Summers are so fickle. You can never presume you know summer as it will immediately change its mind, much like a moody rebellious teenager. May in Manchester was glorious: forget-me-not blue skies, sweltering sun and now some rather stripy tan (ahem burn) marks as a result. Beer gardens were bursting at the seams, patches of grass were packed with picnickers and dogs charging after balls. Now, summer is here (or at least will be next week) and the sun has slunk away, skulking out of sight behind great banks of cloud so I reluctantly have to shrug on my denim jacket, hardly worn all spring. No doubt the sun will return along with the sun cream I look forward to slathering all over myself once again.
Even though the sun is being mischievous, our summer fruit and vegetables are thankfully not playing along. Picking up from my first post in this series I have compiled a list of this season’s haul. Stubborn spring and it’s gradually shrivelling rhubarb is at an end and the cornucopia of bounty is at last here! There is colour, flavour and fragrance throughout the summer – almost enough to convince me veganism is the way forward – to offer incredible variety for our summer meals. Crisp salads, barbecued juicy courgettes and aubergines, pungent veg such as salty samphire and fresh garlic to the delicately flavoured elderflower and courgette flowers. And then there’s the fruit – oh the fruit – peaches and nectarines, plums and greengages, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries… this is the season for baking. As there is so much abundance I have collected certain fruits and vegetables into categories – as you will see the list is long!
And so, may your barbecues be lugged out, dusted off, and your tables laden with platters of this delicious summer food…
To begin we say goodbye to the flighty asparagus – you were here for a month but what a lovely month that was. The sticks that are still available are a little limp, less crisp and the spears can disappear to dust at the lightest touch.
Likewise, wild garlic has been foraged and now the woodland is devoid of their vivid green and piquant leaves.
Fiiinally… See ya rhubarb! Once the stalks are green tinged with pink and straggly like a lazy punk’s hair, you know it’s had its hay-day.
Spinach, Watercress, Radishes, Sorrel & Spring onions
We were introduced to these in the spring chapter and they mean to stay, enjoying the brightening and blooming weather, adding their colour and crunch to salads and fish.
Grown in Jersey, these fingerling potatoes are shipped to the UK and crowd our supermarket shelves throughout late spring and early summer. Their paper-thin skins are dark and flaky, and when cooked the skin cracks as you bite through to the buttery-sweet creamy flesh.
Oh you darling buds of May, you are allusive! As soon as spring had sprung I was on the look out everywhere for these fragrant flowers. Before long they will be out of season again or every scrap will be foraged for homemade elderflower cordial. But this story has a happy ending – at last, I have obtained the dainty blooms, ravaging a couple of elder trees in the process. The flowers can be steeped overnight in water before the infused liquid is reduced to a syrup with sugar and lemon zest. Heavenly with lemonade on a hot day.
Beans: broad, French, runner
Admittedly, this is a broad (excuse the pun) category. Each bean can be further divided into subcategories; we’re wading through a glut of beans! Some take more preparation than others – broad beans (fava beans) require podding, blanching then shelling before eating, runners need to be stringed while French (also known as green) are merely trimmed then thrown in a hot frying pan with garlic, chilli and lime zest.
I was unsure of fennel until I came across Molly Wizenburg’s recipe for a raw fennel salad. Cut into slivers, toss them in olive oil and lemon juice and season to taste. Layer on a plate with shaved parmesan. The anise of the vegetable is muted, instead it is fresh and irresistibly moreish.
The artichoke, much like aubergines below, have been slipped on to this list even though they’re not locally grown, just because it wouldn’t be summer without them. Unfortunately these vegetables grow better in warmer climates but thanks to imports from the Mediterranean we can enjoy their splendors every summer. The artichoke heart is precious but hidden behind thorny purple leaves and a hairy choke. Once you’ve boiled or steamed them, serve with a drizzle of hollandaise or melted butter.
On the island last summer, Georgie and I collected basketfuls of this grass-like stalk growing on the beach, pushing up among the pools of sea water. Refreshing and salty like seaweed it is a delicious accompaniment to fish or shellfish, although if you forage it yourself remember to only use the heads. They appear innocent, but eating the long stalk is like swallowing a twig.
These fragile flowers are rigorously stuffed with ricotta or other soft cheeses and herbs, deep fried in a light batter before drizzled in honey. The actual courgette is at its best later in the summer.
