What's in Season?

Award Winning Chef Ian McAndrew's Seasonal Food Guide - August 2022

August is a bit of a strange month really, in the middle of the year with normally glorious weather, produce galore and I am now going to tell you that there is very little to write about. Not in the same way there is very little to write about in say February when there really is nothing to write about at all, but in the sense that if it was available in July then it is still around in August. Some things are definitely better in August than they are in July however and raspberries fall into this category, in fact as the year goes on they get better. Although we do tend to think of them as being in season only in the summer months their season can go on and on for a long time, up to 4 months, the early maturing varieties are around in early June with other varieties that crop late into September.

 

Great for making fools and jellies, they make a fantastic ice cream and sorbet and if there is a glut of them then they make great jam and jelly too. Raspberries are also a great fruit for freezing if you are lucky enough to have a glut of them, amazing really considering how soft they are. If you are using a puree of raspberries always strain it of its seeds before using, these seeds can be most irritating when caught in the teeth or under the plate of a set of false teeth! Crushing and passing raspberries is better than pureeing through a food processor as when the seeds are crushed, they tend to make the resulting puree slightly bitter.

 

Years ago, during the raspberry glut I used to make a liquor type concoction, which we used for Kir and Kir Royal. It was very much along the lines of cassis or liquor Framboise but much more rustic than the bought varieties. Unfortunately I lost the recipe, but it was quite wonderful sipping a Kir Royal, made from ones own raspberry base, on the terrace on a warm late summers evening. Raspberries are also fantastic when made into vinegar, which in turn makes wonderful dressings.

 

Raspberry Vinegar

1kg Fresh Raspberries

1lt Mild Cider Vinegar

200g sugar per litre liquid

 

Carefully examine the raspberries and pick over, rinsing very gently in cold running water using a colander. Place the raspberries into a large suitable container and pour in the vinegar, cover and leave to stand for two weeks in a cool place to macerate the fruit. Strain through a jelly bag or muslin and measure the liquid. Put the sugar and juice into a saucepan. Set the pan over a low heat, stir until the sugar dissolves and then continue stirring until boiling. Pour immediately into hot sterilised bottles or suitable hot jars and seal. Leave to mature for a month.

 

Peaches and Nectarines too are plentiful and succulent during the month of August, have you ever tried them grilled? Just sprinkle with a little sugar and pop them under a very hot grill, served with a little crème fraîche or better still, raspberry ice cream, they are delicious. Personally I have always preferred a peach to a nectarine and so often nectarines are too hard and never seem to ripen. These, as with most fruits these days, are obviously picked while nowhere near ripe then allowed to ripen while being shipped and stored. One can, and of course does, understand the reasoning behind this but they will never be as mouth-wateringly (great word although I doubt if it is a real one!) succulent, juicy and dribblingly (this can’t be a real one either, but it is still descriptive) good as one allowed to ripen on the plant. 

 

August also sees the start of the Plum season although some are around in the latter stages of July too. I have a glorious tree of Victoria plums in my garden, with their sweet slightly fragrant flesh and rosy skin they are fantastic straight off the tree, that is if I can get past the wasps! They make fantastic pies, wonderful coloured jams and even great fools. Or just try cooking them with a little sugar, a stick of cinnamon and a split vanilla pod, eaten with a dollop of clotted cream or even Greek Yoghurt, how easy can a dessert be?

 

Blueberries, and their wild cousins, the Bilberry, which grows on heathland across much of the country, are very much in season this month. Up until now they have only been cultivated in small quantities here in the UK. 

 

 

The height of summer means crustaceans, be it prawns, crabs or lobsters, even cockles and clams are good at this time of year. During the summer months British coastal waters produce some of the finest shellfish in the world with lobsters from Scotland are probably being the king of all lobsters the world over. As fine as a lobster undoubtedly is, give me a crab any day. Be it a large Cornish cock crab, one from Dungeness or possibly better still, from this part of the world, a small, yet incredibly meaty Cromer crab, simply boiled in a good well flavoured court bouillon (sadly this rarely happens) and served with a crisp green salad, mayonnaise and brown bread and butter, what more could anyone ever ask for? Or there again what about a pint of brown shrimps for an afternoon snack with a cup of tea or a pint of bitter while watching the most noble of sports on the village green on a Sunday afternoon? While strolling through Cromer about this time last year I was torn between buying a freshly dressed crab or the brown shrimps, so I bought both, and gorgeous they were too!

