The end of summer is approaching and the autumn ingredients are starting to ripe. Eating what is in season is best.
Going out of season
Apricots are at their best and cheapest in July, but avoid any fruit that feels spongy.
Apricots can vary greatly in quality. If they taste woolly and bland when eaten fresh, cook them into a dish and they will become luscious and flavoursome. Apricots make excellent jam if cooked with sugar and lemon juice. Apricot jam is used as a glaze on pastries and to stick cakes such as sachertorte together. Melt the jam with water and strain before applying. The strong sweet-sour taste of apricots makes them popular in desserts and sauces. Vanilla or distilled rosewater taste particularly good with them. For an extra rich pie, cook halved apricots in unsalted butter and sugar before baking.
The bilberry, also known as blaeberry, whortleberry or winberry, is the fruit of a small shrub that grows wild on open acidic land across the British Isles. Bilberries turn blue with a bloom once ripe and taste like intensely flavoured blueberries. Bilberries can be picked from July to September.
Bilberries can be eaten raw or cooked in much the same way as blueberries. They are very juicy once cooked. Serve raw with cream and sugar, or in muesli or fruit salad. Traditionally, bilberries were added to pie and tart fillings, with apples used to soak up the excess juice. Bilberries can also be added to summer fruit mixtures, baked in muffins or turned into sorbets and sauces. They are excellent preserved in jellies and jams and in France are turned into liqueur.
Courgette / Zucchini
The perfect courgette is no fatter than your middle finger, with a wide-open yellow flower still clinging to its stem. Look for small, firm, unblemished courgettes whose skin has a healthy glow.
Dark green courgettes are easily available in Britain. Larger, pale green courgettes streaked with cream, a common sight during the summer in Italy and southern France, are starting to appear in UK farmers’ markets. Round courgettes, which are sometimes imported from France, can also be grown successfully in Britain. Spaghetti squash, a rather bland-tasting vegetable whose flesh comes away in long, skinny strands when roasted, can sometimes be found in supermarkets.
Courgettes will keep in the fridge for weeks, but taste best when used as quickly as possible after picking or buying.
Courgettes can be poached, blanched, hollowed out and stuffed, baked, fried, steamed or stewed, and taste great combined with goats’ cheese or garden herbs. They are quite watery vegetables so need to be cooked with care. If stuffing courgettes, pre-cook them for a few minutes in salted water before baking with their filling. Try courgettes preserved in vinegar, made into fritters or stirred into risotto. If you’ve grown your own, you can make good use of the delicate flowers too: remove their stamens, dip the flowers in tempura-style batter and deep-fry, or stuff with ricotta, parmesan and herbs and bake. They can also be sliced and added to salads, soups or risotto.
Cucumbers are in season from May to October, but are available year-round. Look for firm, vibrantly green fruit without wrinkles. Smaller ridged cucumbers differ little in taste to the more common smooth variety.
Store fresh cucumbers in the fridge for up to one week. Small examples, or sliced cucumbers can be pickled very successfully: pickled cucumbers are also known as gherkins or cornichons.
French / Green Beans
If possible, purchase green beans at a store or farmer’s market that sells them loose so that you can sort through them to choose the beans of best quality. Purchase beans that have a smooth feel and a vibrant green color, and that are free from brown spots or bruises. They should have a firm texture and “snap” when broken.
Store unwashed fresh beans pods in a plastic bag kept in the refrigerator crisper. Whole beans stored this way should keep for about seven days.
Just prior to using the green beans, wash them under running water. Remove both ends of the beans by either snapping them off or cutting them with a knife. We recommend Healthy Steaming green beans for maximum flavor and nutrition. Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with 2 inches of water. While waiting for the water to come to a boil, rinse green beans. It is best to cook green beans whole for even cooking. Steam for 5 minutes and toss with our Mediterranean Dressing and top with your favorite optional ingredients.
Greengages (a.k.a. Reine Claudes)
Greengages are in season in August and September. Greengages bought from shops and markets can vary in quality from superb to dull, but it’s impossible to tell until you bite into the fruit. Keep at room temperature and eat as soon as possible after purchase. Greengages are worth poaching and freezing for later in the year.
