In Season: January
New season South African Nectacots should be in the market in early January or thereabouts. The Nectacot, as the name suggests, is a hybrid of Nectarine and Apricot whose texture resembles that of a Nectarine, whilst its size, colour and shape is similar to that of an Apricot. Flavour-wise it possesses elements of both. They won’t be cheap, but if your budget will stretch far enough we do very much urge you to give ‘em a try because they really are de-lish.
If they haven’t already arrived by late December, Spanish Seville Oranges are all but guaranteed to be in the market by mid-January. As we’ve mentioned before, they need cold and frosty conditions in order to thrive, so if last month wasn’t quite chilly enough in their native habitat, then January most certainly will be.
Sicilian Blood Oranges should be at their bloodiest and most flavoursome by mid month - but, as with the aforementioned Seville oranges, they like it cold and so temperature will be a determining factor.
There’s an even chance that Mineolas, or possibly Clem Nour, will start to supplant Spanish Clementines and Satsumas as our standard variety of easy-peel citruses towards the end of the month as their season begins to wind down. But don’t be too despondent, because although the Clem Nour can be a bit scruffy looking, both alternatives are really rather good and will provide worthy replacements.
English Bramley Apples are particularly good this time of year. That’s because it’s been several months since they were harvested, during which time their flavour has been allowed to fully develop – just like fine wine, ale or whisky. Sharply sweet and wonderfully aromatic, their use can extend far beyond mere desserts. They can, for example, add a dash of fruitiness to savories – particularly spicy or curried dishes like mulligatawny soup, and their juice gives a touch of edginess to sauces or salad dressings.
Southern Hemisphere Grapes (specifically South African and South American) of all hues should be consistently excellent throughout the month.
Grelot Onions are similar in appearance to spring onions but with usually larger and flatter bulbs and a milder, sweeter flavour, and can likewise be used raw or cooked. The stalks are also edible and can be sliced and cooked like leek, briefly stir-fried or chopped and used raw like chive. They should arrive from Egypt by the middle of the month and are usually available in bunches consisting of around 4 good sized bulbs.
Both English and Italian Fennel should be excellent and in peak condition throughout the month.
Early January should see an influx of new season Italian Kohlrabi, which, for those not familiar with it, is a bulbous root vegetable to which are attached thick-ish leafy tendrils and whose name literally translates as “cabbage turnip”. It can be eaten raw or cooked and its taste and texture are similar to those of broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter. To prepare and cook, remove the leaves and stems then peel and cut into chunks and boil for approximately 10 minutes, or until just tender. It can also be added raw to stews, soups or casseroles, or grated and incorporated into slaws and salads.
New season Scottish Swede should arrive no later than week 3 of the month - just in time for you to start using it in a variety of comforting winter soups and stews. Sweet and succulent and amazingly aromatic when raw, I reckon you’ll probably find them to be the best you’ve ever tasted.
Both English Green Top and French Purple Top Turnips should reach their peak during January, as too should English Jerusalem Artichokes.
English Cavalo Nero (Black Cabbage) should be in season by the end of the month. Ideal for use in many oriental inspired dishes, as well as Mediterranean style soups and stews.
Green Cabbages generally, as well as Cauliflower and Romanesco will thrive throughout the month, especially during colder spells.
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb will hopefully arrive by week 2 or 3 of the month. Forced Rhubarb is grown in the dark in specially designed ‘forcing sheds’ in which the environment is strictly controlled. Such conditions produce yields that are sweeter, more tender, more brightly and evenly coloured, straighter, longer and more slender than outdoor grown varieties. Many of these factors make forced rhubarb particularly well suited for use in sweets, desserts, jams and preserves, because its extra sweetness, natural tenderness and attractive appearance means it requires less preparation, less added sugar and less cooking time to achieve superb results.
There should be an excellent and wide ranging selection of Wild Mushrooms throughout the month, which are likely to include Ceps (Porcini), Chanterelles (both Yellow and Grey), Giroles, Pied Bleu, Pied de Mouton and Trompette. Be advised as always, however, that they won’t necessarily all be available at the same time, so make sure you check with us regarding the availability of a particular variety before planning your menus.
There’s a good chance that USA and Canadian Fresh Cranberries will finish at some point during the latter part of the month or shortly thereafter, at which time you’ll have to rely on frozen ones, which will be more expensive due to the lack of fresh alternatives. Because Cranberries home-freeze really well, our advice is to buy them fresh whilst still available at the cheaper price and freeze them yourself.
Surprisingly perhaps, January provides no shortage of options for those compiling fruit bowls, baskets and platters – as long as one is prepared to allow one’s carbon footprint to increase a few sizes by venturing further afield for inspiration.
If one is determined to stick with European produce then there’s a decent selection of Apples and Pears.
Clementines (both leaf and non-leaf varieties) and Satsumas will be of decent quality for most of the month but may start to decline towards the end. Oranges are usually excellent, with Blood Oranges reaching their peak by mid-month - if there’s sufficient frost in the Sicilian growing regions.
Italian Kiwis and Spanish Custard Apples will also still be available - although in not such abundance perhaps as they were prior-to and during Christmas. Israeli Sharon Fruit should still be excellent.
If you find that Dutch indoor grown Strawberries are tasting a little bland you may choose to opt for other types of Berries, which are air-freighted and therefore more flavoursome - but a lot more expensive.
For the widest choice of produce, however, one must look to the southern regions of the globe, in particular South Africa and South America. Cherries will begin the month well, but expect the quality to start tailing-off towards the end. Peaches and Nectarines should be good throughout the month. Cape Plums, which usually start arriving in late December, will have improved greatly by early January. Lychees will be reasonably priced and of good quality - particularly early on. South American Finger (aka “Apple”) Bananas are an ideal size for fruit basket presentations and, although pricey, will add greater substance and variety.
Pale-skinned, ivory-fleshed Nashi and Ya Pears (both of which could hold equal claim to be the most attractive of all the pear varieties) will add a touch of real elegance to any display.