It may seem a touch premature but I can sense a feeling of spring in the air. In recent years February has seen us frozen by a cold snap but this time around milder weather is prevailing and the first shoots of spring are beginning to sprout.
Walking down buyers’ walk at this time of year one cannot but be amazed at the quality and diversity of produce available to us. From closer to home we have some excellent root vegetables, carrots, parsnips, turnips and swedes, which are great value. Cabbages are also in good condition with savoy, black cabbage (cavalo nero) , red and green kale being the best.
Brussel tops seem to have finished but cima di rape and spring greens make a good alternative. Candy, golden and regular beetroot are must-buys along with celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes (actually a type of sunflower and nothing to do with Jerusalem or artichokes). Purple sprouting broccoli, however, is not at its best and quite hard to get hold of at present.
In general, prices have remained quite stable but aubergines and spinach have seen a price rise and potatoes seem to be creeping up in cost too.
From further afield beans, mange-tout and sugar snaps are of good quality and prices are stable. There is a great selection of wild mushrooms available (trompettes, chanterelles, girolles and pieds de mouton) but ceps have all but dried up (if you pardon the pun). Italian truffles are also available.
Also from Italy we have barba di frate (“monk’s beard“), which is a seasonal treat at this time of year, while from Scotland we have some sea kale, although quantity is limited as there is only one commercial grower left and picking it in the wild is illegal. Crosnes are still available, though, and more reasonably priced. All our baby veg is in good condition (baby leeks, carrots and fennel in particular).
Salads have been a bit hit and miss recently but cos lettuce, rocket and baby gems are now back to their best. Chicory is also great at present. In fact, why not try red chicory for a change – it’s great pan-fried. We also have some nice Puntarella, radicchio and castello di franco in stock.
English forced rhubarb and quince are looking great (prices have eased on both), pomegranates are also nice, while blood oranges are now at their peak. And if you haven’t yet made your marmalade for the year, we also still have plenty of Seville oranges in stock. Elsewhere on the citrus front, lemons – especially our leafy unwaxed Sicilian variety – are looking great.
Apricots, nectarines and peaches from South Africa are now past their best but plums are excellent. The South American cherries are also now finished and melons are a problem – with water melons, honeydew, galias and cantaloupes generally of poor quality and at a high price. However, this situation will improve as soon as the South American season starts.
Spanish strawberries have now started so prices will come down and all other berry fruit remains good value too.
English braeburn and russetapples are looking a picture at the moment but for something truly special why not try one of our melinda apples from Trentino in Italy, they are simply magnificent. English comice pears are still around but are probably best avoided now as they have been in storage for too long, the same rule applies to conference pears.
Finally, we’d like to give a special mention to the humble bramley apple as it is Bramley Apple Week (7-14 February). Also Happy Chinese New Year to you all. It’s the Year of the Rabbit, so you should get lucky on Valentines Day…