As they have a soft, delicate, aromatic flesh, greengages are best appreciated raw. If cooking with greengages, crème fraîche or Greek-style yoghurt will enhance their natural sweetness in fools, bavarois, mousses and ice creams. Vanilla and almond complement their flavour in pies, crumbles and sponges. Greengages have a medium level of pectin, so add lemon juice to help them set when making jam.
This knobbly bulbous brassica has a peculiar, alien-like look with its pale green colour and strange protruding stems. The name literally translates as ‘cabbage turnip’, but this belies its excellent juicy crispness and light flavour, which is slightly sweet and milder than both a cabbage and a turnip. This is a two-in-one vegetable – the leaves taste almost as good as the kohlrabi itself.
Kohlrabi tastes great steamed, stir-fried, added to soups and stews or dipped in batter and fried to make tempura or fritters. Served cold, it adds a pleasing crunch and mild spicy note to salads. Both the leaves and the bulb can be eaten: cook the leaves as you would spinach.
Marrows are an acquired taste, more watery and bland than young, sweet courgettes, but they’re a wonderful blank canvas for spiced or strongly flavoured foods.
Add marrows to curries to soak up and amplify the flavours of the spices, or stuff them with marinated meat, pungent cheese or hot chorizo. Alternatively, pickle your glut of marrows in vinegar with a selection of crunchy vegetables and serve with cheese as a snack, or as a side dish with cooked ham or curries.
Nectarines are a smooth-skinned variety of peach and can be white- or yellow-fleshed, free-stoned, or cling-stoned (where the firm-textured flesh clings to the stone). White nectarines have a more delicate, sweeter flavour than yellow ones.
August and September are the best time to buy nectarines from Europe. Nectarines don’t need peeling, but if you want to peel them for use in a pie, cover the ripe fruit with boiling water, leaves for 15 seconds, then drain and peel. If poaching nectarines, don’t peel them as their skins will colour the syrup a beautiful rose colour. Although nectarines can be used in any peach recipe, their smooth skin makes them particularly useful sliced in sweet or savoury salads, or halved and either baked or grilled. The stronger flavour of yellow-fleshed nectarines makes them better suited to savoury salads, and cooked dishes such as nectarine tart and poached nectarine with vanilla ice cream.
Traffic-light bright and shiny, peppers are welcome guests at the summer table. Although native to the Americas, crunchy peppers are synonymous with Mediterranean dishes and marry perfectly with other seasonal staples such as aubergines, courgettes and tomatoes. Stew these ingredients together in a pepperonata and serve warm with crusty bread and thick slices of pan-fried pork fillet, or layer thick slices of fried pepper, aubergine and courgette with mozzarella and grill until the cheese has melted.
Choose your capsicum to suit your dish and experiment with different varieties. Green peppers are the most bitter, and work well in tangy dishes such as goulash. Reds are all-rounders: incorporate them into stir fries, ratatouille, or pasta sauces. Spanish dishes also make heavy use of red peppers and paprika, a derivative of the Anaheim pepper variety. Try piquillo peppers, which work well as tapas, either stuffed with soft cheese or served with pan-fried slices of chorizo. Or, ring the changes with pleasantly sweet Romero peppers.
Yellow and orange pepper varieties bring sweeter notes to salads or dishes such as sweet-and-sour pork. Try stuffing them with herbed couscous and serving alongside a thick slab of chargrilled tuna.
The flesh of peppers is juicy and robust enough to withstand fiery hot coals. Griddle the pepper halves, then drizzle with pesto and sprinkle over toasted breadcrumbs – a simple accompaniment to barbecued meats. Or, thread pepper pieces onto skewers with cubes of succulent pork or marinated chicken and offer them up to the grill.
Runner beans (scarlet runner bean, multiflora bean, Oregon Lima Bean or Ayocote)
Runner beans, also known as string beans, are long, flat green beans with a rough skin. They can be chopped and added to rice dishes, sprinkled with sesame seeds as a side dish for Asian-style recipes, or served as a traditional British ‘veg’ with roast dinner.
These beans are best eaten when young and tender, as they can become tough towards the end of the season. Look for beans with fresh green skins and a firm texture with no brown spots. They should not be too long or stringy. Fresh beans will ‘snap’ easily and look moist and juicy inside. Home-grown runner beans are in season from July to early October.
