Flavours of December – The most wonderful time of the year

Why soil is the most important ingredient on your Christmas menu?

With any kind of fresh produce, location, location, location is everything. No, Phil and Kirsty haven’t started writing for me, I passionately believe that the right soil is one of the most important factors for root vegetables. Take the humble sprout for instance.

Sprouts grow better in dry, gravelly soil. Can you really plan a Christmas menu without sprouts? I very much doubt it! Many people don’t really give them the credit that they deserve. Not only are they at their best in December but they are extremely high in vitamin C – four times more than oranges – so they’re fantastic for keeping immune systems up. I love that sprouts are so much more versatile than people think – there are so many ways to make your basic sprouts something really special – I like them Dijon-braised, the combination of sprouts with onions and Dijon mustard creates a really hearty and warming dish. Try them roasted with balsamic vinegar, glazed with cherry juice and brown sugar, sautéed or grilled and you are sure to see plenty of converts this winter!

The correct soil is important for root vegetables too. Parsnips, swedes, carrots, mixed chantaney carrots and onions grow best in light, sandy soil with good drainage so that they can grow straight down. We have a great range this winter from baby parsnips – wonderful when roasted in truffle honey – to red and brown onions the size of a golf ball – perfect for roasting whole. The flavours of these root vegetables are a must on a Christmas menu and versatile enough to be used in soups and stews – perfect for warming up customers when Arctic winds blow in. Furthermore, Salsify and baby salsify come into their own. Similar to a parsnip, with white flesh and a thick skin. They can be boiled, mashed or used in a stew.

Next on the Christmas dinner plate is the classic roast potato – there are some fantastic varieties across the UK such as piper and sagitta which are mainly grown around the Lincoln area. Again, with a soil texture all its own. They’re perfect for a crisp, golden fry. Further north, in Scotland you’ll find the Red Rooster which will not be as crisp, as it will soak up more fat. But it retains an incredible depth of flavour.

Apart from sprouts and singing carols in the warehouse, it’s the smell of oranges that puts me in a festive mood. We have a fantastic selection coming over from Spain and Italy – navel oranges – so called because of the section on their skin that looks like a belly button – easy-peel clementines, the vibrant and juicy blood orange. Blood oranges have 40 per cent more vitamin C than other varieties of oranges and the pigment that makes them red, anthocyanin, is an amazing antioxidant. Bursting with fantastic flavour, colour and juice and being high in vitamin C, the citrus fruits help keep colds at bay – just what we need over the coming months!

Cranberries are a staple of Christmas dinners but why not try something a little different and serve them with red cabbage. Not only do the colours look fantastic on the plate but the sharpness of the cranberry works perfectly with the sweetness of the red cabbage making this a lovely festive side dish.

From Italy, we have the very special leafy lemon – great for the immune system and brilliant for complementing other festive flavours. The leaves from these lemons, and from clementines, are beautiful and can be added to many dishes to really enhance flavour and taste.

We will have lychees available throughout December. Rich in fibre and vitamins, these fruits add an exotic twist and a fresh flavour to your festive dishes. What’s more, lychees are fantastic when added to festive tipples or champagne!

Finally, we get to the Passe Crassane – my all time favourite pear which comes into season in December – they are exquisite in mulled wine. They come from the Rouen region and retain the most juice and best flavour of all pears. Again location is key and, for me, these pears are always better from the Paris area than from the Alps. These pears ripen over time and the stems are sealed with a blob of wax so that they will continue to ripen and won’t dry out. It’s this that helps to keep the flavour and juiciness of the Passe Crassane pear all winter.

Whichever location you find yourself in during the festive season, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and all of your customers a wonderful Christmas.