Flavours of November

The November frost brings with it some fantastic produce and we go back to basics as the real winter vegetables begin to come into their own. Searching for the best crops at this time of the year is as exciting and rewarding for me as searching for the most extravagant ingredient. For many of our local growers, November is a great time of the year for their chosen crops to excel – and the combination of local soil types and weather means they are producing some marvellous products.

Kale is one such product and there are lots of varieties to choose from. Try the red russian, green, cavalo nero and red. Kale has had a massive surge in popularity over the past couple of years thanks to awareness surrounding its health benefits. This is fantastic to see as at one stage it was pretty much only used for cattle feed!

Cabbage is also fantastic this month – again there are many options such as white, red and savoy. What’s great about cabbage is that all it needs is to be simply braised in butter with some cracked pepper; perfect for Sunday lunch. Another constant best seller is celeriac. It’s not the most attractive root vegetable – it was originally marketed as ‘The Ugly One’ in the UK – but it’s very versatile and has a great flavour.

Growers are now branching out into lots of exciting varieties of cauliflower. Look out for the green and pointed Romanesque, or the violetta. Yellow, purple and green varieties are all available up until late December and will take cauliflower cheese to a whole new level.

Tender sprouting broccoli, both the white star and purple, are taking over from the standard woody-tasting broccoli. The white is the sweetest and most tender but both look lovely on the plate and with no waste or prep to do, they’re well worth the money! Growers are at the mercy of the weather but, as more varieties are developed to withstand extreme cold temperatures, tender sprouting is becoming available all winter.

Rainbow chard, formerly known as five colour silverbeet, has now made a massive comeback in the UK. It comes in many vibrant colours – white, yellow, orange, pink, bright Yorkshire red and Swiss. It has a mildly flavoured stem and tasty leaves; delicious in a winter salad.

The standard red beetroot is now joined by white, golden, and chioggia or candy which has amazing red hoops through the centre. There’s also white Detroit and, the most exciting one for me, crapaudine. It’s cone-shaped, sweet tasting – and beautiful!

Of course, no winter menu would be complete without parsnips, carrots, sprouts and swedes – they are at their best now. These all taste better after a frost – and we have about 20 carrot options available. A blaze of colour with bright orange, white, yellow and purple varieties, and not only in standard sizes. Carrots are now available from micro-seedling, through various stages of baby, to bunched with the leaf still on, right through to donkey-size.

This season, there’s plenty of heritage potato varieties. Purple majesty and red king Edward 1916 – a rare version of the king Edward which has a creamy texture and great flavour. Small potato options from UK growers are also endless with rattes, pink fir, vitelotte, baby red rooster, all adding great flavour, colour and shape over the basic washed mid. And since they are local, you are not paying a massive premium that sometimes comes with European produce.

We will be relying on Europe for some things this winter such as citrus fruits and many ‘lost’ vegetables, most notably red meat radish and golden turnips. Red meat radish is becoming a firm favourite. It can grow as large as a cricket ball and, as part of the horseradish family, it does pack a peppery punch.

November is fantastic for the citrus family – there’s a lot to choose from and all at a good price and fantastic quality. Look out for finger limes, pomelos, bergamots and cedrats. From Spain and Italy, we’ll get navel oranges, and all your easy-peel clementines and lemons. For me, the Italian lemon is the best.  Also from Italy, comes the cime de rape and all the radicchios, catalonia and chicory.

This is also a great month for apples and pears – their flavours are superb and they’ll be in season until January. Choose from king of pippins, cox orange, braeburn, antares, golden delicious pink, royal gala, pink lady, gold rush, clocharde du mans, white canada, calville white, canada grey, and great Alexander. My favourite is the gold rush – it just takes its colour from the extra sunshine it gets at the top of the tree resulting in an amazing tart and sweet flavour. Perfect for a tarte tatin!

The pear selection is heavenly and it just gets better as we move through the month. The Provence quince is in its prime now but other great varieties are armande, passe crassane, doyenne du Comice, packham’s triumph, bartlett and William.

Wild mushrooms will also be in abundance, with the winter Scottish chanterelle taking centre stage at a brilliant £16 per kilo – same as last year. Trompettes also will be cheap at £15, girolles around £20, pied de mouton £25, cep £35 – the choice is yours! Choose from chanterelles, grises, jaunes, lactaires and ceps.

Pumpkins of all sizes and varieties are high quality from now until mid January to the start of February. Try the muscat squash or muscat pumpkin – delicious soft flesh with lots of fibre and a gorgeous dark yellow to orange colour. Squashes are at their best until end of December for some varieties and until the beginning of March for others.

The choice this month is endless and with so many local options there’s lots of great prices too.