Store in a paper bag in the vegetable tray at the bottom of the fridge and use within a day or two. To freeze, wash the beans well and slice. Blanch, then drain and plunge into iced water; drain again and pack into polythene bags. When you come to use them, cook them from frozen in boiling, salted water.
Top and tail the beans and pull away any strings (these are usually found on older varieties of beans, although stringless varieties are available). Slice runner beans at an angle or use a bean slicer to cut them into thin strips. Serve steamed or boiled and tossed with butter, or add them to minestrone or vegetable stews.
Pick a normal onion early in the growing season and you’ll get a spring onion. Spring onions are useful for adding a marked onion note to dishes, particularly when used raw.
Spring onions should have dark-green leaves and fresh-looking roots. Choose firm bulbs with even-coloured skins and no signs of sprouting.
Serve spring onions in salads, or sprinkled over Chinese dishes (particularly steamed fish), or stirred into raita or traditional Irish champ (mashed potatoes speckled with chopped spring onions). They can also be brushed with olive oil and chargrilled whole.
So often thought of as a summer vegetable fruit, tomatoes actually improve as the summer progresses, so tomatoes bought at the beginning of autumn will have a most intense flavour. The flavour depends largely upon the variety and how the fruit has been grown and ripened: some cheap imported tomatoes are grown under polytunnels, picked under-ripe, then artificially ripened with ethylene gas, a plant hormone. Sun-warmed tomatoes picked straight from the vine are arguably the ideal way to enjoy tomatoes. Tomatoes are available to buy on and off the vine from supermarkets and farmers’ markets.
When choosing tomatoes, pick them up, feel them and smell them. Choose tomatoes that feel heavy for their size; they are more likely to be bursting with juices. Tomatoes with no smell will probably have no flavour, so opt for those with a pleasant aroma (although the aroma released by tomatoes on the vine are usually due more to the vine than the tomatoes themselves).
Sun-dried tomatoes are available from some supermarkets and Italian delicatessens.
Get more flavour from tomatoes by removing the plastic packaging and leaving them in a fruit bowl in a sunny spot to ‘breathe’ and ripen. Never put them in the fridge as this will diminish their flavour and damage their texture. Tomatoes do not withstand freezing very well. Use under-ripe, green tomatoes for making chutney and over-ripe tomatoes to make soups or sauces – these can then be frozen for up to six months.
There are more types available in good greengrocers, farmers’ markets and farm shops, as well as in some supermarkets. The flavours of traditional apples range greatly, from the freshly fragrant with hints of strawberries to the full-bodied, nutty and spicy types that come later in the season.
There are two types of apples: eating apples and culinary (cooking) apples. Eaters are sweeter, with the most interesting flavour, as their sugars are balanced by an edge of acidity. They hold their shape well in cooking, making them the best choice for a French apple tart, a tart tatin or other continental recipes, which developed in countries without a tradition of culinary apples. Examples of popular eaters are: Granny Smith, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Golden Delicious.
Culinary apples are larger and more acidic. Their sourness mellows upon cooking, so you may not need to add as much sugar as you thought to a dish. A cooking apple will become more like an eater in storage because the acids lessen over time. Some apples are termed dual-purpose, and these are best for cooking when young and for eating when older. The most popular British culinary apple is the Bramley apple.
Most commercial fruit is picked under-ripe and put into controlled atmosphere storage (keeping the apples in air that has a high concentration of carbon dioxide), some of it for as long as six months. Some imported apples may have artificial wax on the outside to keep them looking fresh. The very best fruit is tree-ripened and recently picked.
For the ultimate freshness, there are now a number of community, public and commercial orchards where you can pick your own fruit. Gently cup the fruit in your hand and twist slightly. If the stalk comes away easily from the tree, the apple is ready. Seek out apples that are firm, with smooth and unblemished skin.
Early varieties, such as Discovery, Beauty of Bath and Worcester Pearmain, ripen in late summer and tend to be brightly coloured – sometimes with red blushing into their flesh – sweet, juicy and with a natural waxiness.
Mid-season fruit, such as Lord Lambourne and Peasgood Nonsuch, are harder-skinned, with firmer fresh and will keep for longer.
