In season

June 7

In now: English spinach is at its best in cool weather. Buy to eat as it won’t keep.

At its best: Stew some richly coloured rhubarb to top breakfast porridge.

Best buy: Hail storms last spring ravaged developing pears in the Goulburn Valley, where 90 per cent of Australian pears are harvested. More than 600 tonnes of damaged fruit was juiced, and most of what was salvaged is superficially marked. Marketed as Hailstorm Heroes, you’ll find these marked but tasty pears in Woolworths, IGA and Aldi.

In the vegie patch: Cut down dried asparagus stems and feed the patch aged manure to promote spring’s harvest.

What else:

  • chestnuts, not for much longer
  • kohlrabi is good
  • there’s plenty of okra about for those who like a little bit of slimy
  • green capsicums are always cheaper than red ones because they are picked earlier, so give farmers quicker case. Use that bitter edge to balance the earthy mealiness of a black bean stew or pulled pork burrito.
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In season

May 31

In now: The best strawberries of the year are those grown in Queensland in the cool season that passes for winter there. Picking has started and the flavour is good.

At their best: Take advantage of Australian pomegranates as the harvest will finish soon. The arils store well in a closed container in the fridge so there’s no need to eat them all at once.

Best buy: Jerusalem artichokes are now a bargain. Scrub, slice and roast, or turn into soup.

In the vegie patch: Plant organic cloves of garlic, thumb-deep and about 5cm apart, in rich soil in a sunny spot.

What else:

  • avocados are back on the menu as supply finally picks up
  • look for bargain-priced baby Brussels sprouts
  • Harris Farm Markets has so far prevented four million kilos of fresh food being wasted by selling it as ‘Imperfect Picks’. Shoppers have responded so enthusiastically to the bargain-priced odd-looking things that the company is doubling the range to include William pears, red capsicum, eggplant, sweet potato, potato, tomatoes, zucchini and Granny Smith apples. Prices are up to half that of ‘perfect’ picks.
  • tried a choko yet?
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In season

May 24

In now: Buddha’s hand is a citrus that is all rind and no flesh. Use the zest in salads and sauces, candy it for desserts, or simply allow the odd fruit to perfume the room.

Last chance: Buy green olives for home-curing. They’ll require daily, brief, attention for a couple of weeks.

Best buy: Cabbage is a keeper. Wrapped in plastic in the crisper it lasts for weeks. Keep red and white versions on hand for a quick slaw, stir fry, or braise with bacon bits and a splash of cider vinegar.

In the vegie patch: Tie peas onto their supports as they grow.

What else:

  • the unseasonably warm weather is playing havoc with the blood oranges. These citrus need cold nights and sunny days to build the anthocyanins that make the blood colour. Unless we get some cold weather soon it will be a very anaemic season for the blood oranges.
  • time to make some quince paste?
  • look out for tangelos, the juiciest of all the citrus, and like a mandarin for grown-ups
  • beetroot are a good buy this week
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In season

May 17

In now: Jerusalem artichokes are the tubers of a towering perennial with yellow daisy-like flowers. Now that the flowers have faded and the tops died down, the harvest is ready.

At their best: Big differences in day-night temperatures builds flavour in persimmons so now that we’re reaching for a jumper at night, the fruit is at its best.

Best buy: Though it looks like a root vegetable, celeriac is actually a swollen stem and consequently has a much higher water content than starchy tubers. It can dehydrate and soften quickly and is best enjoyed when fresh and firm.

In the vegie patch: Sow rocket where summer annuals or warm season perennials have died down.

What else:

  • custard apple season is in full swing
  • the thyme is growing really well. Fry it up with some mushrooms to pile on toast
  • hunt around to score an old-fashioned tart white grapefruit. These are becoming rare as farmers plough them in or graft them over to sweeter varieties to please our ever-sweetening tooth
  • mmm, pears!
  • melons have been enjoying the long long summer. Try a rockie or piel del sapo
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In season

May 10

In now: Much-derided choko remains crisp, sweet and juicy in a stirfry while taking up the flavours of the sauce.

