Get the best of British food by eating seasonally. Find out what’s in season during the month of November in the UK.
With winter looming November used be a time for black pudding and faggots, however with the introduction of winter fodder crops there is now plenty on offer for the seasonal gourmet. Crops affected by frosts are now gathered and put into store for the winter months, surprisingly there are a number of fruits and vegetables that improve with frost, such as parsnips, kale and sloes. Late pears and quinces are now also available while the game season is in full swing with partridge and mallard duck new on the menu. And our approaching Christmas dinners would not be complete without those traditional brussel sprouts, love ’em or hate ’em they are in! From the sea you will also find mussels at their very best during this time of year.
Despite their bad rep sprouts are highly nutritious, and many of us are starting to give them a go once again. The trick is not to overcook them, as my mother did, and very well perhaps yours too. They should be eaten al dente for the best flavour and texture and they can of course be spiced up by adding chestnuts or pancetta or lardons. They also pair well with red cabbage coming into season in December and I am informed they are also very tasty chopped up and stir fried with sun dried tomatoes creating a delicious zesty side dish. I have never tried them this way and will endeavour too when they arrive!
Mallard duck is available in supermarkets all year round and is produced in crowded barns where these poor water loving birds will never have swam a stroke in their lives. If you prefer your duck to have had a swim before you eat it look to the seasons and seek out wild duck. Most duck on sale, even in season however, is reared indoors then released out before being shot, so to ensure your duck has had at least some time feeding on a natural diet and getting some excercise wait until later in the season, around November or December time. The season for duck in Britain starts from the 1st of September and runs through until late February. The classic orange is a tried and tested compliment to this rich meat best served pink, but you may like to try serving your duck with braised red cabbage or apple for a great alternative seasonal match.
During the autumn and winter months mussels are at their fattest and finest. Grown on long ropes attached to rafts in the relatively clean waters of Scotland mussel farming has minimal impact on the environment which is somewhat of a relief and refreshing change. If you are going to risk gathering wild mussels you must be careful to eat ones which have come from water free of sewage contamination and red tide algal blooms. Before cooking, ensure you discard any dead ones, open mussels that do not close when tapped, you should also discard any unopened mussels after the cooking process. Like most fish, mussels do not require much work in the cooking department. Serve simply steamed with the cooking juices, white wine and a little butter with a side of chips or garlic bread. Be careful not to overcook them, the require only 5 to 10 mins.
Top tip: use the shell of the first mussel like tweezers to pull out the rest.
Sadly partridge has suffered dramatic decline in numbers due to modern farming methods. Pesticides and herbicides killing their food supply and disappearing hedgerows leaving them nowhere to hide. Gladly there have been projects set up encouraging farmers to set aside land for wildlife and intersperse rows of crops with hedgerows once again and so the pardridge thankfully is beginning to make a comeback in the Eastern parts of Scotland and England. Once again though you may well find it difficult to find truly wild partridge, with most of that which is on sale is reared indoors and then released out before being shot. Therefore as with duck and pheasant wait until the later part of the season, October / November to ensure your bird has had a good amount of time in the outdoors. Young birds can be simply roasted while older birds should be braised or stewed. They are said to pair well with savoy cabbage, apples and root vegetables, I have never tried partridge before but will be looking out for it at my local farmers market or I may well make a special trip to Borough to try some. I was adventurous earlier in the year and tried wood pigeon, I must confess it was not for me, nor my husband as a matter of fact, rather too strong a flavour for our palates, but at least we tried it!
Rather like apples, Britain has a fantastic climate for growing the finest pears in the world and while we used to have hundreds of wonderful varieties with interesting names such as Bloody Bastard and Clipper Dick, the modern food system maddeningly has subjected us to just a few varieties of our own while the other 75% are imported. The early season starts in August and runs through to March using stored varieties. Look to your local farmers markets, growers and your own gardens for interesting British varieties and if you can, buy organic to avoid post harvest preservative chemicals. Pears are picked when they are still hard and ripen in your fruit bowl. Pears make a delicious healthy snack anytime of the day eaten raw, or a lovely light dessert when poached in red wine and cinnamon. They also pair very well with chocolate.
Related to the apple but rather harder to find. Find yourself next to a pile of yellow quinces in an enclosed pace you will be met with a delicate intoxicating aroma. As delightful as they smell, quinces make some of the best desserts and preserves. Cored and grated they add additional flavour and colour to apple pie, or stewed, baked or poached with honey or sugar they make a tempting dessert in their own right. They also make a fantastic marmalade and a sliceable preserve known as quince cheese, a great partner to actual cheese.
Most famous for their fantastic effects in gin, Sloes like Quince are not really for eating raw. Apart from making great gin sloes make lovely jelly with a sharp flavour that pairs well with game. You will find foraging for sloes an easy task for they are plentiful, found throughout Britain on Blackthorn trees, small shrubs that grow in woodlands, scrub and hedgerows. Look for ripe berries which are a deep dusty purple.