I mentioned last time how the arrival of Ramsons (Wild Garlic) was a sure sign that the end of winter was a mere whisper away. And as if to confirm it, the latter part of last week saw the arrival of yet another indicator that spring is just around the corner (or that we’ve thus far enjoyed a relatively mild winter), namely that of Jersey Royal Potatoes. There was a time when such an announcement would have been accompanied by a fanfare of celestial trumpets, but these days the easy availability of so many alternative varieties of spud means it barely warrants a raised eyebrow - which is a pity, because they remain nonetheless a unique variety worthy of celebration. Possessing dirty, flaky skins, creamy flesh and a rich, earthy flavour, there are normally two sizes from which to choose, they being either a baby mid-sized salad variety (pictured) of a slightly larger ware-sized one. At the time of writing, though, the wares have still to make an appearance. Size-grading at first will be haphazard, but they should become more uniform in stature during the ensuing couple of weeks. In common with a lot of just-in-season “premium” produce, volumes with be initially quite low and carry a high price-tag as a consequence. The good news is, that our market buyer reckons it’s unlikely he’ll impose a minimum order requirement.
It would be no surprise to learn that traditional winter root vegetables, such as Swede, Parsnip and Turnip, are all doing rather well at present – it being winter, and all. But Parsnips and Turnips in particular seem to be especially popular, and may be an indication that more chefs are discovering more things to do with them, or perhaps merely a sign that more people are finding greater comfort in a good old-fashioned stew. Speaking of Turnips, I encountered some rather fetching Medium Bunched Turnips in the market the other day. They were Italian, roughly snooker ball-sized, very round and very pale, with lush green vegetation attached. Furthermore, both the leaves and stalks are edible and are high in nutrients and very low in calories.
Romanesco (that’s the one that looks a bit like a spikey green cauliflower) is currently of excellent quality and appearance, fairly abundant and highly recommended. Purple Cauliflower is still doing the rounds, but Orange Cauliflower seems to have entirely disappeared, the result, perhaps of a temporary hiatus, or an indication of a longer-term shortage. Our advice, therefore, is to check on its current status before you commit it to your menus.
In the past, Outdoor-Grown Rhubarb was the preferred choice of most cooks, because Forced Rhubarb was felt somehow to be an abomination against nature. Nowadays it’s accepted that both types have their merits as well as their limitations, depending on how each are utilised. Outdoor Rhubarb tends to be shorter, quite chunky and of a darker hue. Its texture is more fibrous less delicate, and its flavour more astringent and less sweet. This means that it’s ideal for use in dishes which allow for the addition of high quantities of sugar which, coupled to the fact that it keeps its shape and composition much better than Forced Rhubarb after prolonged cooking, makes it especially good for making jams, chutneys and preserves. Anyway, the upshot is that new season, Kentish-grown Outdoor Rhubarb has now arrived in the market and should be available to order by the time you read this.
The market is awash with Exotic Fruits some familiar, and some, less so, and include the likes of Persimmon, aka Kaki, aka Sharon Fruit, Quince, Grenadillo, Tamarillo and Mangosteen.
Fruit of the Week
*Ongoing Alert*: As predicted, the price of both Ginger and Garlic has risen (more than trebled, in fact) as a result of the disruption to Chinese exports caused by spread of the Coronavirus. Production has been completely stopped in most areas. The motoring and technology sectors are beginning to feels the effects of the lack of production too. If businesses are allowed to begin production again in say one month, it will take another month at least until the produce arrives in the UK.
Ongoing Alert: Poor weather conditions in certain growing regions of Spain, Italy and Morocco are still having an impact on the availability and/or quality of much of the produce we rely on at this time of year. These include Aubergines, Broccoli, Courgettes, Cucumbers, Capsicums, Medium Salad Tomatoes, Baby Leaves, Cos, Iceberg and Gem Lettuces, as well as some Citrus Fruits.
Ongoing Alert: English Potato crops are continuing to suffer the affects brought about by water-logged fields and reduced harvesting as a consequence of record-breaking levels of rainfall over the last couple of months.
Ongoing Alert: The availability of Pineapples remains tight, but the situation is showing signs of improvement.
Ongoing Alert: The market price of Bramley Apples remains high.
Ongoing Alert: Curly Kale is very scarce at present. And growers are continuing to limiting the volumes which they are prepared to supply us. There maybe nothing coming through at all once we reach April.
Ongoing Alert: Spanish Lemons remain scruffy looking and a bit scarred, but the fruit inside should still be good.
Ongoing Alert: The quality and availability of both Peaches and Nectarines remains unpredictable.
Ongoing Alert: The availability of White Grapes remains tight and their quality variable.
Ongoing Alert: Colder weather in the UK has meant that Bananas are taking longer to ripen once they arrive here.
Ongoing Alert: Plum Tomatoes and Plum Vine Tomatoes are still experiencing market shortages at present.
The market availability of Celery is tight at present.
Orange Cauliflower is scarce.
MARCH can be one of the trickiest months for those compiling fruit bowls, displays and platters.
Cape (South African) Peaches and Nectarines can often become scruffy and woolly-textured, whilst Apricots are likely to disappear altogether - if they haven’t already.
South American Cherries, if available at all, are likely to become very scarce and even more expensive.
By the end of the month even Plums can tend to become bland - but should continue to look okay for a while.
Clementines and Satsumas will have finished, so the choice will usually be between Mineolas, hard to peel Ortalinas (aka, Mandoras and Ortaniques) or Nadorcotts.
Apples should remain good and with a fair selection available. English Cox’s should still be faring well in terms of both quality and availability, but English Russets might have by now become a little scarcer.
The quality and availability of Pears depends very much on the weather in both the northern and southern hemispheres, which in recent years has proved unpredictable to say the least.
Dried Fruits, such as Apricots, Dried Figs, Prunes and Dates can work well and add interest. If you have the budget you may consider incorporating Medjool (Toffee) Dates, too.
South American White Seedless Grapes should at some stage have replaced end-of-season South African, although early examples won’t be cheap and might not have had time to develop much sweetness.
Tropical and exotic fruits available in March include Pomegranates, Kiwis, Persimmon/Kaki/Sharon Fruit, Dragon Fruit, Grenadillo, Passionfruit, Tamarillo, Lychees, Rambutans and the occasional Kiwano and Babaco.