February is a time of bright, spring-like days and bitterly cold nights, reminding you that winter’s not over yet. But don’t despair. Taking a walk through Borough Market reveals a bounty of exceptional seasonal produce, much of which is grown on British farms, so it really does change with the seasons.
Take a walk down Stoney Street from London Bridge tube and you’ll hear the market traders bellowing their daily deals. Next your eyes are accosted by huge baskets of crisp, reddy-green apples at the Chegworth Valley stall. Everything here is grown on their small organic farm in Kent and now is the time to taste and compare the extensive range of traditional varieties before their gone ’til September. Bake them, stew them or shred them in a crunchy slaw, that’s if you haven’t scoffed them all on the way home.
Continue your amble and you’ll encounter a mountain of winter greens and giant cabbages interrupted by purple sprouting and bright sweet potato. Its the time of year for a Sunday Roast and the perfect side is some winter leaves gently wilted in butter. Sweet potatoes make a great alternative to traditional roasties. Forget the par-boiling, quickly roasted from raw, they’ll yield a stick-your-teeth-together caramelised char.
Before you turn into the heart of the market, your nose knows what’s next. The funk of mature artisan cheeses from all over the world, thankfully available all year round. Ellie’s Dairy sell raw goat’s milk and cheese, all from a small herd, lovingly raised on the grasses of the Kent Downs. The award-winning cheeses range from mild curds, to a parmesan-like hard cheese, and for something a bit stronger, try Shaggy’s Beard. The cheese is made and sold by Joe, who tells me supplies are lower at this time of year, but once the nannies start kidding in early spring, they’ll produce far more milk and cheese production goes into overdrive.
After a quick munch on some free samples of bread and British charcuterie, your eye will be drawn to the carcasses hanging in the numerous butchers’ shops. The Wild Beef farm shop sells fantastic quality meat from a herd of cattle free to roam on Dartmoor. The wild moorland grasses give this meat a special flavour to build a dish around. I used some skirt lightly poached in a vietnamese pho, I’ll be posting the recipe later this week.
Beef is available all year round but venison is a precious seasonal delight and is nearing the end of its tenure. Furness has a fantastic range of cuts, and with meat of this quality, simple cooking is the best option. Venison medallions can be pan-seared then finished in the oven until blushing pink inside. Or roast a whole saddle for a family feast with some of those winter greens and an apple gravy to bring everything together.
The light fades and its time to head home and get cooking. Buying seasonal and local ingredients is not just about supporting local producers, its also about preserving nutrients and flavour. These ingredients are picked at their best and sold by people who care, fresh from the farm. Trust me, the proof is in the eating.