If I was ever under the impression that January was a difficult month to write about then February is not a lot easier, still, once this bleak month (for my mind the bleakest month of the year!) is out of the way then it gets much more interesting and spring is just around the corner, how welcome a thought that is!
During February all the winter vegetables we have been using for the last few months should still be in plentiful supply and in good condition. Brussels sprouts, always try and chose small tight firm ones as these will taste much sweeter than when larger. Cabbages, parsnips of course, Swedes, cauliflowers, leeks, they are all good.
This month I would like to extol the virtues of the Jerusalem Artichoke, one of the un-sung heroes of the vegetable world, a vegetable that unfortunately many think suitable only for pigs. Jerusalem artichokes are not, as one would first imagine, from Jerusalem or anywhere close in fact, rather they came originally from North America and are a relative of the sunflower. They are certainly not a vegetable designed for everyday eating, being prone as they are to inflicting that most anti-social ailment of ‘wind’ to some, but nonetheless a fine vegetable, just be careful, a little every now and then, not a lot too often! Still good throughout February the Jerusalem artichoke is to be savoured while it is available. What about giving this soup a whirl, Palestine soup (the name comes simply because it is made from Jerusalem artichokes I assume) is a good introduction to the vegetable if you have never tried them before. Try to pick out the smoothest, most evenly sized ones you can find, the knobblier they are the more waste you will have.
Fish during February is very similar to January with all the flaky white fish available as well as others like sardines, halibut, skate and shrimps. The wild Salmon season starts in earnest in February with many of the country’s rivers opening this month, some opened last month of course but the majority open sometime during February, there is salmon fishing to be had somewhere in this country from mid January through to mid November. Unfortunately, the wild salmon is in serious decline and although it is a far superior fish to eat than its farmed counterpart I for one am inclined towards farmed fish for now in the hope that once caught the wild salmon will be returned to the river in order that it may continue its journey and then eventually breed. At least for the time being, until stocks hopefully start to show signs of increasing again, I do not necessarily agree with the methods used by fish farms and lament the problems these are supposedly causing our migrating fish but if by eating farmed fish I can save a wild one then that is the route I shall take.
Marmalade, that is what you should be making this month, not only are oranges at their best at this time of year but now is the time for Seville oranges, these make the clearest and tangiest marmalade although sweet oranges can be used too they tend to make a cloudier preserve. Orange marmalade as we know it was first made in Scotland, Dundee to be precise. James Keiller a grocer in the town bought, what he thought to be a bargain shipment of oranges that no one else wanted. These tuned out to be Seville oranges and, being so bitter and sharp, he was then unable to sell them on. His wife, not wishing to waste all this fruit, chopped up the oranges, including the rind, and preserved them!
Marmalade has a long history. Its origin stemming from the Middle Ages when it was first made with quinces. Quince, also known as Golden Apple, would have been the base for most early marmalade recipes and the name ‘Marmelo’, which is the Portuguese name for the quince, is also thought to be the origin of the word Marmalade.
The game season is over as of the 1st of the month but there will probably still be a few pheasants available for the first week. There is the possibility of still getting wild duck too if they have not been put on the endangered species list due to bad weather! The season goes on till 20th February below the high-water mark for ducks and geese whereas above this line it ends on 31st January. Most wild duck offered for sale is shot above the high-water mark though and like the pheasants will probably only be around for the first week. Talking of game, venison, like beef, is very much a meat suited to this time of year, although available year-round it just seems more fitting to eat it during the winter.
Pork, like shellfish was always said to be better in a month with an ‘R’ in it so will definitely be worth using, what about belly pork, one of my favourite cuts. Salted over night, washed off to remove the excess saltiness then cooked extremely slowly immersed pork fat (confit) with garlic and thyme, drained and allowed to cool then roasted and served with buttered cabbage and puy lentils, absolutely fantastic, the perfect meal for a drab February day.
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