The joys of January

The frenetic business of Christmas soon becomes a distant memory as we are faced with getting through January. Here I have some amazing gems to hopefully set your menu alight and entice the punters away from their firesides.

Blood oranges are in vogue and will now be fantastic, packed with juice and sweetness, and bursting with bright red colour. It is the anthocyanins and flavonoids that pigment the blood oranges with their crimson colour. They also provide 150-200 milligrams of vitamin C, much more than normal oranges, which produce 75-125 per cup of juice – again we are offering the healthier option. This is not to say that the navel orange is not good at this time of year, because it is: it’s the best time for citrus, full stop.

The citrus offers don’t stop here, with the bitter Seville orange available for a very short period. If you want to make your own marmalade this is the time. The lemon offer is equally good with the standard waxed Spanish full of juice. But for something extra special, the unwaxed Italian takes it to another level. The leaf you get with these is just bursting with oil – the smell you get when rubbed in your hand just takes me to my childhood with the fragrance of lemon sherbet.

The passé Crassanne pear will be at its best – the only thing I can say here is to serve it with a bib!

If you are looking for a grape to add something different, choose the French Muscat. Although it has a seed it gives a massive perfume hit.

We aren’t short of options on the apple front either, and some real gems come from France. Goldrush is the most amazing eating apple I have tasted. It has been at the top of the tree, taking on lots of sunshine, which gives it its yellow and bright orange blush skin. When you bite it you get a taste sensation of crisp acid followed by super sweetness and lots of juice.

For cooking the French will use the Patte de Loupe which has a brown russet looking skin. Unlike the Bramley apple, they can be eaten raw, and you certainly will not have to add sugar when cooking them. Most importantly, the flavour follows through into the dish.

Winter vegetables are again in abundance. A GP-buster is the Jerusalem artichoke with the Lincolnshire product beating the French not only in flavour, but at around £1-£1.20 per kilo it’s a real winner. Purple sprouting broccoli is now becoming a staple, but what about the January King cabbage? This is my favourite cabbage with its red colour flowing through the inside leaves. But again it’s the flavour that sets this apart from all other cabbages. I recently took a phone call from a revered Michelin chef to tell me how good it was, so try for yourself!

Chervil root is becoming more sought after: its nutty and subtly sweet flavour is reminiscent of sweet carrot, with subtle hints of celeriac. It has a creamy white interior and is delicious boiled then finished in a hot pan with butter or made into a puree. Parsley roots look very similar to parsnips, but have a more delicate flavour. The taste is sweet but also sharp and bitter, somewhere between a celeriac and carrot with hints of parsley leaf and turnip. It is also extremely versatile and is used simply roasted or again boiled and pureed. Both these roots are becoming more popular, so it might be worth giving them a try.

Last January I focused solely on rhubarb and it would be remiss to not mark the start of the Yorkshire season. After two years of bad crop I can thankfully report we are set for a bumper harvest! This is all to do with the weather: all crops need real seasonal temperatures to thrive and get a good harvest, but this one really takes it to the extreme. There are now only 10 growers left in the rhubarb triangle (there used to be 200). Of these only four are signed up to the protected designation of origin. This is awarded each year to the grower, who has to go through an audit to ensure they are using the traditional methods that haven’t changed since the late 1800s, from measuring the soil temperature to checking when the roots are ready to break dormancy to picking by candle light. The upsurge in demand for the rhubarb has spurred on our particular grower, the fourth generation of the Tomlinson family to be in the industry, to invest in two new sheds and this year estimates that he will have 8000 boxes of rhubarb, compared to 2500 last year. Fantastic to hear this, and all the support you can give this product is great, as we all must strive to ensure the future of our heritage.

January 2015