in hedgerows and on wasteland in towns. They make a great flavouring in sorbet, cakes and cordials. If you fancy a go at a little home brewing, elderflower wine and elderflower 'champagne' are a good place to start.

June isn't a month where many people would think of looking for mushrooms. However, if the weather is wet, you might find the odd horse mushroom growing on open grassland. Horse mushrooms look like a large field mushroom and have a similar flavour. In woodland, June is a good month to look for the chicken of the woods. This yellow bracket fungus grows on tree trunks. It's not in the A-list of edible mushrooms, having a fairly bland flavour. But if you find one, it's pleasant enough if you marinate slices in lemon juice, herbs and garlic, and then fry the slices in breadcrumbs.

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