WHAT'S IN SEASON?
Jersey Mids, Beetroot, Garlic, Peas, Turnips
WHAT DO WE NEED TO KNOW?
With more daylight, warmer temperatures and optimum growing conditions, the vegetable patch races away in June, and there's plenty of seasonal vegetables available, with some fruits starting to come in too. Crops are starting to yield large volumes, yet there's still much to come; June may contain the longest day of the year, but the summer blast of heat usually arrives in July, and with it, and abundance of produce. Fruit starts kicking in in June, with the soft fruit season starting, amongst other things to look for. There's still lots to prepare for later in the year, which we talk about in our What to do in the Garden in June article. But for now, let's read some more about what's in season in June.
Beetroot is not an easy vegetable to get along with. While relatively easy to grow, it needs a lot of cooking to become palatable. Its juices have great staining power, especially to urine, and many people will have memories of vinegared beetroot from childhood. However, fresh in season beetroot is a treat when it arrives in May or June and pairs very well with some of the other seasonal food, such as salmon, fresh greens or new potatoes.
While beetroot can grow impressively large, even up to the size of a football, small golfball sized ones have better flavor. It is a good source of B vitamins, and the leaves can be eaten as spinach for it is related to chard with its tasty leaves and stems.
To cook, either boil, or it can be slow roasted with garlic to bring the flavor out better. While often overlooked, it can give a delicate sweet flavor to salads.
Garlic is available all year round, but this is the dried, stored type. Garlic is seasonal, and is available when "wet", freshly harvested and eaten as a delicacy.
Garlic is not always thought of as a seasonal British vegetable; many food aficionados will declare the best and only ones worth their while to come from France. It is not always thought to grow well in this country, but this is untrue; there is even a festival in its honour on the Isle of Wight. Traditionally, garlic should be planted on the shortest day of the year, and harvested on the longest, with June being the beginning of the season. Wet garlic can typically be found in farmers markets or greengrocers; it's rare you'll find it in the supermarkets, for they favour the easier to handle and store dry types.
Drying garlic brings out the taste; for this reason, fresh garlic is milder, sweeter, and not so pungent as dried, and is a subtle addition to salads. It has a range of anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-coagulent properties, and as such is very good for you, so eat as much as possible!
When using to flavor food, prepare garlic accordingly. The more garlic is crushed, the more flavor is released. If you only wish to mildly flavor food, cook it with the cloves intact and unpeeled. If you want lots of flavor, finely chop it.
Gooseberries are not especially popular, and quite undeservedly so. They are the first outdoor seasonal fruit of the year, discounting rhubarb which is a vegetable despite its treatment as a fruit. Similar to rhubarb in its taste, with a tangy astringent flavor, it seems appropriate for the berry fruit season which typically starts fairly bitter and tangy and becomes sweeter as it moves on through strawberries, raspberries, and finally blackberries.
Gooseberries are thought to be called as they are because their sharp flavor goes well with goose meat, and young goose were once eaten the same time as the gooseberry season started.
Gooseberry is a tough fruit, and quite versatile. It can grow in quite inhospitable conditions where other fruits cannot, indeed all the way up to the Arctic Circle. For this reason, it is quite popular and easy to grow in Scotland, and the north of England, where many allotments and gardeners have "size" competitions to grow the largest fruit.
Despite all this, gooseberries still remain unpopular; perhaps because some people find them too unpalatable to eat raw, and with more preparation required than most berry fruit, they are too troublesome for many. However, this is often untrue; one of the best recipes is gooseberry fool, which involves topping and tailing the berries, stewing them in butter until they are soft and then allowing them to cool, then folding in an equal amount of double whipped cream and sugar.
"Peas are seasonal", you ask? "But I eat frozen peas all year", you say. Peas are one of the few vegetables that are as good frozen as fresh, but they still can't beat peas harvested from your garden to saucepan in less than 5 minutes. When peas are picked commercially, they are picked and frozen within 3 hours, which is of vital importance. When a pea pod is picked, the sugars in the peas start converting to starches straight away, and the longer they are off the plant, the more taste is lost.
Peas have been an important part of the British diet for a long time; as far back as the Middle ages, field peas were a staple part of the diet, not least because they dried well to store through the winter. Field peas, otherwise known as grey peas, were the main ingredient of pease pottage (a soup) and pease pudding.
The garden pea we know of today were not introduced in Britain until the sixteenth century, as a luxury import. They were adopted as a good vegetable for canning quite early on, although this can sometimes involve a dying process to maintain their greenness which can make them unattractive to some people. The frozen pea industry rapidly overtook the canning industry, and the UK now produces more peas for freezing than any other country in Europe.
This all being said, fresh in season peas are still better than frozen ones; there is something to the flavour of a bright green, juicy fresh pea that frozen ones can never hope to match. They are fantastic little bombs of sugar when raw and can even be added to salads, or after a light boil or steam (less than 4 or 5 minutes boiling produces the best result), with a knob of butter and some chopped mint added in.
Turnips are not a particularly glamorous vegetable, and have a past association as animal food and food for the poor. This is justified; they have a long and arduous history in Britain, and were a key part of crop rotation for a long time. They were a staple part of the diet for overwintering livestock, especially cattle. While we may treat turnips with some amount of disdain, they are a gourmet vegetable for the French.
While the larger turnips are still used as cattle feed, these are from the autumn/winter crop. The smaller, summer turnips are the ones treated as seasonal gourmet. They can be braised, or chopped and glazed with sugar, or boiled, and have excellent flavor.
The leaves of the plants, turnip tops, are also edible as a good alternative to spring greens.
Potatoes seasonal you say? But we eat potatoes all year round! While that's true, it's because we either import them from abroad, or use them from a stockpile of the previous seasons' crop, for potatoes store very well. Britain eat more potatoes than any other European country, even more than Ireland. While they're not generally seasonal, certain varieties are and should be experienced when in season for the best flavor.
For a vegetable so deeply ingrained in our diet, potatoes have not been with us for long, only coming over from South America in the sixteenth century. Like tomatoes (for they are closely related and can in fact be grafted with tomatoes), they were treated with immense distrust at first, and even when accepted, they first became a standby winter crop for when grain harvests failed. They had become a staple part of our diet by the 19th century, but even more so in Ireland, where each person ate up to 5 kilos of potatoes per head each day, which proved devastating when the Irish potato famine hit.
How are potatoes seasonal? There are three types; first earlies, second earlies and maincrop. Quicker maturing (and usually smaller) earlies are available usually from April onwards until July, while maincrop take until July onwards till November to mature. Jersey Royals are usually the first earlies to appear, in late April, helped by the warm Jersey climate and the nutrient rich seaweed fertilizer used in their growth. Many early varieties tend to be waxy, while later maincrop varieties are more floury and better for baking, mashing, roasting and chipping. Skins on maincrop potatoes are "set" which means they should be peeled off rather than scrubbed like earlies, although try not to peel off too much, for much of the goodness sits just beneath the skin.
Broad beans, beetroot, peas.