JANUARY'S MARKET MENU
Post-Christmas shortages and gluts can cause severe market instability in January. On top of that depending on the weather English hardy crops can be damaged in a very hard frost, and earth-stored root vegetables can be impossible to harvest. So however you plan your menus, my advice is to keep your fruit and veg options open.
Seville Oranges are a must, and not just for making marmalade. The season will be finished in early February, so get your kilner jars ready. You can dry and powder the skins, whole poach them in syrup, make curd, marmalade, or even salt them like Moroccan preserved lemons. Blood Oranges remain largely seasonal, they will get better and ‘bloodier’ in January, but don't expect them to be too bloody at first.
The best Rhubarb of the year should start to come through in January as well. Yorkshire forced Pink Rhubarb has got to be one of the best British grown crops. It has a delicate flavour and striking crimson stalks, making it a great choice for your menus.
Strawberries, Raspberries and Redcurrants are likely to be OK at the beginning of the month, but supplies often tighten up later meaning the prices can climb steeply. Pricing will likely be fairly volatile.
Supplies of Cape Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines and Cherries may become a little patchy, but should struggle on into February.
Seedless Grapes will still be readily available but the price that can fluctuate.
Cox’s Apples keep their crunch until mid-February and French Apples fare pretty well too.
Lychees usually become fairly abundant, wonderfully aromatic and sweet and will offer something different on your dessert menus. Sharon Fruit (A variety of Persimmons) remains a good buy. You need to wait for them to be nice and soft before using them for desserts. You can use them slightly under ripe for a sweet savoury salsa or slice the ripe ones and poach slowly in syrup, topped with Seville Orange zest flavoured mascarpone and flaked almonds.
Brassiccas are likely to be plentiful and represent good value for money as long as the weather stays kind. Romanesco, Cavalo Nero, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Kohlrabi, Swede, and Turnips are all good menu choices.
Other good Brassica choices are also in the cabbage department; Savoy, Hispi, and even Chinese leaf will be a good shout. We also tend to start to see the January King Cabbage which is a hardy, late-winter cabbage with pretty outer leaves and a crunchy texture and sweet flavour.
Curly Kale is a great option that can offer good value for money and provide an alternative to cabbage and brussel sprouts. The winter crop is particularly dark and tasty.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli is often thought of as a summer crop but the quality is very good in January and is also good value for money.
Jerusalem Artichokes will continue to offer great taste at a good price. Spanish Globe Artichokes represent good value and pack plenty of peppery taste too.
Carrots, Turnips, Swede, Celeriac and Parsnips are of course a tasty safe bet.
Frisee quality is likely to be unstable in January. Chicory or Radicchio offer a great alternative for bitterness instead.
January's Wild Mushrooms have been excellent in recent years. That said please give us as much notice as possible to avoid disappointment. Please note that Girolles can be quite large this time of year though.
EXTREME WEATHER TAKING IT’S TOLL ON UK VEGETABLE SECTOR
Generally, veg supply was tight last season (2022/23), and it looks like it will be tight again this season (2023/24). The reasons for this are manifold, but the main cause, by far, is not Brexit, it’s not inflation, it’s not vegetable growers throwing in the towel, it’s not desperately short labour supply – it’s the weather!
Last season we had a red-hot summer, followed by an autumn that was more like a summer, followed by a deep freeze. This season, we’ve had a cold, wet spring which delayed plantings, particularly for spuds. And with the exception of June, this was followed by a cool summer with low light levels. Now it’s so wet we’re leaving crop in the ground to rot. Unfortunately, the worst-affected crop by far is our biggest crop, POTATOES.
Plantings of spuds were already down by around 10 per cent after the last dreadful growing season. On top of this, we now have around 10 to 15 per cent still in the ground. Some of this crop, which has sat in water far too long, won’t be lifted. The rest that are lifted will be of poorer quality with high levels of bacterial and fungal rot. And we’re hearing of similar problems in other major potato-growing areas on the continent, particularly Belgium, France, the Netherlands and northern Germany. Worst affected is Ireland with some areas having as much as 50% of the crop still in the ground.
The spot price of spuds is currently at least double what you would expect at this time of year, and it looks like it’s only going one way. That would be welcome news if most UK growers sold their spud crop on the spot market. But they don’t. Most are tied into retail, chipping or crisping contracts so are likely to suffer losses again this season.
The Farmers Guardian is estimating the UK crop to be as low as 4.14 million tonnes this season. That may sound like a lot but as recently as 2017 we had a 6.2mt UK spud crop and in the 1990s we regularly harvested crops in excess of 7mt. Fact – this season will be the lowest-ever recorded potato crop in GB.
Other crops affected by the recent storms are BRASSICAS such as CAULI’S and BROCCOLI, where again spot prices are at least double the norm as the weather brought the UK season to an early end. We are having to buy French Cauli’s which cost about three times more than normal. Carrots are a fresh-lifted crop in this country, so we’ll have crop write-offs and quality issues there too as a result of them sitting in water for too long.
We seem to get several major weather events every year nowadays and then when you add in all the other challenges UK growers are facing, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more and more production of veg being driven abroad. As a nation we import around 40 per cent of our food, which many would say is too much. For fresh produce this figure jumps to nearly 70 per cent and sadly we can only see it continuing on its upward trajectory.