Last summer I had the perfect initiation into picking and foraging summer produce. Ness, the island’s horticulturalist, would appear every now and then with an armful of something knobbly, its leafy fronds dangling over her shoulder, and we would try to incorporate it into that day’s meal. One day she appeared with a lemon cucumber – yellow and lemon-shaped it was the most refreshing cucumber Georgie and I had ever tasted. We spurred normal cucumbers and made platefuls of lemon-cucumber salads for the rest of the trip.
Lettuce: curly, cos, iceburg
After a sun-filled day, a satisfying dinner is a simple salad. Or not simple if you prefer. Phyllis Grant, author of blog Dash and Bella, is a salad enthusiast and produces many colourful plates of lettuce, covered in nuts, roasted vegetables, cheese and creamy dressings or vinaigrettes. Never have I craved salad more.
Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, loganberries, gooseberries, blackberries
You know in the spring chapter, how I was complaining about there being no seasonal fruit? I take that back. We now have an abundance of berries! And that’s not even the start… All the berries have unique flavours ranging from sweet strawberries to tart gooseberries. Start picking them this season and get jamming. If that doesn’t float your boat try mini summer puddings stuffed with macerated treacly berries sheltered under white bread stained pink from syrup.
Young peas are only around now and should be taken advantage of! Although the frozen pea is a convenient favourite, the childhood memories of picking the crisp green pods, popping them open and plucking out plump peas, most disappearing into your mouth instead of the bowl, are even better.
Cabbage and chard: hispi, cavolo nero, swiss chard & rainbow chard
All members of the brassicas family, these leaves have bad reputations. Most commonly found soggy, khaki green and sorry for itself, cabbage and chard need quick cooking to retain their vibrant colour and fresh flavour.
Fuzzy skinned apricots are tricksy little blighters; some are small and firm, others are soft and squidgy with rough textures. If you find some perfectly formed with a rosy blush across their cheeks, slice them in half, scoop out the stone and poach in sugar syrup until just soft. Remove the fruit and reduce the apricot-steeped syrup until the flavour is swoon-worthy and sweet. Drizzle it over those apricots before demolishing with ice cream and toasted almonds.
A pert, glossy cherry, picked from a paper bag and gently sucked, removing all the juicy flesh before spitting out the stone is a pleasure never to be under-estimated. Baked with almond frangipane, the jammy sweetness and Kirsch aroma of cherries is brought to the fore.
I think peaches are early this year as I have had the pleasure of cooking an entire tray of downy-skinned fruit, preparing each by slicing them in half and taking utmost pleasure in the juice running over my fingers, and snaffling the occasional over-ripe wedge.
The ruby red fruit does not appear until late summer but now is the time for its less-ripe green siblings. Their tartness is deliciously complimented in pickles and chutneys or gently caramelised in pies or tart tatines.
Root vegetables: Carrots, Kohlrabi, Turnips & Beetroot
Yes, surprisingly, the vegetables we mostly associate with winter are popular in summer too. Earthy and sweet, or piquant and peppery, these are the less glamourous side of summer – a little knobbly here and there, bulbous and lumpy. But we can’t judge on appearances! Everyone has a bad hair day now and then. Raw and finely sliced, toss these vegetables into salads and enjoy their refreshing crunch.
Eventually the courgette catches up with its flower and is ready for the griddle, your fresh tomato ratatouille or stuffing with sweetly spiced lamb mince.
Like the artichoke, aubergines shouldn’t really be on this list but I just love moussaka and baba ganoush too much to ignore. Best with Middle Eastern spices and flavours, it can be pureed into a dip with tahini and garlic or chargrilled and showered in herbs.
Greengages and plums
I tried greengages for the first time last summer and was delighted to discover how sweet they are, more so than plums. Together they make a stunning combination in a tart or cake – preferably where you can see their traffic light red and green.
Is a barbecue a barbecue without corn on the cob? The sugary yellow kernels only need a slick of butter melting over them for anyone to start gnawing away like a dog at a bone. Taste South America alongside juicy, pink bavette steak and chimichurri.
You open the fridge to find a tub of hummus. In the vegetable drawer there’s a head of crisp celery. Snap off a branch, quick rinse, and dunk in the dip. The perfect summer snack.
To celebrate summer’s heights, I followed this recipe and baked a summer cake, stained pink and orange like the summer sky at sun-set (not right now but hopefully soon…). I added a couple of apricots, plus the zest of one lemon to freshen the palate. The cake has a craggy surface with volcanic rifts, yet underneath it is so moist and almost creamy – it is virtually a cheesecake after all – with soft juicy fruit adding that necessary tartness. Served with drizzled cream, I chewed with my eyes closed and dreamt of summer.