I went to stay my grandparents in Shropshire recently and spent hours in the kitchen garden. It’s so amazing to see the variety of what’s growing at this time of year and the colour in the vegetables often helps make up for grey rainy days. I’ve included Damsons in this month’s list which are in season early this year and I am using this miserable weather as an excuse to stay home and get making gins and jams at home.
Whenever we develop recipes we always start by thinking first about what’s in season. One of the main reasons is that ingredients bought in season are more likely to be fresher, naturally ripened on the vine or tree and harvested at the right time, and therefore tend to have much more flavour and higher in nutritional value. Eating with the seasons also supports your body’s natural nutritional needs and creates a balanced variety in our diet over the year.
In season May to September. Raspberries are extremely fragile and if you're serving them whole your best bet is to not wash them. They are also highly perishable and best eaten within a couple days but freeze really well. If you are freezing them, spread a single layer on a tray and freeze until solid before transferring to freezer bags. On July 11th each year, the tiny village of Concèze in France holds a Fête de la Framboise (Raspberry Festival).
Did you know? The majority of raspberries sold in the UK are grown in Scotland where the long summer days help produce the most delicious berries.
Nutritional notes: Raspberries are high in fibre, iron, potassium and vitamins A and C. They also contain phytochemicals including beta-carotene (helps protect against heart disease) and ellagic acid (linked with reducing the risk of cancer).
Usually at their best in September, our veg supplier tells us that this year the damson season has started early. Damsons tend not be eaten raw due to the tartness of the flesh, but whilst the weather is so miserable I thought we might all have some spare evenings at home to experiment in the kitchen making jams, jellies or even gin! Damsons are a plum like small fruit with vibrant dark blue skin and a strong, sour flavour.
Did you know? Although similar to plums they are actually a member of the rose family.
Nutritional notes: Aside from their high sugar content, which isn’t necessarily a great attribute, damson plums are very high in vitamin C and riboflavin, as well as dietary fiber, but their real value comes in their minerals, including significant levels of potassium, phosphorous, copper, manganese, and magnesium. Furthermore, damson plums have certain antioxidant compounds that have a healthy impact on those who eat them.
In season July to November. Sweetcorn, a grass, is a form of the cereal crop maize (Zea mays), harvested at a young age while the kernels are tender and sweet. A corn ear is an inflorescence (cluster of flowers around a stem) and the kernels are the fruit of the plant (more specifically a grain).
Did you know? If you're buying from a market try to shop earlier in the day and avoid buying sweetcorn that has been sitting in warm sun - the rate at which the sugars are turned to starch increases rapidly with temperature.
Nutritional notes: Sweetcorn provides useful amounts of vitamins A, B3 (supports metabolism, the nervous and digestive systems) and C. It also contains folic acid and fibre.
Recipes: Ottolenghi's Roast butternut squash with sweetcorn salsa, feta and pumpkin seeds
In season June to October. Smaller, younger courgettes have more flavour. Look for firm, heavy-feeling courgettes with unblemished bright and glossy skins. Courgettes can be eaten both raw and cooked.
Did you know? As a member of the cucurbit family, courgettes are related to watermelons, gherkins and cucumbers.
Nutritional notes: Courgettes have a high water content and are low in calories. They are a source of folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C.
In season June to November. A member of the nightshade family (along with aubergines, peppers and chillies), tomatoes are in fact a fruit, but their affinity for other savoury ingredients means that they are usually classed as a vegetable. Go for firm tomatoes with wrinkle-free skins and a noticeable tomato smell. Tomatoes have the best, sweetest flavour if they've been allowed to ripen on the vine before they've been picked but.
Did you know? If you buy underripe tomatoes, you can redden them by keeping them in a brown paper bag at room temperature, or on a windowsill.
Nutritional notes: Runner beans are a good source of vitamin C, folic acid and fibre.
Recipes: The Guardian's 10 Best tomato recipes