What's in Season?

Award Winning Chef Ian McAndrew's Seasonal Food Guide - June 2023

This month should therefore be christened the month of the green vegetable, as all green vegetables in general seem to come into season almost all at once about now. 

We see the arrival of Spinach, always quite dirty and one has to buy a lot to get a portion but well worth the effort. Check which spinach you are buying first though, there was a time when we could only buy spinach beet in this country, with its tough almost leathery leaves it is a waste of time but nowadays real spinach is much more readily available and is a quite different product. Broad Beans, these early season gems are for me one of the best vegetables around. They are of course much nicer when shelled twice, that is when the actual bean is removed from its greyish/green casing revealing the vibrant bright green of the real bean inside, a bean that is as sweet as sugar itself, hard work and fiddly I know but they are different again. Always choose young tender pods with a fresh green colour, avoid those large bloated looking specimens with their dull often pock marked exteriors. 

Peas also start to appear this month too as do their cousins the mangetout and sugar snap varieties. Probably this countries most favourite vegetable the pea, but how many of us actually buy fresh ones? As invaluable as the frozen pea undoubtedly is it is a definite sign of summer when one sees local peas in their pods for sale in the shops and on the market stalls, and for the brief time of the year they are available I would advise everyone to choose fresh over frozen, sit in front of the telly podding them ready for the next day, mind you when I do that in our house very few actually make it to the pan, they tend to get eaten as a snack along the way. 

Courgettes, if you grow this versatile vegetable have you ever tried their flowers? You really should as they are quite fantastic and restaurants tend to pay a lot of money for them too! The courgette season should be with us now through to September, again always choose firm dark green specimens, really fresh ones once cut will look bright and glistening while oozing a sticky liquid, whereas older ones will just look dull. Also go for smaller ones too, if you grow them yourself you know how prolific they can be, pick them smaller and you will enjoy them more.

Broccoli will be along later in the month too, why is it that we can only buy broccoli with as much stalk as head? Many a time I have been ejected and subsequently banned from pick your own farms for cutting the heads while still small, and the stalks too short! 

There are of course more vegetables available than these this month! Samphire, that semi marine vegetable of beaches and marshes, starts to appear this month in profusion. On vegetable stalls and fishmongers where it is held in high esteem samphire will be seen for sale during the summer months. Always rinse it well before using, as it is invariably very dirty/sandy. Steamed or boiled as a vegetable even eaten raw in salads!

Also good this month is beetroot, a much underrated vegetable, it is so versatile, try par boiling it then roasting it or tossing whole peeled cooked baby beetroot in a little butter with a sprig of fresh thyme, cook with a little cream and white wine to make an interestingly coloured and flavoured sauce for salmon, or what about shredded very finely and tossed with walnut oil and a little rice wine vinegar to accompany a pate or cold pie, it really is quite delicious.

Strawberries, strawberries, strawberries, June is the month for this quintessentially English of fruits, although they have been around since last month June sees them at their very best. Another very English fruit is the Gooseberry, in season this month. Strange isn’t it how fads and fashions come and go over the years, once the humble goosegog was famed the length and breadth of the country nowadays people look at you with a touch of suspicion if you say you actually like them! Yet here we have a superb fruit, so succulent yet so tart the gooseberry is perfect in all manner of ways, in pies, crumbles, ice creams (gooseberry and Vodka has to be my all time favourite), jams and jellies, fools and even in savoury items like pickles, in stuffing’s for chicken, goose or turkey and as a sauce for the likes of mackerel, herrings or sardines.

June also sees the delicately perfumed and quite delightful Elderflowers appearing in our hedgerows all over the county, free food for the taking but don’t forget if you pick the flowers now you won’t have the berries later in the year. Elderflowers and the aforementioned gooseberries go well together making as they do a delicious jelly, or try using the elderflowers to flavour your custard that you serve with your gooseberry crumble. Even try soaking the flowers in the cream prior to whipping for the fool, as this will impart the delicate perfume of the flowers to the fool. Or what about dipping these delicate flowers in a light tempura batter and deep-frying them. Whichever way you choose to use them always take care in choosing your bush, the ones from a bush by the side of a main road will never be as good as those by the side of a bridle way deep in the country. Wash the flowers in cool water before using and pick only newly opened sprays for maximum perfume.

This month is probably one of the best months for eating Salmon, due to the farming of salmon it is now something, like strawberries or French beans, that is available all year round with unerring reliability and quality. Everything however has a true season, a time during the year when it is undoubtedly at its best, well June and July is probably that time for salmon. Salmon trout is also in season in June and is equally as good although never so abundant. The summer is also the time of the year for Lobsters and Crabs but give me a crab over a lobster any day. My preference was always a good large cock crab from the Cornish coast, and when I say big I mean big! Often up to 2.5kg/5.5lb in weight. 

Like all shellfish crabs must either be bought alive or pre-cooked and the sign of a good crab is that it will feel heavy for its size. Cleaning a crab can be a very time consuming job and many crabs found for sale are ready dressed, but if it is not pre-done for you please do not let that put you off, it is well worth the effort. Do not be tempted to buy frozen, as it is so completely different to fresh as to be almost chalk and cheese. When buying fresh crabs I always try to go for the males as they have a greater yield of white meat than the females and a sweeter flavour, while the females carry a greater amount of brown meat. To tell the difference between the sexes turn the crab onto its back; the male has a very narrow tail whereas the female’s tail is much broader and almost heart-shaped.

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