December is a huge month on the seasonal food calendar, as far as prices are concerned anyway. Growers of premium produce, such as cherries and various succulent berry fruits, work hard to deliver the lion’s share of their crops to market in the build up to Christmas. Despite the sudden avalanche of tender sweet things on our grocery store shelves, demand at this time can push prices through the roof.There is a growing trend among some grocers to arbitrarily hike prices even further on Christmas Eve (day). This is an ugly, mean-spirited practice and shouldn’t be humoured. Although we all want to enjoy the very best the season has to offer on the big day, there are some very good deals to be had in the days that follow. Mindful that from Boxing Day on, people stop spending money and start vacating the main centres, grocers often slash prices to cost or lower simply to move highly perishable stock.
Foodlovers December Produce Picks
Of course hams are available year round, but for obvious reason in December, this meat is king. At Foodlovers we unapologetically endorse only Free Range hams, which are now widely available and competitively priced. The very good news (depending on your ethics) is that sow crates will be illegal after December 2015, which will hopefully mean the end of factory farmed of pigs In New Zealand.
A much underrated option is tasty and fine textured mutton ham. Hard to find nowadays, but excellent eating and very economical.
Ham on the bone is definitely more flavoursome than boneless or pressed varieties, but the bone does add considerably to total weight and therefore cost.
If money is no object and you’re feeding an army of well -versed foodies, why not splash out on a whole prosciutto cruda or jamon iberico? Served with melon, strawberries, and fresh cherries these are simply stellar summer alternatives to the hot and heavy (but oh-so-good) glazed ham.
Despite attempts to make turkey an everyday meat, it remains a seasonal special – mostly, I suspect because most people don’t really like it. Unfortunately much of the turkey sold in New Zealand over the past few decades has been pretty average in quality, but more importantly, New Zealanders don’t have a tradition of cooking turkeys. Turkey can be a moist, sweet, and uniquely flavoursome meat, if prepared and cooked correctly, but to achieve this effect you need to know what you’re doing
Croziers Turkeys stand well ahead of the pack when it comes to quality and flavour, and their website offers some of the best turkey cooking instructions you’ll find anywhere.
Cherries are not just the first stone fruit of the summer season; they are also arguably the finest.
The good news this year is that a prolonged heat wave over Central Otago has lead to a bumper early harvest of exceptionally sweet fruit. This should mean prices over the coming few weeks will be lower than usual, but be prepared for a sharp increase as we near December 25th. Many cherry growers sell their fruit online by the 1kg case and will ship nationwide. This is an excellent way of getting high quality fruit at a predetermined price. The first cherries of the season should be enjoyed as they come, or straight from the fridge. They’re too lovely and still far too pricey to mess with.
Raspberries, Boysenberries, Tayberries
The early onset of summer has also advanced the arrival of luscious and fragrant brambles. Raspberries are eating exceptionally well this month, and the dark and juicy Boysenberries wont be far behind.
My favourite rediscovery of the month has been the tayberry, a large, ruby-red cross between a black raspberry and a loganberry. I’ve only ever seen them at farmers’ markets and in my backyard, but with their sweet, raspberry/rosewater flavour, they are well worth seeking out.
Fiddly to prepare, but sublimely good, Globe Artichokes are one the season’s finest offerings. To avoid discolouration, work quickly when peeling and trimming artichoke hearts and drop in acidulated water until ready to use.
Very young Artichokes can eaten raw, but should otherwise be boiled (in white wine or chicken stock), baked or char-grilled. Well-boiled hearts make a magnificent puree when blended with cream cheese. Try this on smoking- hot Bruschetta.
Thanks presumably to the sunny spring weather, local hothouse peppers are in fine form this month, and while not exactly cheap are well priced for the time of year.
Enjoy vibrantly ripe peppers sautéed in olive oil until sweet and slippery. Serve on crusty bread; tossed through pasta with loads of garlic, toasted almonds and crispy chorizo; with rosemary smashed potatoes and tiny flecks of anchovy; or with old-fashioned creamy scrambled eggs and a murderous spatter of Tabasco sauce.
Also on the shelves in December:
New potatoes (see last month), lettuce, carrots, silverbeet, spinach, Florence fennel ,hothouse aubergine, , rhubarb, blueberries, baby vegetables (carrots, leeks, beetroot etc), watercress, tangelos, Yen Ben lemons, early plums (Japanese species), strawberries (see last month), avocado (see last month), asparagus(see last month).
Imported produce- December:
Although at Foodlovers we don’t strongly advocate the use of imported produce, sometimes needs (or desires) must.
Grapes, pomegranates, pears, tangelos, limes, grapefruit, Chinese pears, Thai young coconuts, Peruvian mangoes, Australian mangoes (irradiated). Indian pomegranate pulp, Red bananas, Sweetcorn, Pilipino papaya and pineapples.