The late-season apples, such as Ashmead’s Kernel, Blenheim Orange, Cornish Gillyflower, D’Arcy Spice and Pitmaston Pine Apple, are very rich in flavour, often drier in texture and more likely to be russeted (slightly or entirely rough on the skin).
Apples store well for months if unblemished. Wrap each one in dry newspaper and then place in a single layer in the bottom of a wooden crate or shallow cardboard box. Place in a cool, dry, dark, airy place. Check them regularly and immediately throw out any that have rotted. As a rule, the later an apple ripens, the longer it will keep. bake them into any number of pies, tarts and puddings with a touch of cinnamon.
Aubergine / Eggplant
Although the plump, pear-shaped variety, with its near-black shiny-skinned exterior, is probably the most familiar in Britain, aubergines come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. Italian cooks enjoy varieties with long fruit and striking lavender and cream streaks. Asian cultivars vary widely: some, such as the bitter-flavoured pea aubergine, are the size of a grape; the seed-filled, rounded Thai aubergine has green stripes and is used in curries; the beautifully long and slender pale-purple Japanese and Chinese varieties are ideal for stir-frying. The aubergine can also be ivory-coloured and ovoid, which almost certainly led people in some countries to name it the ‘eggplant’.
Aubergines can be bought all year round but they are at their best, not to mention cheapest, from July to September. Look for unblemished, firm, lustrous skin with a bright green calyx, or stem. Home-grown aubergines are available from April to October in the UK.
Aubergines store well in the fridge or a cool larder for about four to six days. In the past, many recipes recommended salting aubergines to reduce their bitter flavour. This isn’t really necessary now, although salting does make them absorb less oil when they’re fried. To prepare, wash the skin and trim off the stalk. Slice or cut the flesh into chunks just before cooking as it discolours quickly.
This humble plant has played a major part in many popular regional cuisines throughout the world – in French ratatouille, say, or roasted and whipped into baba ganoush in traditional Levantine style. The slightly bland flavour of the aubergine makes it the perfect blank slate to which rich and aromatic spices and herbs can be added: slick with miso and grill, or stew gently with stock, chilli bean paste and Shaoxing wine for a classic Chinese dish with minced pork. In India, Iran and Afghanistan, aubergines are made into hot, spicy pickles to whet the appetite.
Look for small beetroots with the stalks still intact. To store fresh beetroot, cut off the leafy tops and then place to dry in a single layer in a wooden or cardboard box.
To cook wash – but don’t peel – the beetroot and either boil, steam or bake until tender. Once cool enough, the outer skin should be rubbed off. To avoid stained hands, wash them and anything else you’ve used as soon as possible. Beetroot leaves and stems can also be eaten: cook them as you would any other spring greens.
All berries have a host of health benefits, but blueberries, a “superfruit,” in particular, are a September star. They’re low in calories and rich in antioxidants that have been linked to lowering cholesterol, diabetes risk and slowing cognitive decline.
Blend some up for a refreshing summer smoothie, stir them into whole-grain breakfast cereal or try them in a marinade or glaze for meat. Altman suggests adding them to oatmeal or Greek yogurt or even in salads. Klein freezes some in a baggy, and pops them right from the freezer for an icy treat.
Try butternut squash in a creamy soup, comforting risotto or simply roasted for a healthy autumnal recipe.
Cabbages are large, round, leafy members of the brassica family. There are many varieties of cabbage and they’re harvested at different times throughout the year. Home-grown varieties include Savoy, January King, white, and red cabbages. Raw, cooked or preserved, cabbages play an important role in both Western and Eastern cuisines. They’re packed with vitamins, high in iron and potassium and low in calories.
Cabbages should have tight compact heads and no sign of wilting; the stalk should look moist and freshly cut.
Cabbage is excellent finely sliced and eaten raw in salads. When cooked, the briefest cooking methods, such as steaming or stir-frying, are best. Apart from red cabbage, which breaks the rule and benefits from long cooking, overcooked cabbage releases sulphur which reminds many of bad school meals!
Chicory is available throughout the winter months. Choose chicory with crisp, fresh-looking leaves that are springy to the touch and tightly packed; there should be no sign of insect damage. Once picked and exposed to light, chicory leaves start to become more bitter, so they should be stored wrapped in paper to keep out the light and eaten as soon after picking as possible.
