Food Hunt: Summer's seasonal softies

Blueberries by Chris Young

Published: 1 Jun 2018

‘Eel regular columnist, chef Tom Hunt, shares why we should be seeing seasonal strawberries and local loganberries.

Everyone loves a delicious, ripe piece of fruit and rightly so! Fruit is an essential part of a nutritious diet, but at what cost? Soft fruits are imported year-round, even when they are in season in the UK. This seems crazy when you consider that Britain has the perfect climate to grow and produce delicious flavourful fruit. The world grows something like 4 million tonnes of strawberries alone, in Spain, Turkey, Egypt and even as far as Mexico and Chile. Importing such produce grown outside the UK can undermine and undercut local farmers, and jeopardises our food security through reliance on imports. 

Soft fruits are ingredients that don’t like to travel. They ripen fast, are fragile and need coddling (often in bubble wrap or other plastic packaging) to protect their sensitive skin from blemishes and bruising. Fruit destined for exporting, must be picked early before it’s fully ripe, and kept in artificial conditions, rendering it – the sin of all sins – less tasty! Then it is necessarily but unfortunately wrapped in excessive packaging for export and carted huge distances or even flown across the world. 

But what can we do if we love blueberries on our breakfast – all year round – and raspberries at Ramadan after dusk? Buy frozen, preserved or dried fruit or make your own preserves in summer when fruit is in glut and affordable. Eat fresh fruit that is in season. In autumn and winter favour apples, quince and pears and discover new ingredients like sea buckthorn, a wild bright-orange berry that grows on the British coastline and is rich in vitamin C. In summer check the label for British-grown soft fruits – especially when shopping in supermarkets. To ensure you are getting the most local produce, try London Farmers’ Markets, and others from Brockley to Borough, which sell an abundance of fresh berries and stone fruit brought in from the surrounding farms when in season.

Brambletye Fruit Farm, one of my favourites, is run by Stein Leenders just south of London. It sells everything from blackberries to blueberries, when in season, at several farmers’ markets each week.

Five for five 

Apricots:  If you have a summer BBQ on the go (otherwise you can use a griddle pan) cut the apricots in half and brush with honey. Grill until slightly charred on both sides and serve with ricotta. 

Blueberries:  Butter a small enamel dish and scatter with blueberries. Beat three eggs with 100g sugar, stir in 70g wholemeal spelt or wheat flour and whisk in 250ml of whole milk. Place in a preheated oven at 190°C for 20-30 mins until golden and inflated. Serve this blueberry clafoutis immediately with a dollop of cream or yoghurt.

Plums: To make frangipani, cream together 100g each of butter, sugar and ground almonds with one egg. Spread it in a greased enamel dish and scatter with stoned, halved plums. Roast in a preheated oven at 170°C for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Raspberries: Crush them into whipped cream and broken meringue for a quick version of Eton Mess.

Strawberries: Macerate your strawberries by cutting and adding a splash of gin, sprig of mint and sprinkle of brown sugar. Serve with lashings of cream. Perfect for a dinner party or banquet as they can be made in advance.

Make the most of your produce with chef Tom Hunt’s tips in our continuing Food Hunt series, including How to Make Your Own Sauerkraut, and Fairtrade Food Hunt.