Flavours of August
August sees the beginning of the grouse season, which kicks off on the Glorious 12th. Although we wont be stocking grouse, this date signals the start of lots of new produce to try, and you have plenty to choose from.
Stoned fruit is at its very best with options galore. Cherries are a sure winner, with UK varieties stealing the show, `our oakchurch cherries are simply fantastic. As always, freshness brings flavour and, when it comes to cherries, crunchy crispness and extra juiciness.
There is a massive selection of plums. A great option is the French mirabelle, which is also known as the mirabelle prune. It is a small oval shape with smooth, textured flesh and a dark yellow colour. They are known for being sweet and full of flavour. As well as excellent eaten fresh, mirabelles are widely used in jams, pies and fermented for wine or distilled into plum brandy. Which leads nicely onto damsons, famously from the Lyth Valley and Evesham. These are only around for a short while so you must be quick to get them fresh. Remember, they do freeze well if you want to squirrel some away for later in the year. August is pretty much the last month for exceptional peaches, nectarines and apricots. I always feel that once you hit September their flesh gets woolly, so fill your boots while they are at their best.
UK berry options continue to be amazing throughout August. Growers are becoming more savvy about chefs’ needs. Ten years ago it was all about the best yield and appearance, but now it is all about flavour. The blackberries especially will be at their best. Make sure you are using a product that has been picked when each little pod is ready to burst, because this is when they are truly sweet and packed full of juice and flavour. If they are picked before they reach this stage they will be bitter.
As well as blackberries, there are local redcurrants, white currants and blackcurrants. As you’ll know these have a very short season, but while they are here they are a joy to use – and very versatile. Like damsons, they freeze well. We see red currants on sale all through winter, but in fact they are not fresh. They are gassed and brought out when needed in the marketplace. Why not blast freeze them yourselves when the local crops are available? You’ll get a better flavour when you come to use them.
Some forgotten berries are making a tentative comeback thanks to the passion of some local growers and a constant request from chefs for something different. Loganberries, tayberries (a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry), worcesterberries are all worth a try.
Climate plays an important part for all crops, and this is especially true for berries. The same plant varieties are used in all areas, so that the weather has a big effect on speed of growth. For example, a strawberry plant in Spain takes 35 days to produce red fruit. In Kent it takes 50, in Yorkshire 60 and in Scotland it takes 75. The Scottish fruit get more chance to take on board nutrients and build up stronger cell walls over a longer period. Then you add in soil type, amount of rain, lack of pollution and daily sunlight hours and you start to see why Scottish berries are held up as the best – they have the best flavour and longest shelf life.
British broccoli is taking a major step forward, with tender stem, purple and white all being grown locally. There is a similar trend with cauliflowers, with lots of options on top of the normal white – yellow, orange, purple and the green Romanesque varieties are making this once boring vegetable sexy again! Try them chargrilled on a BBQ – they really are simply sensational.
The new potatoes are now moving at a pace, and we’re moving on from the early varieties to the second earlies. The stand out for me is the Aura from Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes. This has a unique, eye-catching shape, like a crescent half moon, is loose skinned with pale yellow flesh, and renowned for its distinctive flavour. One to name on the menu and certainly a gem.
I don’t often rave about carrots but the new crop is so sweet it is a must. There are many options to pick from: white, yellow, purple and good old orange, in every size from a mini chantenay through to the large bunched. We will have many different carrots in stock at Wellocks.
Another short-term gem is the English dwarf or bobbi bean, which is rather like a plump fine bean from Kenya. However, the British ones are much more tender and beautiful in comparison! There will also be plenty of stick or runner beans, which are best eaten when they are young, tender and sweet. These all have short seasons so make the most of them while you can.
August is an excellent month for foraging in woodlands with bilberries, wild cherries and mushrooms – including scottish girolles, ceps and chanterelles – there for the picking. All are exceptionally good when paired with the wonderful grouse! Also available to forage will be sea aster, sea beet, beach coriander, elderberries, sweet cicely and wood sorrel.
We will also have the first English apples due – weather permitting! I just love the discovery apple, but it has to be fresh – it’s no good leaving it in the fruit bowl. With a sweet and sharp taste, it will bring your menu bang up to date. After three weeks the variety will have moved on so be careful to only use them when they’re at their peak. Crab apples used to be gathered by children and used as ammunition, but they are now finding their way on to the menus of adventurous chefs – this is the month to get stuck in. More English apples will follow in September and the plum selection grows up so watch out for next month’s flavours!