Chicory works best in composed salads rather than tossed with other, softer leaves. Raw chicory leaves are excellent eaten fresh, drizzled with a little vinaigrette, or stir-fried and served as a vegetable side dish. Whole heads of chicory can be baked, poached or griddled. Chicory is particularly good wrapped in ham, covered with a Béchamel sauce and baked in the oven.
Cobnuts, which grow in Britain, are a type of hazelnut. You may be able to buy fresh nuts, particularly native cobnuts, still in their husks when they’re in season in early autumn, but most are sold dried and processed.
This late summer fruit is great in many recipes: stirred into a fool, stewed to make jam or slow-cooked into a sauce to serve with meat. Damsons are blue-black fruit that look like small plums. Wild varieties are extremely tart, and so are best relegated to the jam jar. An old English recipe using damsons is damson ‘cheese’, which is a rich confection of fruit, potted and aged before eating.
Modern cultivated damsons (such as the Merryweather variety) can be eaten raw when ripe, although there is about as much stone as there is flesh. In general, they’re best cooked, which brings out their sweet, spicy flavour. Many home-brewers are also eager to harvest the fruit to make damson ‘wine’ or damson gin.
Damsons are at their plentiful best in September. Damson gin needs at least three months to mature before drinking.
Look for small, blemish-free bulbs that are pale green, firm and tightly packed, which indicates crispness and freshness.
Both the base and stems of Florence fennel can be cooked by braising or roasting, which make it sweet and tender. Cut off the root end and the leaves and peel the outer layer of skin away, then cut either downwards or across the bulb, then boil in salted water for about 15 minutes, or until tender. For those who like raw fennel, try mixing thin slices into a green salad or shredding it with citrus fruit. Fennel is excellent for making soup or it can be poached, steamed or briefly boiled.
This striking fruit, with its fresh green or deep purple skin and vibrant deep pink flesh, is a wonderful addition to the autumnal table. Figs have a naturally high sugar content, making them an ideal match for equally intense ingredients, such as salty prosciutto – a classic Italian combination.
For reasons of convenience, many figs are imported hard and immature. When buying figs, it’s worth noting that they do not ripen after picking, so choose the ripest fruits you can. Look for figs with rich colouring, and those that are plump and yield slightly to pressure. Smell is important too – avoid any figs that have begun to smell slightly sour. Dried figs are readily available all year round.
Fresh figs have an extremely short shelf life. Thin-skinned and easily bruised, they need careful handling and should be wrapped in tissue for travel. Ripe figs are highly perishable and will not keep for longer than three days in the fridge. Bring out their delicate scent and flavour by leaving them in the sun for an hour or so before serving.
Eat fresh figs on their own with goats’ cheese, or slice into wedges and caramelise lightly and toss in salads with bitter leaves. Alternatively, bake them until tender and drizzle with honey and crème fraîche or yoghurt, or poach in port or sweet sherry with aromatic flavourings such as cinnamon, citrus peel and pomegranate seeds and serve with cream.
Dried figs can be soaked in boiling water or lightly steamed to reconstitute. They’re excellent chopped, mixed with nuts and spices and added to tea-breads and cakes, or stewed, flavoured with anise and fennel.
Globe artichokes should have tightly packed, firm heads with no brown patches on the outer layers.
Young globe artichoke buds can be cooked and eaten whole. Later, they still make a delicious starter boiled whole and served with melted butter, mayonnaise, hollandaise or vinaigrette. Break off each leaf and draw the soft fleshy base through your teeth, then pull or slice off the hairy ‘choke’ and eat the heart and the meaty bottom with the remaining sauce.
To prepare raw artichokes, cut the artichoke in half, through the ‘equator’ with a serrated knife. Discard the tops of the artichokes. Remove and discard the stem and pull off the tough outer leaves at the base. Trim around the base of the artichoke to remove what remains of the tough outer leaves from the sides and base, removing all of the dark green to leave only the white part. Then carefully remove the hairy ‘choke’ in the middle of the artichoke with a spoon and discard. You’ll be left with the artichoke heart or ‘fond’.