At its best: Don’t be put off by wan complexions in pink lady apples. Autumn nights have been too mild to trigger the usual colour, but the flavour is still there.

Best buy: Warm weather has kept Asian vegetables growing fast. Take advantage of bargains.

In the vegie patch: Keep one of those chokos in the pantry until the fruit has sprouted then plant into a 12cm deep hole in a sunny spot with a climbing support. Harvest the fruit at egg size for best flavour.

What else:

  • horseradish grows fastest in late sumer and autumn, so expect supplies to pick up
  • Moree-grown pecans are harvested this month, so fresh local nuts should be in store soon
  • try Jerusalem artichokes boiled then fried with bacon batons and tossed through baby spinach leaves
  • time for cauliflower soup

 

 

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In season

May 3

In now: Finally, the new navel orange harvest has started and those US imports will fade from stores. New season fruit has a bracing acidity and intense flavour.

At its best: Sage is in its final stages of lush growth in the garden. It’s a great match with other autumn flavours like pumpkin, walnuts and mushrooms.

Best buy: Shoppers win when broccoli grown in both Queensland and Victoria, arrives in Sydney.

In the vegie patch: Mail-order rhubarb crowns or plant potted plants into rich, well-drained soil. Rhubarb does best with morning sun and protection from hot afternoon sun in summer. Feed enthusiastically for big harvests.

What else:

  • when the kiwi fruit get soft and mushy and even the kids turn up their nose, take advantage of the fruit’s actinidin enzyme to tenderise squid, cuttlefish or cheaper cuts of meat. Smoosh over the meat, marinate for no longer than 20 minutes, and rinse or scrape off before cooking.
  • try a raw beetroot salad. Slice into matchsticks and enjoy the crunch.
  • the imperial mandarin currently filling lunchboxes is an Australian original, discovered here in 1890. Named as a tribute to Queen Victoria, who had celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887 do you think?
  • rambutans have arrived from tropical north Queensland. Choose those with fresh green spines.
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In season

April 26

In now: Sweet persimmon, are also sold as fuyu fruit, can be eaten firm and crisp, skin and all, or left to soften. Harder to find are original persimmons, which ripen to a super-sweet jelly scooped out of the skin with a spoon.

At its best: Quinces have renowned storage capacity and a sweet fragrance so were used to perfume the linen cupboard in the days before scented candles. Enjoy their craggy golden good looks and fresh smell now, then cook them later.

Best buy: Bananas are a bargain.

In the vegie patch: Sow calendula seed through the vegie patch for colour, bee food, and edible petals through winter.

What else

  • fresh horseradish supplies are increasing, just as you were thinking about roasting that beef standing rib.
  • Portuguese traders introduced the Japanese to pumpkin  in the 16th century and they’ve loved it ever since. Try roasting wedges of pumpkin, Jap, of course, with teriyaki sauce.
  • look out for fresh Australian walnuts, sold in shell
  • flavour is good in celeriac now
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In season

April 19

In now: Feijoas are sometimes called pineapple guavas in an attempt to describe the tropical fruit salad-dressed-with-lemon-juice flavour of this South American fruit. Big in New Zealand, demand for the feijoa is growing here too. Fruit is ready to eat when slightly soft.

At its best: Fennel of all sizes is fresh and crisp.

Last chance: Snake beans are on the way out so act fast for one more green papaya salad.

In the vegie patch: Feijoa is a great backyard fruit tree; small, clippable and with beautiful red edible flowers. Sadly fruit fly love it so harvests are best when the tree can be netted. Where fruit fly is not a problem it makes a fabulous edible hedge.

