In Season: November
New season South African Peaches and Nectarines should start to arrive by week 2 or 3 of November, with Apricots following soon after. With regard the Peaches and Nectarines, early examples will tend to be somewhat firm, often a little sharp-tasting and very expensive. That said, however, they should be a decent size (although admittedly not exactly enormous) and rather attractive to behold. Apricots first off will be small, hard and bland, and no less expensive.
Brazilian Fresh Figs, too, should’ve arrived by mid-month. Their skins will initially be paler and greener compared to their Turkish or Peruvian counterparts, and not quite so tender. Their flesh, too, is usually paler and less flavoursome, but will become more so as the season progresses.
The Medlar is a striking looking fruit - strikingly ugly, that is. Somewhat dishevelled, uncouth and rather punkish in its appearance, the Medlar is a relative of Nispero (aka Loquat) and indigenous to Persia (modern day Iran), southwest Asia and south-eastern Europe, especially the Black Sea coasts of Bulgaria and Turkey. Possessing soft, creamy yellow flesh with either two or four seeds at its centre, its flavour contains both sweet and sour elements and has been described as a combination of citrus, peach and mango. Medlars are low in carbohydrates and contain high amounts of Vitamin B2, B1, C and A, as well as being a good source of tannin, protein, natural organic acids and pectin.
Escarole (sometimes referred to as Broad Leafed Endive) is a bitter-tasting member of the Chicory family and, in common with most of its relatives (Radicchio, for example), can be consumed either cooked or raw. The slightly tougher, and sometimes darker, outer leaves are best suited for cooking and are most often sautéed or braised or used as a soup ingredient, whilst the lighter inner leaves can be torn into pieces and used in salads (it works especially well in salads containing sweet citrus fruit or pomegranate). Escarole is loaded with vitamins A, C and K and is a rich source of fibre. In a similar vein, you might also be interested in another member of the chicory family, a variant of salad Frisee and known commonly as Course Frisee. As its name suggest, it bears all the hallmarks of regular Frisee, but is much hardier and, well, courser, and can consequently be prepared and cooked in very much the same manner as the aforementioned Escarole.
Italian-grown Land Cress (aka Bank Cress, American Cress, Upland Cress, Creasy Cress) should be available before the month’s end. It’s flavour and texture is very similar to watercress, but grows in a non-aquatic environment, which means it can be propagated at home (hence, yet another of its various names being Garden Cress). Often unfairly dismissed as merely an adequate substitute for watercress, it can not only be put to all the same uses but, being slightly hardier, can also be cooked and used very much like baby spinach by wilting and steaming.
Despite its name, January King Cabbage will often start to arrive in the market in early November - given the right climatic conditions. First bred in England in the 1880s as a winter variety of Savoy, January King possesses a large, dark, tightly-packed green and purple domed head surrounded by a crinkly bluish-green ruff of outer leaves with purple frilly edging. Hefty, hardy, rich, full-flavoured and extremely versatile, this is a cabbage most definitely worthy of its regal epithet.
Collard Greens are a broad-leafed, cabbage-like brassica that possess an earthy, slightly bitter flavour which has been likened to that of Kale. Sometimes sold in the UK as a variety of Spring Green, both the leaves and stems are edible and can usually be cooked simultaneously - so long as the stems are tender enough.
Spanish Round Courgettes should be reasonably plentiful by mid-month. Roughly the size of a snooker ball and disporting attractive, greenish-white vertical stripes, they’re ideal for stuffing and baking whole, cutting into wedges and roasting, or, indeed, slicing into larger rounds than would normally be achievable with regular courgettes, which could then be used to layer casseroles and hotpots. Spanish Yellow Courgettes should also be fairly readily available, too.
Parsley Root possesses an uncanny resemblance to parsnip, which is partly due to the fact that they both belong to the same family of plants, which also include carrot, celery, chervil, fennel and celeriac. It can be cooked in the same manner as the aforementioned parsnip, although Parsley Root can be eaten raw, ideally by thinly slicing or grating and adding it to salads and slaws. Its flavour is less sweet than parsnip and can be best described as a combination of carrot and celeriac, with hints of parsley thrown in. Furthermore, much of their flavour is contained in the skin, so it’s advisable to scrub rather than peel them.
Spanish Helda Beans should make an appearance around week 3. Also known variously as Flat or Romano Beans, they’re approximately 20-25cm in length, have a smooth, silky texture and are string-less - which means they only need to be topped and tailed and cut to your required size before they’re ready for cooking. The recommended method for prepping them is to cut into even-sized pieces or slice lengthwise into ribbons then cook until just tender but still crisp (boiling should take 7-10min and steaming 8-12min). Be advised that over-cooking themwon’t just result in soggy beans, but will also cause them to turn an unattractive khaki colour.
Fresh Wild Mushrooms available during much of November are likely to include Ceps (Porcini), Yellow Chanterelles, Girolles, Pied De Mouton and Trompette. Both Ceps and Girolles should also available in frozen form.
October Fruit Bowl
The options available to those compiling fruit bowls, baskets and displays can become drastically reduced as we reach the month of November.
The quality of European Seedless Grapes, especially Red varieties whose decline would have begun in October, might reach a point at which they become unusable. In the third or fourth week new crop South African Cape Grapes should arrive, but will command premium prices.
Apricots will have likely already finished around mid-October, and, with the onset of November, good quality Peaches and Nectarines will be impossible to find until the arrival of new season South African crops around mid-month. Plums, will tend to become hard and bland.
South American Cherries should have started as the month comes to a close but will cost a fortune.
Berries of all types will be dearer.
Normally our advice would be to opt for as many different types of autumnal English Apples and Pears as there are available, in conjunction with whatever continental varieties are around.
Although the quality of Easy Peel Citruses is likely to be initially poor due to the demise of Southern Hemisphere crops, they will improve throughout the month as new season Spanish come on stream. Leaf Clementines should be available to provide additional seasonality to any display by around week three. The availability of Oranges can be a bit tight.
With regards to exotic fruits, Pomegranates, Custard Apples and Guavas are all worth consideration, as well as perennials such as Dragon Fruit, Pitahayas, Passion Fruit and Grenadillos. Out of season Lychees should have started again by the end of the month.