This citrus fruit is available nearly year-round, but the grapefruit season kicks off in September. Just half a fruit contains more than 75 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and research suggests eating that half before a meal could help you lose weight.
Slice a ripe one in half as part of breakfast or try this tasty-looking dessert recipe. Peeled and segmented, grapefruit can make a tangy addition to a salad. Or squeeze, and drink the juice or swirl it into a cocktail. (A note of caution: People taking certain medications shouldn’t have grapefruit juice.)
Pears can be thick- or thin-skinned with juicy, sweet flesh that can be buttery or slightly granular in texture, depending on the variety. The main British-grown varieties are Doyenne du Comice, Conference and Concorde. Comice has a meltingly soft texture, while Conference is slightly more granular. Concorde, a cross of the two pears, is buttery-textured.
Pears are normally sold hard as they bruise easily. They will ripen in a few days at room temperature, but turn woolly if over-ripe.
Pears are served cooked or raw, but in either case toss in a little neat lemon juice or acidulated water to prevent discolouration. Raw pears need to be prepared at the last moment. Use them in savoury salads, where they can be mixed with bitter leaves, sharp-flavoured cheeses, nuts or air-dried ham. To cook, peel and simmer pears gently, either in a flavoured syrup or with lemon, to enhance their delicate flavour. They are often poached with wine and spices. Cooked puréed pears are good in ice creams, fools and soufflés.
British plums are soft-fleshed and loose-stoned and can be divided into two groups: sweet ‘dessert’ varieties such as Avalon and sweet-sour ‘cooking’ plums such as Czar. Out-of-season imported plums belong to a different prunus family that originated in Japan. They are sweet, large, round, firm-fleshed, cling-stoned plums.
The British plum season starts in late July with the Opal variety and finishes in mid-to late-September with the Marjorie Seedling. Each variety has a 2-3 week season.
British plums develop an intense flavour when cooked. They make excellent jam, jelly and fruit cheese, but can also be bottled. Strong spices such as star anise, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon and black pepper all taste good with poached plums. Cream and custard based accompaniments such as ice cream or rice pudding balance their flavour. Out-of-season imported plums can be cooked, but are much sweeter and taste best eaten raw.
From pumpkin soup to pumpkin pie, enjoy this king of the vegetable patch. Stir meltingly sweet cubes of fried pumpkin into risottos or curries, offsetting the sweetness with fragrant herbs such as sage or thyme, or warming spices such as ginger.
Blend the flesh into smooth, thick soups, finished with a swirl of cream – a small pumpkin can provide a satisfying meal for one. Bake small pumpkins and stuff with rice and spices such as cinnamon, hot chillies and cumin. Or roast thick slices and serve with a chunky tomato sauce.
Sweet dishes need not be limited to pumpkin pie. Stir puréed pumpkin into a cheesecake filling for a less sickly take on this decadent dessert. Or try making pumpkin halwa – the nutty flavour of the pumpkin flesh blends well with the other nuts and seeds. Roasted pumpkin seeds are great on their own as snacks and can be incorporated into flapjacks and biscuits, or used to garnish tarts and cakes.
The radish is a plant whose edible fuchsia and white root is used in cooking. The texture of the root is crisp and crunchy like a carrot and its flavour is hot and peppery. Radishes can be cooked but are arguably best raw, either added to salads, marinated in vinaigrette, or eaten as a snack with a sprinkling of celery salt.
When choosing radishes, look for bright green leaves, which indicate freshness and quality.
Fill a Victoria sponge with fresh raspberries for a taste of summer, or use them in a classic summer pudding. Try visiting a pick your own farm for the freshest raspberries.
The UK raspberry season runs from May until November. They’re cheapest from July to September.
Keep raspberries chilled in the top of the fridge, or freeze by spreading out onto baking trays and then bagging once frozen.
Bring fresh raspberries up to room temperature before eating to maximise their flavour. Puréed, sieved and sweetened raw raspberries make a good summer sauce to go with ice cream and grilled fruit. The fruit also has an affinity with cream and nuts.
Raspberries collapse easily when cooked, so mix with other fruit such as summer berries, rhubarb, peaches, or apples to maintain the texture of the dish.
Preserve raspberries in vinegar, cordials, jams and jellies (add redcurrants to aid setting in jams and jellies).
