With spring's downpours behind us, it's time to look forward to summer's huge variety of produce. Madalene Bonvini-Hamel of the British Larder in Suffolk looks at June's best ingredients
With heavy downpours during most of May, we all have high hopes for a warmer and sunnier start to summer. The chilly end to spring has left the fruit farmers concerned for their crops as the bees have not been as busy pollinating the fruit trees. This might be an indication that summer and autumn fruit prices could be slightly higher than expected.
We have just installed our first two beehives at the British Larder and hope to get at least 5kg of honey in the first year. However, the bees have not been keen on travelling for nectar because of the cold weather, which might make this prediction look slightly foolish.
The asparagus farmers have suffered due to a dry start to the season followed by plenty of rain and hail; the asparagus harvest this year is not the best, with short stems and, in a lot of cases, water and hail damage is visible. Nevertheless, the taste is still excellent, and as the season is coming to an end during June, make the most of this delicious seasonal gem.
Fresh garden peas and broad beans are making a comeback for another season; use them as soon as they are picked to capture the sweet flavour. They pair beautifully with new season lamb, lobster, mackerel, crab and wood pigeon to name a few other seasonal delights.
This month the summer fruit season begins, with plenty to choose from to devise creative menus. Blackcurrants, redcurrants, cherries, strawberries and gooseberries all make their appearance during June.
Forage for the last of the elderflowers and make plenty of cordial (see recipe, opposite) to keep for a continuous supply throughout the summer.
Beetroot is cultivated from sea beet, which is native to our coastline, and is a close relative of spinach and chard. The leaves are edible and the young, fresh leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked as you would cook chard and used as a vegetable. Beetroot has a rich earthy flavour and can be used for both sweet and savoury recipes. Common varieties available include red, golden, white and candy-striped.
Blackcurrants are classed as super fruits, as they have extraordinarily high vitamin C content and also good levels of potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium and vitamin B5. The shrubs are disease-prone, so if you want to grow them, choose the Ben Hope cultivar, as it's the most resistant.
Florence fennel is the bulbous cultivar of fennel that is grown for its bulb rather than the seeds or feathery leaves. Eaten raw or cooked, fennel has many uses, and has a mild aniseed taste. It's one of the main ingredients used to make Absinthe. Choose fresh, young small fennel bulbs for the best taste and texture.
Native lobsters are back in season, with their blue-coloured armoury. Many prize their sweet, succulent flesh and by devising creative recipes the dishes can fetch a decent price on any menu. To kill a lobster humanely, put a sharp knife behind the eyes firmly, with confidence, and cut through the head to sever the nervous system. There is plenty of meat to be retrieved from a lobster and it's best to cook the claws and tails separately. Use the shells to make a delicious bisque.
Tarragon is a perennial herb with an elongated soft green leaf and aniseed taste. It's mainly associated with classical French cooking and is one of the ingredients used to make a béarnaise sauce. Tarragon also goes particularly well with chicken and fish. In gardening, tarragon is effectively used in companion planting, as it's disliked by a lot of pests.
Pick 250g of fresh elderflower heads, wash thoroughly and drain. While the flowers are draining, in a medium-sized saucepan and over a medium heat, make a lemon stock syrup with 1kg caster sugar, 1.2 litres cold water and the juice and rind of 3 lemons. Simmer the syrup for 5 minutes and stir in 50g citric acid. Pour the hot syrup over the drained flowers and leave for 48 hours. Pass the syrup through a muslin cloth and keep refrigerated or frozen until needed.
Seasonal best during June
Artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, beetroot, blackcurrants, broad beans, broccoli, carrots, cherries, courgettes, crab, dill, elderflowers, fennel, gooseberries, green beans, haddock, herring, John Dory, kiwi fruit, lamb, langoustines, lettuce, lobster, mackerel, mangoes, mint, nasturtium, new potatoes, onions, oregano, parsley, peas, plaice, pollack, prawns, radishes, redcurrants, rocket, rosemary, runner beans, salad onions, salmon, sardines, sea beet, sea purslane, sea trout, sorrel, spinach, strawberries, tarragon, thyme, tomatoes, watercress, whelks, whitebait, wood pigeon
● With thanks to Goodfellow and Goodfellow for the plates featured in the recipe photographs www.goodfshop.net
WHAT'S IN STORE IN july
James Wellock of fresh and dried ingredients supplier Wellocks takes a look at what's coming into season in July
July really is an amazing month, with choices galore - some beautiful UK produce will be taking centre stage, with a couple of real gems from France.
I know you will all be offered local new potatoes, and you can't go wrong with any of them. However, for me the best is Lincolnshire Ulster Prince or its brother, the Ulster Sceptre. The waxy make-up and flavour is just outstanding - make sure you pester your supplier for these straight away, as they only have a short season.
Garden peas and broad beans will be at their peak - being a Yorkshire lad I am biased, but I think that the best come from the Vale of York and Lincoln - the soil is just magnificent.
Carrots will start to appear - Suffolk tends to have the first ones, which have such a lovely flavour, it's almost like eating sweets.
Summer broccoli and cauliflowers are now deemed a very basic veg and tend to get shunned but they should be celebrated in July as they are at their best, they are plentiful and they will be cheap. Why not ask your supplier to get you some baby cauliflowers - they look amazing on the plate, with some as small as golfballs.
July is soft fruit heaven, as UK-grown strawberries will be joined by raspberries. For me, Scottish raspberries take all the accolades - the extra time it takes to produce ripe fruit due to the lower temperatures allows the fruit to take on all the goodness from the soil and develop an extra level of flavour. These will be joined later in the month by English cherries.
Looking further afield, Provence at this time of year is amazing and we are spoilt for choice with all the stone fruit and the Charentais melons. They come at a price, but they are the best.
However the real pièce de résistance from Provence are the small black figs. They don't have a long season but are a real treat after the the much less tasty ones from South America and Turkey. If you are only having one treat make sure it is these!