Mmm… purple-sprouting broccoli, scallops, brill, venison, kale and forced rhubarb – how good it feels to be back blogging about seasonal food after the hiatus last year due to writing two really wonderful books !
Both are published in the next six weeks – The WI Cookery Book – The First 100 Years on March 5th and Back in Time for Dinner on March 12th (linked to a BBC2 TV series of the same name which airs in March/April presented by Giles Coren and made by Wall to Wall who make Who Do You Think You Are), and the buzz is starting. I’m meeting with publicists, planning talks and demonstrations, and even filming for a couple of television appearances linked to both books, details of which I will let those interested have once the screening dates are finalised in the next month. And surprise, surprise whilst researching and writing these books I’ve also been looking back into the history of farmers’ markets and their development since the 1990s (for the Dinner Time book). I am intrigued by the links from today to how our mothers and grandmothers shopped – our nostalgic vision of a time before supermarkets, BOGOFs (Buy One Get One Free!) and internet deliveries but you’ll have to buy it to read more…
But here and now I’m coming up with ideas for what to take home in your basket this month, if you are planning your regular trip to a local market, or are maybe thinking of visiting one for the first time. Here’s what to look out for this February (this piece also appears on the Kent Farmers Market site and there is plenty of other good advice there for finding out which is your nearest market, details of stallholders and a whole lot more):
If it’s February then it really should be fish on the menu. Buying produce in season ensures you get the best quality at the cheapest price and for fish that means they are also at their most abundant. And these days we want to buy our fish from sustainably managed stocks that are caught or farmed in ways that cause minimum damage to the marine environment. Choosing to shop at a farmers market allows you the chance to check with the fishmonger from where his catch has originated. For more information before you visit, check the Marine Stewardship Council’s web site. The MSC is the world’s leading certification and eco-labelling programme for sustainable seafood with a global programme for fisheries that assesses wild catches of seafood.
In February there is plenty of great fish around caught locally and often sustainably – in fact Hastings herring and Dover Sole have their own MSC accreditation. Lemon sole, halibut, skate (more properly called ray), monkfish and sardines are all good at this time of year, and shellfish fans should keep an eye out for clams, mussels, oysters and cockles.
Local Kent and Sussex coast scallops come in this month – and their very own festival to celebrate the season (check out Rye Bay Scallop Week which this year kicks off on Saturday 21st February) so make sure you don’t miss one of the region’s most enjoyable treasures. Try them wrapped in local streaky bacon and baked or with cooked on a griddle with slices of black pudding or chorizo. Or stir fry with ginger, garlic, shredded pak choi and a dash of soy sauce, or serve on a creamy puree of wonderful seasonal cauliflower.
For meat eaters, game is an excellent choice for seasonal healthy eating. Venison, guinea fowl, wood pigeon, partridge and hare are all good in February. Most modern game is lean and full of flavour so cook steaks or breasts simply on the griddle or quickly stir-fried, or braise tougher cuts or older birds with wine and bacon and serve with pureed celeriac. For comfort eating try mutton for its rich flavour or a lovely piece of rare breed pork – stuff a shoulder joint with rosemary, garlic and slices of lemon and slow cook for 12 – 14 hours (find a recipe on the internet) for a Sunday celebration .
Serve your meat with steamed kale or Brussels sprouts, both at their best this month. Savoy cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli all work perfectly in stir fries and curries, or serve them simply shredded and steamed tossed with a little seasoning, and a dash of cold pressed rapeseed oil. Main crop potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and turnips provide the starch that keeps us going in the cold so mash them together to go with your game dishes. Or try a mix roasted in rapeseed oil – I always use Pure Kent (and I also recommend their flour and wonderful sourdough loaves too) – and scattered with sea salt.
Local fruit is sparse this month but there are still apples to be enjoyed – the storing varieties keep well until April so make sure to go on buying local when you see them. The flavour is still sweet and fragrant for many crops. Early forced rhubarb is the cook’s friend now – wonderful in traditional crumbles, compotes and pies, it also goes well with rich flavoured meat and fish so serve a rhubarb sauce with grilled mackerel or spice it up with Chinese five spice and serve with slow cooked belly pork.
Purple sprouting broccoli with quick lemon hollandaise
(taken from The Busy Mum’s Vegetarian Cookbook by Mary Gwynn – photo David Merewether)
I never seem to have time to stand whisking hot butter into egg yolks as I was taught at Leith’s cookery school but these days when in a hurry make this version using my hand-held stick blender. I’ve always loved it with asparagus but at this time of the year take a tip from David Pitchford at Reads in Faversham who always serves it with broccoli – in February purple sprouting – and that’s just as good. It makes a really special starter or veg accompaniment
Prepare 10 minutes/Cook 3 minutes/Serves 4 to 6
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
6 black peppercorns
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 large free-range egg yolks
100g (4oz) unsalted butter
grated rind and juice of ½ lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
750g purple sprouting broccoli, trimmed and steamed
1 Place the vinegar in a small pan with the tarragon, peppercorns and shallot. Bring to the boil and cook until the vinegar is reduced to 1 tablespoon. Strain and leave to cool.
2 Place the reduced vinegar in the goblet of the blender with the egg yolks and process briefly to mix. Heat the butter in a small pan until really bubbling but not browned. With the blender running, pour the hot butter on the egg yolks in a steady stream. The sauce should be thick and creamy.
3 Stir in the lemon rind and the juice, season to taste and serve with steamed broccoli, and/or a meaty fish such as salmon, skate or monkfish.