Nectarines, Figs, Medlars & Brussels Stalks
Despite them only having been off-sale for a matter of a couple of weeks, the good news nevertheless this week is the arrival back in season of three sorely missed fruits, namely Peaches and Nectarines from South Africa, and Fresh Figs from Brazil. Early examples of Peaches and Nectarines tend to be, let’s say, somewhat firm, often a little sharp-tasting and very, very expensive - and the ones of which I speak are no exception. That said, however, they are of a decent size (although admittedly not exactly enormous) and rather attractive. With regards to the Figs, although I’ve not had the chance to see any of the new crop for myself thus far, from past experience I’ve found that the skins of Brazilian varieties tend to be paler and initially often greener than their Turkish counterparts, and perhaps not quite so tender. Their flesh, is often paler and less flavoursome than the Turkish ones, but will be acquire more flavour as the season progresses.
On my most recent visit to the market a mere few days ago I encountered some rather handsome looking Spanish Helda Beans. Also known variously as Flat Beans, and Romano Beans, they’re approximately 20-25cm in length, have a smooth, silky texture and are string-less - which means they only need to be topped and tailed and cut to your required size. The recommended method for prepping is to cut them into even-sized pieces or slice lengthwise into ribbons, then either boil or steam them - which should be done until just tender but still crisp. If boiling, do so for approximately 7-10 minutes, and to steam about 8-12 minutes. Over-cooking won’t just make them soggy, but also result in them turning an unattractive khaki colour, so be advised.
At first glance, the Medlar strikes one as being rather ugly. On second glance one can only conclude that the first glance wasn’t an optical aberration and that further appraisal reveals it to in fact be even uglier than it first appeared. Somewhat dishevelled and uncouth and rather punkish in its appearance, the Medlar is a relative of Nispero (aka Loquat). Indigenous to Persia (modern day Iran), southwest Asia, south-eastern Europe, especially the Black Sea coasts of Bulgaria and of modern Turkey, and is believed to have been cultivated for around 3,000 years. The ones I recently encountered in the market (pictured) were indeed from Turkey and are just in season. Possessing soft, creamy yellow flesh with either two or four seeds at its centre, its flavour contains both sweet and sour elements and has been described as being a combination of citrus, peach and mango. Medlars are low in carbohydrates and contain high amounts of Vitamin B2, B1, C and A, are a good source of tannin, protein, natural organic acids and pectin.
I mentioned last week the arrival of English Brussels Tops and in so doing remarked that they were the uppermost foliage which forms a leafy cluster at the apex of the stalk along the length of which the Brussels sprouts themselves are attached. This week I’d like to concentrate primarily on the Brussels Stalks, because they, too, have since arrived in the market – replete with the aforementioned Brussels Tops as their crowning feature. Measuring approximately 40cm in length and disporting a rather impressive array of the emergent Sprouts in their natural state, the purists among you might be tempted to buy the stems merely to remove the sprouts and cook them. But that would work out far costlier than buying them loose to begin with, which means that the primary reason for ordering the stem would be to use as a decoration, for which purpose alone they’d make a rather interesting counter display.
Wild Mushrooms available at the time of writing are Ceps (Porcini), Chanterelle, Girolle and Pied De Mouton.
Fruit of the Week
Maincrop Potatoes: Wet Weather Alert - I asked our buyers if the flooding in certain northern regions of the UK and which are currently dominating the news is likely to have a detrimental affect on the availability of home-grown produce. The general consensus is that the main casualty is likely to be Potato crops, and will be due not just to the recent floods, but sustained heavy rainfall over a period of several weeks. One of our major potato suppliers reckons the recent wet weather has almost brought potato harvesting to a standstill in most areas of the country and that there are some real concerns as to whether the remaining crops still in the ground, estimated at between 10-15%, will be lifted before next spring. They go on to state that crop quality overall is likely to be “variable”.
The remaining UK grown Cauliflowers and Green Cabbages are suffering from similar harvesting issues to potatoes.
Peaches and Nectarines are now back on sale due to the arrival of new season South African imports. However, as mentioned overleaf, customers are advised that early examples can be hard and somewhat sharp - as well as very, very expensive. Be assured, though, that prices will start to fall once volumes start to increase over the next couple of weeks.
Home-grown Chard appears to still be doing well, but it could start to suffer if a further decline in temperatures in the growing regions bring about the onset of frost.
Ongoing Alert: The price of Limes remains high due to the fact that Brazil possesses all the available fruit and are making money while they can.
Ongoing Alert: The skin colour of soon-to-finish Satsumas and new season Clementines does appear to be improving, but is still far from ideal, being rather pale and with a good proportion sporting a slight green patina
Ongoing Alert: Green Grapes remain more difficult to obtain compared to Red varieties at present. As explained last week, this is because Brazilian and Peruvian supplies are arriving with slightly withered stalks resulting from their three week sea journey. The berries are still delicious, but compared to European crops whose season has just ended, the stalks look a little tired.