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Seasonal food for June - from Grown in Britain, edited by Donna Air

Seasonal eating is something we're hearing a lot about nowadays. Apparently when food is in season, it is at its nutritional peak and will be at its best for your family. It can also taste better as local seasonal food will have had a chance to ripen properly, unlike some artificially produced food that has often travelled a long distance before it appears on the supermarket shelves. What's more, seasonal food tends to be less expensive than the alternatives because it is far easier to grow.

We've got so used to having every type of food available all year round that many of us are not really aware what's in season and when. That's where 'Grown in Britain' may come in handy. It aims to help readers make the most of local seasonal produce with a monthly guide to what's in season. It also contains recipes to help you make the most of your seasonal produce, but it is far more than a cookery book. It will help you identify the different varieties of many common foods, and has tips on how to check that what you are buying is fresh, and how best to store it. We're featuring some seasonal tips for June from the book.

Seasonal food for June

Early summer and more and more produce will be available, including deep purple aubergines, nutty baby turnips and plenty of salad leaves. Speciality salad potatoes are fabulous and strawberries will now be ripe and juicy. Delicate elderflowers will grace the hedgerows - the perfect flavouring for gooseberries (also at their best). Seek out British cherries, too, and squid and crabs will also make great eating.

Vegetables and salad

  • Asparagus, aubergines, beetroot, broad beans, early carrots, cauliflower, Chanterelle mushrooms, lettuces (Batavia, Cos, frisee, lollo rosso, oakleaf), New potatoes, onions, pea shoots, peas (garden, mangetout, sugar snaps) , radishes, rocket, sorrel, spinach, spring onions, baby turnips and watercress.

Herbs

  • Borage, chervil, coriander, garlic, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, tarragon, thyme.

Fruit and nuts

  • Cherries, elderflowers, gooseberries, outdoor rhubarb, strawberries, green walnuts.

Fish and seafood

  • Cod, coley, crabs (brown, spider), haddock, langoustines, lobster, plaice, pollack, wild river trout (brown, rainbow), wild sea bream, wild sea trout, squid, whelks, whiting.

Meat, poultry and game

  • Lamb.

A closer look at some June produce

Asparagus

British asparagus is among the finest in the world. The subtle flavour of its succulent stems is reminiscent of fragrant, freshly-cut grass. It is a true taste of summer and is in a class of its own. An expensive vegetable to buy because each spear is harvested by hand, it is well worth the indulgence. Asparagus thrives in rich, well-drained soil, and keeping the beds weeded organically is a labour of love, Some is grown in polytunnels to extend the short season, but connoisseurs say it isn't as good. Open buds mean spears have been forced to grow too quickly.
How to choose and store: Buy stalks with plump, firm stems and tight buds. The stalks should snap crisply. Avoid if rubbery, shrivelled, or with woody, dirty stems, or if the buds are opening. It is often sold in bunches but is sometimes available loose, which is usually a cheaper way to buy it. Best eaten very fresh, but can be stored in a chiller box of the fridge for up to three days.

New potatoes - first earlies and salad potatoes

The first earlies appear in late spring and early summer. The most famous and highly prized is the Jersey Royal, with its unmistakable earthy flavour. As it comes from Jersey, it is not, technically, British, but we must embrace this little beauty as it has always graced our table. Apart from in the Channel Islands, many varieties are grown in Cornwall and near the East coast, where the sea breezes protect them from frost.
How to choose and store: Choose firm, smooth potatoes. The skin of the first earlies should scrape off easily with your nail. Avoid any that have green patches. Buy in small quantities and use within a few days. Store in a cool, dark place where air can get to them freely. Do not store in the fridge - the cold can make the starch turn to sugar and they'll blacken on cooking.

Early carrots

Carrots thrive in open ground, covered with straw in winter to protect them from the frost. They've been eaten since time immemorial, but in the past they were thin, bitter, purple or red roots. It is said that Dutch growers cultivated the sweeter orange variety in honour of William of Orange, their king, in the 16th century. Now there are many different shapes and sizes.
How to choose and store: Choose dry, fresh-smelling carrots, preferably still with a bit of mud on them. Avoid any that are green at the stalk end (they aren't fully mature), or any that have been washed and left wet (or are wet from being over-chilled), or are split. If bunched, leaves should be a fresh, bright green - avoid if wilted or brown. Keep unwashed or bunched carrots (with the tops twisted off to stop them going limp) for up to 2 weeks in a bag in a cool, dark place. If they are washed, refrigerate for up to a week.

Peas

Peas are summer vegetables to be proud of. All are delicious raw or cooked. If you have ever shelled them, you will know it is difficult to get enough peas to make a meal, simply because it is impossible not to keep popping them in your mouth as you work. The problem for farmers is birds - they love them as much as we do.

What types?

  • Garden peas: The season is short and very sweet for these green pods, swollen with tender peas.
  • Mangetout: The name literally means 'eat all' in French. These are flat pods in which the peas are underdeveloped. Known as snow peas in America.
  • Sugar snap peas: Crisp, succulent, rounded pods containing small peas.
  • Pea shoots (or pea sprouts): The tender tops of pea plants or sprouted peas.

How to choose and store:

  • Garden peas: Choose bright green, full pods in which you can feel the separate peas. If the pods are too full or yellowing or shrivelling, the peas will be tough, not sweet, as the sugar will have begun to turn to starch.
  • Mangetout: Choose bright green pods that are crisp and squeaky. Avoid if tired-looking or flabby.
  • Sugar snap peas: Choose smooth, evenly bright green, rounded pods with developed peas inside.
  • Pea shoots: They should be fresh, bright green and dry. Avoid any that look wet, damaged or wilted. They are very delicate, so need careful handling.
Grown in Britain is published by Dorling Kindersley (www.dk.com) and is available to from Amazon
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