 

Sadly, and all too often we overcook shellfish, when cooking any shellfish it is sufficient to plunge it into a strongly flavoured boiling court bouillon, quickly bringing it back it to the boil and as soon as it returns to the boil, remove it from the heat then allow it to go cold in the bouillon in which it was cooked. The difference is incredible! If possible eat the day it has been cooked and before it has been refrigerated it will be so much more succulent.

 

When shelling the likes of prawns, crabs, lobsters etc., never throw the shells away ~ make a stock from them and if you can’t be bothered then let me know I’ll come and get them from you! Toss your pasta in a stock made from the shrimp shells reduced with cream, or what about reducing the crab stock right down and adding it to a little mayonnaise, possibly some diced tomato and finely chopped chives too and serving it with your next dressed crab?

 

 

Although roots like beetroot and carrots can be pulled from as early as June it is August that sees them starting to provide a reliable harvest and young beetroot are particularly good this month. I will no doubt mention beetroot many times to come and I will make no apologies for this as they are such a wonderful and underrated vegetable, great roasted with thyme and fresh garlic or made into soup, diced raw and cooked into a sauce for lamb, beef, even chicken, it makes the most intensely rich, deep maroon sticky sauce, their young tops are good too as they can be cooked and used as if they were chard.

 

Roast Beetroot with Thyme and Garlic

Beetroot cooked like this are a fantastic accompaniment to roast lamb.

6-8 small beetroot

12 good sized cloves of garlic peeled

1 dsp picked thyme leaves

Sea Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

30ml/1floz olive oil

 

Wash the beetroot well and remove their tops. Peel and cut them into wedges. Heat the oil in a roasting pan and add the wedges of beetroot and the cloves of garlic, toss in the hot oil, sprinkle with the sea salt and black pepper and place in a hot oven preheated to 200ºc/400ºf/gas 6 for about 30 minutes turning occasionally. About 5 minutes before they are ready sprinkle with the thyme, toss this through and continue roasting.

 

August is probably the best month of the year for tomatoes and these days as vine ripened tomatoes have come into vogue then it promises to be even better. Those amongst us that grow our own tomatoes already know the virtues of the vine ripened tomato but sadly not everyone is  that lucky. There is just something about the smell of a greenhouse full of ripening tomatoes, the time-honoured smell of the English summer!

 

Nasturtiums too, the vibrant coloured flowers and hot peppery leaves of this rampant plant are fantastic in salads of mixed leaves or tossed over sliced tomatoes before drizzling in your best olive oil. the plants tend to be so rampant in fact that there is never any worry about being ruthless in your harvesting of them either as they just seem to go on and on. Try roughly chopping some of the leaves and petals and mixing into some butter with a few chopped shallots then melting it over a piece of grilled fish or onto your steak straight off the Barbie!

 

Don’t you just love runner beans? Allotments and gardens all over the country will have their wall of runner beans bedecked with their scarlet flowers and every plant producing far more than the household will ever need. So why is it that we will insist on growing them to see how long they can be? There is no finer bean than the runner, but only when they are young, caught while young they are delicious, choose small bright looking pods preferably no more than about 6”/15cm long, ones which feel supple and snap sharply when broken. At this stage they will be stringless and an absolute joy to eat. 

 

I can not let this month go by without telling you about wild mushrooms, we are now entering their prime season with my favourite the Cep or Penny Bun, as it is also known, starting to appear in abundance in mixed woodland all over the country (try looking in the edges of the woods next time you are out on the golf course normally a great place to find them). Then there are parasols, also abundant at this time of year; girolles too will start to appear around now although sadly not in the same profusion as the parasol.

Pigeon

 

This has to be the best time of year for wood pigeon. Quite apart from the fact that there are a lot shot at this time of year, just think about what they have been feeding on. When out in the country whether out for a walk or just bombing down the motorway, look around, what do you see. Combine harvesters everywhere at the moment, they are bringing in the ripe corn, barley and rape. Pigeon shooters are out there now with their hides trying to bring the wily old pigeon into range over a stubble field where food is now plentiful for them. A pigeon that has been gorging itself on ripe barley for the last few weeks is going to make the most wonderful meal. That ripe grain imparting a really rich, soft creamy flavour that it is hard to beat. (goes really well with Beetroot too).

 

No mention of August would ever be complete without the inclusion of the countries greatest game bird which famously comes into season on the twelfth. The glorious twelfth, sees the start of the Grouse season which, as I am sure you are aware of, means the shooting season proper is not far behind! 

 

Strange isn’t it how most people associate Scotland as the home of the grouse and where most would be shot. Not true you know. Grouse are to be found in numbers just as large in counties such as Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire and even into Wales. 

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