Asparagus, Baby Arthichokes, Piel de Sapo & the August Fruitbowl

I’ve for a long time maintained that the end of the British and European seasons shouldn’t necessarily mean that people should eschew Asparagus altogether. It used to be most often the case that chefs and caterers were reluctant to switch to the Central and South American imports which replaced the outgoing British and European crops in the belief that they were merely a poor substitute and therefore not worthy of serious consideration. Although this attitude is still quite prevalent, it appears to me that the last two or three years has seen it becoming less and less so. Whether the flavour of the imported stuff is as good as British at its best is debatable, but it doesn’t fall as far short as you might imagine. Furthermore, I reckon there are areas in which it equals, and often excels, such as in its appearance, presentation and grading. Anyway, there’s loads of it in the market and prices at present should be quite reasonable.

English new season Cavalo Nero (Black Cabbage) has just started – but there wasn’t much of it in the market during my last visit a few days ago, so obtaining any reasonable amount of it might still be a tad problematic. New season English Red Curly Kale has also just arrived, but, again, the market wasn’t exactly overflowing with it (to be honest, I didn’t see any myself – in the flesh, so to speak, and am only reporting what I’ve been told), therefore its availability, too, might be a bit tight to begin with. Regular Green Curly Kale is still good and holding-up well despite the warmer weather.

Standard (British) Cauliflower continues to impress, but during my last few visits to the market there was very little sign of imported Purple Cauliflower, and those that were available were blotchy and somewhat scrawny and not really worth considering; Yellow and Orange varieties were both entirely absent. There is, however, a more colourful alternative to plain old white cauliflower available in the form of home-grown Romanesco, which, as you are doubtless aware, isn’t strictly a cauliflower but in fact type of Broccoli, but will nevertheless fit the bill quite nicely. The ones I saw in the market were, to be frank, somewhat diminutive but nonetheless well-formed, and possessed vibrant and even colouration. British Tenderstem Broccoli is excellent, but very expensive, which is largely due to the fact that there’s currently little or no Purple Sprouting Broccoli around. English Red Root Leaf Spinach is succulent and flavoursome and fairly abundant at present.

English Medium-Large Bunched Beetroot comprise attractive, firm roots attached to, juicy edible stalks and edible green, red-veined leaves. Highly recommended.

French Baby Purple Artichokes are another recommended buy at present. They’re about the size of a small pear and only need to be trimmed in a similar way one would prepare Brussels sprouts before they’re ready to use in whatever way you see fit.

English Runner Beans, Broad Beans and Fresh Peas are all doing really well, but their seasons are relatively short, so if you haven’t tried them yet I suggest you do so whilst they’re all still in top form.

Jersey Royal Potatoes, both Mids and Wares, are beginning to decline in quality and become scarce. They are succeeded by equally as delicious Cornish varieties such as Gemson and Riviera.

Spanish Melons of all varieties are in very good shape, and worthy of particular note (for its appearance alone, if for no other reason) is Piel De Sapo, aka Frog Melon. So named because of its skin’s similarity to that of the eponymous amphibian, it really is quite striking to behold. Beneath the surface it very much resembles Honeydew melon in terms of colour (but perhaps a little more golden), texture and flavour - although it’s often remarked that it possesses hints of Watermelon as well.

English Leeks are now back in season. Prices of leeks reached record levels this year due to shortages caused by the hot weather last year.

Fruit of the Week

Spanish Nectarines

As mentioned overleaf, English and European Asparagus has now finished and we’ve now switched to Peruvian and Mexican imports.

One of our buyers has advised me that, at the time of writing, there appears to be a bit of a shortage of Cherry Tomatoes in the market, and that prices are higher as a consequence.

Ongoing Alert: Baby Salad Leaves across the board are still predominantly imported due to a depletion in home-grown crops resulting from the unseasonably wet weather experienced in June.

Ongoing Alert: The deterioration in the quality of White Washed Ware Potatoes remains an issue as reserves which have been held in storage since last autumn continue to deplete.

White Cabbage still isn’t as cheap as we would like.

Ongoing Alert: The price of both Premium Sweet Potatoes and Standard Sweet Potatoes, remains exceptionally high and showing no signs of easing. As mentioned last week, one of our buyers with over 40 years experience has commented that in all that time he has never known prices to reach such a level - not even in comparative terms.

Small-medium sized Paw-Paw are continuing to experience market shortages. Large and Giant examples are so far unaffected, which means that these are the ones you are likely to get, so please bear this in mind before ordering.

The availability of both Ruby and Yellow Grapefruit remains tight and prices high as a consequence.

Both Round and Banana Shallots remain expensive.

August Fruitbowl

August is usually a good month for those planning and assembling fruit bowls, baskets, displays and platters.

Strawberries continue to be reasonably plentiful and not too pricey (weather permitting).

Summer fruits such as Nectarines (including White Fleshed and Flat varieties) and Peaches (also including White-fleshed and Flat, as well as red-fleshed Blood Peaches) remain good. Apricots will start to go off the boil a bit, becoming scruffy, dry and bland, and will usually disappear by mid-month, but they can often be substituted with Golden Plums.

August also heralds the arrival of a few home-grown autumnal fruits, such as English Plums, and the first wave of English Apples, including Discovery (which will be the most prevalent early on), Early Windsor and sometimes even Katy. Furthermore, there should also be a good selection of imported European Pears.

European Cherries will start to dwindle and usually make an exit by the middle of the month - although crops from the U.S.A and Canada. are often still available for a while after. Be advised, though, that these will be air-freighted and therefore command premium prices..

Figs are usually very good, and Tropical Fruits such as Pitahaya, Dragon Fruit, Tamarillos, Persimmons and Grenadillo should all be available.

Lychees may be tight, but can be substituted with Rambutans, which are likely to arrive some time during the month.