WHAT'S IN SEASON?
Globe Artichokes, Broad Beans, Cucumber, French Beans, Runner Beans, Fennel, Kohl Rabi, Shallots, Blackcurrants, Redcurrants, Blueberries, Cherries, Strawberries
WHAT DO WE NEED TO KNOW?
What's in season in July? Well leading from last months' kick off, the vegetable garden starts to mass produce in July. The bean harvest starts in earnest to continue through to October, the berry season picks up from its slow June start with strawberries and blueberries ripening, and even the apple starts in late July, with some early varieties starting their season.
Globe artichokes are somewhat of an oddity; they are not altogether popular in this country, although in Europe, particularly France, artichokes dominate market stands in the summer. When ripe, the soft flesh on these leaves should be scraped off for eating and the hard leaves discarded, until you reach the artichoke heart, which is soft and tender, with a delicate flavour.
An immature flower head, the globe artichoke should be boiled until the leaves (or bracts) come off easily; recipes are not required. Make sure anyone eating them knows how to eat artichokes though - it's not immediately obvious to all!
Broad beans' season is long or short, depending upon which way you look at it. The broad bean season starts in May, when the beans are small and the beans and pods can be eaten whole. Later on, when the beans grow, they can be podded and cooked like peas.
At the start of the season, when the beans are small and tender, they don't need long to cook, and if overcooked, broad beans tend to turn rubbery. As the season goes on, the beans get tougher, and need to be cooked slower and for longer, and by the end of the season the beans should be skinned to show the bright green, softer and more tender bean inside.
Not only the bean and young pod can be eaten - the tips of the plants can be eaten, and are considered a delicacy - you have to get them early though, blackfly usually devour the tops of broad bean plants pretty quickly and need to be pinched out to slow down blackfly infestations. Broad beans are similar to peas in that they must be eaten soon after picking, for the sugars soon turn to starch. If you have are growing them, and have too many to eat, you can blanch them and freeze them similar to peas.
BLACKCURRANTS AND REDCURRANTS
The British fruit season doesn't get under way properly until blackcurrants and redcurrants emerge in July. They are not hugely popular in Britain, and because they grow well in cool, northern climates, they are even less popular in the Mediterranean, but form the basis of several summer fruit recipes in Britain.
Redcurrants were cultivated before blackcurrants which weren't so popular because of their smelly leaves, and are popular in jams, accompanying a large range of foods from meat such as lamb, or a partner fruit such as blackberries, rhubarb or pears in jam-making.
Blackcurrants, in turn, were used first as a medicine, for soothing sore throats, and as an additive to tea, before they were used in desserts. Blackcurrants have a very high Vitamin C content, and are now very popular in cordials (Vimto being the main one), which use 95% of Britain's blackcurrant harvest. Blackcurrants are also good raw in summer puddings, and are best eaten in season, as fresh as possible.
There is a long history of growing blackcurrants in the West Midlands, particularly Herefordshire, although this may change as climate change sweeps the country. Blackcurrants need cold in the winter to induce buds, and therefore flowers and fruit to develop. As the country gets warmer, production and cultivation of blackberries will be forced northwards.
Blueberries have not been grown for long in Britain, only since the 1930s. A related fruit, the bilberry, grows wild in much of the country and is popular in Ireland. Bilberries are hard to find and pick in quantity, but do make excellent tarts.
Blueberries are currently enjoying much attention as their healthy properties become known. Like many purple fruit and vegetables, blueberries are rich in antioxidants and good for helping reverse short term memory loss.
Blueberries are excellent in pies and tarts, and a particular favourite is blueberry muffins, because the berry explodes within the muffin mix while being cooked, spreading the flavour, this also works with pancakes. Finally, they are also great in summer puddings.
Cucumbers have long been cultivated as a food, for over 3,000 years in fact. Cucumbers have little nutritional value since they are 96 percent water, and this makes them excellent as part of a balanced diet; they will fill you up when you eat them but require as many calories to digest as there are in the food itself.
Cucumbers are related to melons (members of the cucurbit family) and prefer a slightly warmer climate than Britain, since they originally come from Africa and Asia. However, given the use of a greenhouse or a slightly warmer area of the UK, cucumbers are relatively easy to grow. Ridge cucumbers are hardier and even easier to grow in the UK, and have a better flavour too.
Cherries have a short season in the UK, mostly during July, and are very susceptible to changes in the weather, with greatly changing yields year to year. Take into account that the large retailers, supermarkets, strive for cosmetic perfection and a reliable supply, and it's no surprise that they source foreign more reliable cherries. However, this is our loss. British supermarkets now only take about 20 percent of the British grown cherry crop, and you're better off visiting the local market or greengrocers.
It's important to buy cherries fresh, and not store them too long. More than any other stone fruit, they don't store well, another reason not to buy them in supermarkets when they'll have been in a cold supply chain for at least 2-3 days.
British cherries are largely grown in Kent, and no further north than Worcestershire. This is largely because the blossoms are easily destroyed by frost, and the further north you go, the generally colder the climate is.
Strawberries are the epitomy of British fruit; associated with so many things English, least of all Wimbledon, they signify the start of lazy, warm summer afternoons. But you can't just get them in summer, thanks to the influence of supermarkets, you can get strawberries all year round, known as Permanent Global Summertime. Once again, thanks to supermarkets, this is detrimental to us. Strawberries off the supermarket shelf in December will never be as tasty as those picked in the field in the middle of summer.
Strawberries don't stay ripe for long for a start, and when they are ripe, they are very easy to damage, even sitting in a plastic carton will damage them within a few days, and should be eaten as soon as possible after picking. Strawberries sold in the winter will have been picked when unripe, and ripened up using ethylene gas.
In Europe, large (also known as remontant) strawberries are not the only ones available; particularly on market stalls, alpine or everlasting strawberries are available too; these are typically smaller, and very tasty.
Recipes for strawberries seem unnecessary; serve them as fresh as possible, with lots of cream and sugar!
Tomatoes, aubergine, beans, broccoli, radishes, shallots.