Flavours of July

July is a fantastic time of year for some great produce, and these days we are spoilt for choice. British growers are looking outside the box and producing some great fruit and vegetables that you wouldn’t normally associate with being British grown. Crops that would usually travel for several days can now be in your kitchen within 24 hours and flavour is the winner.

We have Yorkshire kohlrabi, one of the most underrated vegetables in my opinion, in part because chefs don’t know enough about it. As it’s local it is exceptionally fresh – and this is the key to brilliant food! July is the perfect month to start buying it and the local season will continue to October. Kohlrabi has many uses – it can be an alternative to turnip, or used instead of radish – once peeled and thinly sliced raw it has a beautiful spicy flavour. Some chefs use it as part of a great coleslaw. You need to get it as soon as possible after harvesting and with the leaf on; this shows its freshness. When it’s really fresh the leaf can be eaten. When you slice into the bulb there should be no fibres that look like flecks – it should look silky smooth.

Fennel is another root that is now being grown locally. The aniseed flavour comes from anethole, a type of aromatic compound that occurs widely in nature. It is the same aromatic compound found in anise and star anise. The freshness that comes from having regional produce makes the flavour outstanding. And there’s the added bonus that it doesn’t have to travel tightly packed and so retains its lovely fern top.

Carrying on this theme of using local varieties of produce that are traditionally imported, we will have British-grown wet garlic, red and white chicory, corn on the cob, and globe, baby and violet artichokes. The chards have also been a massive area of improvement for us in recent years, with swiss and rainbow offering both fabulous colours and amazing nutritional value.

From Lincolnshire, we have another gem in green garlic. This is a fresh garlic harvested young and eaten whole. The cloves are just beginning to separate inside the bulb, and the skins are still soft and tender, as opposed to papery, meaning you can eat everything. It has a mild, sweet and nutty flavour, which can be used cooked or raw to enhance any dish. A great idea is to wrap several bulbs in tin foil with a little salt and a good oil and stick them on the BBQ. Just unwrap after cooking and squeeze out a sumptuous purée.

Green and yellow courgettes will be in abundance in July, and available in all sizes. If you like to use courgette flowers, now is the time as they will be beautiful and fresh.

We can get cultivated samphire almost all year round, but the real deal, wild variety is available in July, and there really is no comparison! The other foraged sea vegetables to look for are sea aster and sea purslane.

In June, the UK berry season was in full swing, with fantastic strawberries, blackberries, blueberries. But you have to wait for July for the British raspberries. For me, the Scottish raspberry is the one to have; they are bigger and juicier and take longer to grow, meaning more time to develop their outstanding flavour.

You can’t really go wrong with fruit in July. The only things you might consider passing on at the moment are apples and pears. The produce we get at this time of year is from the southern hemisphere, it’s expensive and lacks flavour. Save apples and pears for autumn, when the British grown varieties can shine.

Melons, on the other hand, will be delicious. The Provence Charentais is my favourite, closely followed by Piel de Sapo. This is similar to a Honeydew, but has a stripey green skin – earning it the nickname “the frogskin melon”. When ripe it has 14% sugar, making it the sweetest melon available, along with firm flesh. The perfect time to eat them is when the skin turns yellow. It is worth buying them and then storing until the yellow tint appears to guarantee the perfect eating melon. Look out for heavier melons as well, this is a sign that they are full of sweet juice. Frogskin beats the yellow melon hands down – give it a try!

I mentioned apricots last month, but they really come into their own in July. The Provence climate is just perfect for growing them, and as they are rich in beta-carotene vitamin A, and C and pectins, they are as healthy as they are gorgeous to eat.

The French greengage, whilst in season only briefly, is considered to be among the finest dessert plums. It’s a prelude to the UK plum season, and a perfect choice for desserts in July.