What else:

  • I like the tartness of the early season mandarins available now
  • there are now packham pears to add to the corella, buerre bosc choices
  • look for bargain bunches of silver beet
  • the persimmons are getting better as the nights get cooler
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In season

April 12

In now: Kanzi is Europe’s most popular apple. It’s the offspring of royal gala and braeburn and demand here is growing after the first harvest in 2010. More trees are being planted but supply is still limited. Expect them to be gone from stores by winter.

At their best: Australian-grown kiwi fruit are easy to find right now, with green and gold varieties coming from Queensland and Victoria.

Best buy: Silverbeet offers two meals. Use the leaves first, then lightly peel the stems and cook them down in a tomato and garlic sauce until meltingly soft, about 20 minutes.

In the vegie patch: Push individual cloves of organically grown garlic into enriched soil in a sunny spot. Space them about 5cm apart.

What else: 

  • custard apples are fragile once ripe, so buy them firm and ripen at room temperature. Put them in the fridge once they are soft, but only for a day or two, as chilling blackens the skin and dampens the flavour.
  • small, crunchy kohlrabi bulbs are a bargain.
  • loving the pumpkins!
  • our favourite salad last week mixed baby spinach leaves, celery leaves, a shaved celery stem, pomegranate arils, toasted pine nuts and some leftover crispy fried onions, all dressed with a mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pomegranate molasses. We ate it with a couple of barbecued king prawns and a glass of chardonnay and felt very lucky.

 

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In season

April 5

In now: Most of the early season Australian pomegranates have pink arils; the lush ruby red and deep burgundy varieties come later in the season.

At their best: Unlike other tree nuts, chestnuts don’t have a long shelf life so make the most of the short season. Peeling them is a labour of love – cut the skin before roasting, then peel off skin and the furry inner pellicle as soon as you can handle them.  This is not as always as easy as it should be. Also try putting the nuts in a bowl and covering them with a tea towel while they cool a bit – the steam can help shift that maddeningly sticky pellicle.

Best buy: Pumpkins are cheapest bought whole, but still good value in pieces. Choose jap, butternut and jarrahdale for versatility and bright orange, thin-skinned golden nuggets for stuffing, or simply for decorating the autumn table. While they look great, they have a low flesh-to-seed ratio and the flavour is thin compared to the usual heroes.

In the vegie patch: Head to Collectors’ Plant Fair, Hawkesbury Race Club, Clarendon next weekend, 9 and 10 April, when edible specialists join more than 70 other nurseries selling interesting and unusual plants.

What else:

  • fennel is back in season, and perfect in a slaw with fresh apples
  • there is a shortage of hass avocadoes at the moment, but the shepards make up for it. These are the avocados that made avocado vinaigrette a stylish entree in the ’70s – tear-drop-shaped, thin-skinned, and with delicious green-tinged yellow flesh
  • while the sage is still so good, cook it up some mushrooms
  • jam makers who just filled the pantry with fig jam will have to start begging empty jars from friends as quince season has started and they’ll soon be required for quince jelly.

 

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In season

March 29

Bad news: Leatherwood honey is unique to Tasmania, where leatherwoods are understorey shrubs in forests in the west of the island. Long-burning fires this summer prevented many apiarists accessing their hives at harvest time. They expect shortages of leatherwood honey this season, and possibly into the future, depending on the extent of damage to the plants.

At their best: Green olives are available for brine-your-own.

Best buy: Lemons are back on the menu after their summer break. Grate the zest over mixed heirloom tomatoes, dress with fresh olive oil and good salt.

In the vegie patch: The wet weather brought snails and slugs. Guard the soft-leaf veg.

What else:

  • early quinces are in
  • so are the first pomegranates of the Australian season
  • autumn rhubarb is fat and long-stemmed so a better bunch buy than usual
  • pumpkins are deliciously good value
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In season

March 22

In now: Chestnuts are falling and ready for collecting at Mount Wilson and Mount Irvine. You can also find them in shops.

