Interestingly, the most unnoticeable seasonal change is the one leading into the harshest, bleakest of seasons. Not quite the welcome to this post as I’d initially planned. Try not to imagine Siberia outside as you read on. Maybe it seems gradual as we’re already bundled up to the eyebrows in scarfs and coats and blankets, and the heating was flicked on back in October when we could no longer bear how cold our extremities were. The mornings are already dark, lights are already turned on in late afternoon, and the hot water bottle has seen a lot of action recently. Winter appears to have arrived much in the style of autumn; with a nonchalant shrug and quickly distracted us with the countdown to Christmas. We will be shocked by winter’s sudden, inexplicable presence in early January. We will be furiously cursing it before long as we always do.
Unlike the other seasons, however, with their fanfare of actual changes in the weather, or an array of new fruit and vegetables, winter unfortunately has little to offer us there. In the UK, most of our winter food arrived in autumn so batten down the hatches lads, it’s a long season of turnips.
Surprisingly though, alongside these woody, lumpy vegetables there’s a group of bright, sour fruits, rather like some lumbering old men at the pub bombarded by girls in sparkling mini dresses. These fruits are tropical, fresh and tart, and provide that much needed colour and glamour to our winter fare.
Of course, this is the season epitomised by one particular holiday and food tends to slot into place around it. The UK is renowned for its make-shift meals in the colder seasons – figgy pudding stuffed with dried fruits and brandy to substitute summer’s juicy and bright produce, trifles with tinned fruit or even jam, and mincemeat laden with suet and orange zest for our notorious mince pies. Nowadays, thanks to imports from around the world we don’t have to rely on dried fruit for our winter desserts. As tropical fruits are in season on the other side of the equator they are still best eaten at this time of year. So, on that note, embrace the abundance of these fruits and vegetables, and maybe try something new this Christmas…
Still around but not for long:
Crisp and fragrant quince epitomises autumn so therefore we have to say goodbye to this flighty fruit.
Similarly, plums are no longer at their best, however, they are still available in supermarkets and will ripen at home. That said, they will always be sublime cooked and this is the perfect time to make a syrupy, soft plum crumble smothered in creamy custard. Another option is a sticky plum meringue cake as plums are just so willing to collapse into their juice as a compote.
Butternut squash and pumpkin
These most popular members of the winter squash family bow out after a quick but busy autumn season. That said, thanks to their shell-like skins some pumpkins and squash, such as the duck-egg blue Crown Prince and the teardrop Uchiki Kuri, have lasting durability throughout winter.
Apples, pears, beetroot, turnips, sweet potato, swede, brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, chestnuts, chicory, kale, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, parsnips, kohlrabi, celeriac, potatoes, salsify, shallots, truffles, wild mushrooms, leeks, clementines & cauliflower
Where to start with this category… these are all the fruits and vegetables to which we were introduced in the previous chapter and they aren’t going anywhere! All these knobbly, earthy roots rear their heads as the weather cools and linger throughout the frost and snows of winter. Their sweet creamy bite is revealed after a little tender cooking, meanwhile the crisp sharpness of kale, chicory and crunchy red cabbage is welcome in fresh winter salads.
It resembles an orange tomato with the same smooth thin skin and the moist flesh, however there are no jellied seeds and the flavour is delicate and sweet. Best eaten ripe – unripe their tartness is toe-curling.
Such a good substitute for our absent soft fruits. A juicy burst of summer, pulpy and fresh, it grows in warmer climates at this time of year. Delicious with other tropical flavours such as coconut and mango.
As soon as you slice into the pineapple its distinct fragrance fills the room and, inevitably, your mouth starts watering. Its sweet tang makes it a perfect accompaniment to spicy jerk chicken, salty gammon, or caramelise it with sticky dark sugar in an upside down cake.
Ah, the festive pomegranate. Everyone has a different method to remove the seeds; whacking each half with a well-placed wooden spoon seems to do the trick. It is the sparkling jewelled garnish as inspired by Ottolenghi, a little pop of sharpness to any sweet or savoury dish.
We met grapefruit in the spring edition and finally it is back. The beautiful colour of a ruby red grapefruit and its mouth-puckering sourness makes it a lively addition to sugary desserts.
Coming in later winter:
And so the year comes full circle! Rhubarb is back and yet another bright spangly fruit, or in this case not a fruit, to celebrate the winter season.
Oh blood oranges, you sweet, mysterious creatures. Grown in warm climates in the cold season they are available in deep winter. This year I thoroughly intend to make the most of them! Preserve this juicy crimson season with blood orange marmalade.
Purple sprouting broccoli
The robust, vibrant member of the broccoli family. Perfectly complemented by briny capers, breadcrumbs and salty anchovies.
Winter food is not associated with freshness. Christmas dinner is a mountain of stodge and it’s the time of year to reward ourselves with chocolate advent calendars, mince pies and mulled wine, after all it’s Christmas! We deserve it! Anything with a thimble of booze, a bowlful of suet, and hopefully some stuffing is required to warm our cockles. So here is a little pop of zing and vibrant colour. The meringue sedates our sweet tooth with its mallowy centre threaded with vanilla, while the sharp grapefruit and pomegranate balance the sugary crunch. These pavlovas barely require chewing they slip down that easily.
Clementine, persimmon and grapefruit pavlovas with whipped cardamom cream
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cornflour
½ tsp white wine vinegar
200ml double cream
1 tsp icing sugar
4 cardamom pods
Persimmon, clementine, ruby grapefruit and pomegranate seeds to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 140°C/285°F. Separate the eggs and place the whites in a clean, grease-free bowl. Whisk with a free-standing mixer or electric beaters on low speed until foamy, increase to medium then to high until you have stiff peaks. These are firm, thick and stand upright when you remove the beaters.
- Whisk in two tablespoons of the sugar one at a time until well incorporated, making sure the mixture reforms into stiff peaks each time. Slowly pour in the remaining sugar as you whisk. The mixture will be thick and glossy, and if you hold the bowl over your head it will remain in place.
- Add the vanilla, cornflour and vinegar and swiftly whisk to combine.
- Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and secure with a small blob of meringue in each corner. Pile three mounds of fluffy mixture onto the tray and gently indent the centres. Slide into the oven and bake for 30 minutes then turn off the heat and leave until completely cold, at least two hours.
- Crack the cardamom pods and grind the seeds to a fine powder. Whisk the cream with the icing sugar until thick and soft. Add half the cardamom; add more to taste.
- Pile the cream on each meringue nest. Finely slice the persimmon, cut off the end of three clementines to create flowers and segment the grapefruit. Top the pavlovas with fruit and scattered pomegranate seeds.