FRUIT & VEG: WHAT’S IN SEASON AND HOW TO USE IT

Your local farmer’s market will take on a decidedly different menu this month. Here we discover the finest fruit and vegetables of the season, and which varieties work best for what.

It’s November. It’s getting cold out there, and all we want when we’ve hurried through the gate, shut the front door on the whistling wind and shed our hat, scarf and gloves is comfort food: rich, hearty stews, steaming soups and deep pies heavy with fruit. But what produce is in season now the daylight hours have dwindled and there’s a definite chill in the air? And which varieties should we pick for the perfect plateful?

Apples

There’s no shortage of apples throughout autumn and winter, but you won’t want to bite into all of them straight from the branch. In lieu of blackberries, combine Bramley’s Seedling and Lane’s Prince Albert for a wintry take on our Apple & Blackberry Cobbler recipe – or pick from the below like a pro for cakes, crumbles, pies and more.

Bramley’s Seedling
This classic cooking apple is sweet yet sharp and refreshing, making it ideal for cider and apple sauce too. You can get hold of it from now until around the end of March.

Egremont Russet
Sweet and dry with nutty notes, rumour has it this oh-so English apple may have been developed on the estate of one Lord Petworth of Sussex. A dessert cultivar, it’s good for cooking, drying and snacking.

Falstaff
Another dessert variety, this juicy red- and orange-flushed apple can be both sweet and sharp, making it just right for juicing and munching.

Golden Noble
A cooking apple that’s on the sweeter side, this Norfolk cultivar also makes a delicious juice or apple sauce.

Kidd’s Orange Red
Considered to be an apple of exceptional flavour, its profile has been described as honeyed and fragrant, sweet and sharp. A perfect dessert apple, you can pick these up for your winter flans, tarts and turnovers from now right through January – and they’re also good for juicing, drying and raw nibbling.

Lane’s Prince Albert
If you prefer your apples piquant, opt for this sharper variety. It’s great for juices and cider and takes on a lovely lemon colour when cooked.

Cabbage
Red, white and Savoy cabbage are all in season this month, along with their more fashionable cousin, kale.

Red
Braise with balsamic, wine or cider vinegar. Pickle or mull. Sprinkle over light autumn salads with a twist of vinaigrette.

White
This one is at the top of its game in December, so hang on a little longer if you can, then braise, stuff and sauté to your heart’s content. Goes especially well with bacon.

Kale
Braised, roasted, sautéed or wilted, in winter salads, stews and soups, the brassica of the moment ranges from piquant and peppery (curly) to sweeter (cavolo nero) and mild (ornamental). Remember: the bigger the leaves, the bigger the flavour.

Savoy
Roast and drizzle with olive oil. Braise or stuff. Add to roulades, stews and soups or combine with the next of this season’s stars for our Carrot & Cabbage Horseradish Slaw recipe.

Horseradish

Anyone who’s ever tried to grate their own horseradish won’t be surprised to learn that it’s part of the same family as mustard and wasabi. As protection from hungry herbivores, when cut the plant releases mustard oil that can leave you weeping, throwing open windows or deserting the kitchen altogether.

Not in the mood for all that melodrama? It’s worth taking home the freshly creamed variety from your local farmer’s market. It’s beautiful in our White Chocolate Horseradish, which you can pick up from us or make yourself with the recipe on page 231 of A New Way of Cooking with Chocolate.

Leaves to hand? Steam, stir-fry or pickle – but keep in mind that overcooking will make them less hot, but bitter.

Jerusalem Artichoke

Nutty, sweet and crunchy, Jerusalem artichokes make a great alternative to the humble spud: add butter and pepper for a velvety mash; roast or sautée; slice thinly for salads or purée into a creamy soup.

For best results, look for firmness – no softness or wrinkles, please – as well as pale brown skins sans dark patches. Choose less knobbly customers to save trouble when peeling, or parboil for a few minutes, then let them cool to make them easier to skin. Can’t face the fuss? The big, smooth Fuseau variety is bred in part for simpler peeling.

We love the natural nuttiness of this species of sunflower (yes, really) with seafood: try our Cocoa Creole-Spiced Monkfish, Almond Purée and Jerusalem Artichokes recipe on page 110 of A New Way of Cooking with Chocolate.

Parsnips

If you prefer your parsnips sweet and tender, pick up smaller, whiter ones – they should have a similar firmness to carrots – after the first frost of the season when their natural starch has turned to sugar.

We roast ours with white chocolate and balsamic dressing, and purée them with white chocolate for an alternative to mash. See pages 149 and 150 of A New Way of Cooking with Chocolate for the recipes.

Other seasonal produce

Brussels sprouts, celeriac, chestnuts, cranberries, pomegranate, pumpkin, salsify, satsumas, swede and truffles are all in season this month too – so add them to your list before you tug on your boots and big coat this weekend.

Go social

Cooked up a cosy, seasonal winter dish with a dash of cocoa? Tweet your pictures to @HotelChocolat

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