At their best: Granny Smith apples are tart early in the season, and sweeter later,  so now is the time to cook them into pies and crumbles, and to eat them fresh if you like fruit with attitude. Buy just-picked fruit from Bilpin orchard farm gates this weekend.

Best buy: Hot weather has been speeding growth of Asian vegetables and growing bargains.

In the vegie patch: Citrus leaf miner is twisting new foliage on citrus. Once the damage is visible, the pest has gone, but further incursions can be prevented by spraying regularly with Eco-oil. The moth whose larvae do the damage won’t lay eggs on an oily surface.

What else:

  • don’t waste fig season – use them with everything from salad to dessert
  • the black muscatels and crimson seedless are the tastiest grapes late in the season
  • farewell Australian asparagus. It’s all imported from now til September. Feel free to disregard those chefs who are always banging on about using local seasonal produce and who still have asparagus on their menus!
  • ooh, Harris Farm Markets has fantastic Tasmanian-grown garlic.
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In season

March 15

Bad news: Leatherwood honey is unique to Tasmania, where leatherwoods are understorey shrubs in forests in the west of the island. Long-burning fires this summer prevented many apiarists accessing their hives at harvest time. They expect shortages of leatherwood honey this season, and possibly into the future, depending on the extent of damage to the plants.

At their best: Local Sydney growers are harvesting chillies. Dry unused fruit in the sun, turning occasionally, then store in an airtight container for winter heat.

Best buy: Look out for small strawberries grown in Victoria selling at jam-making prices.

In the vegie patch: Sow rocket into bare patches in garden beds. Make sure the soil is damp first, and keep it moist until the seed germinates.

What else:

  • the fresh apple choice is increasing – fuji, jonathon, gala, red delicious
  • fig and ginger jam anyone?
  • try a prickly pear, also called Indian fig. Those sold in punnets have had the prickly spines removed.
  • there ar some new seasons persimmon around, but the best flavour is a way off yet.
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In season

March 8

In now: Look out for mangosteens from tropical Queensland. Hard to find, pricey and utterly delicious. To open cut the thick skin around the fruit’s equator, lift off the top and scoop out the segments.

Going fast: The lychee season is wrapping up. Grab one last handful of sweet juicy fruit.

Best buy: Machine-picked green beans are a bargain this week. The brown marks that can develop on otherwise snappy fresh beans are a sign that they have been overchilled in storage. Use them fast.

In the vegie patch: Plan a preserving weekend to sauce the tomatoes, pickle the cucumbers and freeze the beans.

What else:

  • Italy is the biggest producer of kiwi fruit in the world, and that’s where supplies are coming from at the moment
  • are you celebrating the range of fabulous tomatoes in every salad you can think of?
  • the undersized plums at Harris Farm Markets Imperfect Picks are perfect for jam
  • tasty Tasmanian carrots are bargain of the week

 

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In season

March 1

In now: Pears ripened on the tree they can develop little gritty bits, called stone cells, just beneath the skin. So they are picked mature but green, chilled and sold for ripening at room temperature. Enjoy them as soon as they give to gentle pressure as they ripen from the inside out. Only Williams changes colour as it ripens.

At their best: The fine hairs on prickly pears, called glochids, stick out like hairy moles from pores on the skin. They can get stuck in your hands, even through a plastic bag. Use tongs to select fruit and scrub with a brush under running water before eating.

Best buy: Cauliflowers grown in Bathurst are the buy of the week. Choose a big creamy head and perfect that cauliflower rice recipe.

In the vegie patch: Pick pumpkins to eat now; those intended for winter roasts should be left until the vine withers to promote better storage capability.

What else:

  • what a great array of tomatoes to feast on!
  • and basil is growing like a weed
  • if you managed to grow tarragon this season, make a date to turn some of it into vinegar. Submerge organically grown sprigs  in a reasonably good white wine vinegar and let it sit for a few months.
  • the apples are getting tastier, with jonathons boosting the bland introduction to the season offered by royal gala
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