This peppery leaf is also known as arugula, particularly in the US. It’s a dark green salad vegetable, popular in Mediterranean countries. The leaves have a slightly bitter, peppery flavour and are gathered when they’re young. Rocket is a rich source of iron as well as vitamins A and C.
Home-grown rocket leaves are often speckled with small holes, but these taste just as good as unblemished leaves, so don’t despair.
Rocket makes a delicious addition to salads but can also be used to make soups and to replace basil in pesto. A bed of rocket is a good base on which to serve grilled poultry or fish.
Sloes (Blackthorn) are very small, green-fleshed, inky-skinned, wild plums with an acid flesh and bitter skin. They’re commonly found in hedgerows in England, Wales and Ireland and make a fabulous jam.
Sloes are picked in September and October, preferably after the first frost, and are sold in some farmers’ markets.
Sloes are too bitter and sour to eat raw, but taste superb when preserved. They have an intense plum taste. Flavour them with orange zest, cloves, cinnamon or almond essence. Preserve them as sloe gin, sloe wine, sloe jelly, sloe syrup, and sloe plum cheese. A spoonful of sloe jelly can be added to plum pies or used in sponge cakes.
Traditionally, sloes used for sloe gin are picked after the first frost as this helps the alcohol to permeate the fruit. Alternatively prick each fruit with a darning needle, or spread them out on a baking tray and leave in the freezer for a couple of hours to simulate frost.
Make the most of fresh sweetcorn when it’s in season: try some simply fritters for a decadent brunch or a spicy sweetcorn salsa to serve with quesadillas.
By late summer young, tender sweetcorn starts to appear in the shops and markets. At their best, the husks should be green and fresh and the tassel at the end should be fine and silky, not dry and browned.
For the best flavour, sweetcorn should be eaten as soon as it’s picked, a bit of a tall order unless you grow it yourself or go to a pick-your-own farm. Eaten when really fresh, you will enjoy the sweetness of the kernels which should be plump and juicy and full of flavour.
Sweetcorn should be cooked in boiling water with a little sugar but not salt, which can can make the kernels tough. After cooking, season the cobs with salt and freshly ground black pepper pepper and serve with lots of melted butter. Alternatively, cut the kernels straight off the cob and use in a recipe for a spicy salsa, with heaps of chilli, coriander and lime juice, or simmer in stock with chicken or crabmeat for a sweet Chinese-style soup. Liven up brunch with sweetcorn fritters, popular both in America and Australia, and serve with a zesty lime mayonnaise, tomato salsa or rashers of crisp bacon.
This member of the beet family has large, flat, crinkled green leaves with thick, fleshy stalks and ribs. The taste is rich, complex and robust. Think of chard almost as two vegetables in one as both the leaves and stems can be used. Swiss chard is popular in Italian and French cooking. Swiss chard is also called chard, leaf beet, seakale beet, white beet and spinach beet. Different varieties may have red, pink, white or yellow stalks, rub chard has red ribs, for example.
Swiss chard is in season fro June to August, and from October to April.
Look for rainbow varieties of chard at farmers’ markets or farm shops. Choose fresh-looking bunches with bright, glossy leaves and firm, unblemished stalks. Reject any that are starting to yellow.
Chard needs to be stored in a moist, cool atmosphere. Store it unwashed: wrapped in damp kitchen paper and place in a plastic bag in the salad drawer of the fridge. Use within a few days. Chard leaves freeze well, but the stems become soggy. Wash the leaves well, blanch, drain, then plunge into iced water. Drain again and pack into freezer bags, then label and seal. Cook from frozen.
The stem is often steamed and served separately. The leaves cook more quickly than the stem and can be added to soups, flans, tarts and omelettes. They are also sometimes used as a substitute for spinach. Both stem and leaves can be sautéed with cream, butter and cheese. Wash well, before use, to remove any grit, and trim only when ready to cook.
Watercress leaves have a mustardy bite that makes them natural bedfellows to strongly flavoured meats such as game. The leaves are most commonly served raw as a garnish to eggs or meat, or as part of a salad with orange segments. Watercress also makes a pleasingly peppery soup that is as good hot as it is chilled.
[Images from www.gettyimages.com]