bare seasons: November Northern Hemisphere

Late Autumn offers an abundance of ingredients, avoid asparagus and strawberries, go for kale and local apples. Why eat the same food all year round eat food in season and give your taste buds a treat, the advantages are endless. November has so many local seasonal produce to offer that there is no excuse. Of course dried fruit and nuts are readily available for that pre-christmas baking.


Kale is one of the best cold weather green vegetables as it is frost resistant and widely available. Kale was the most cultivated green vegetable in Europe until the middle ages and virtually the only one in Scotland until the 18th century. Unlike most vegetables kale actually taste better with the frost. Kale is rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C and E, iron, calcium, manganese and antioxidants. Many seem put off by kale, it is in fact very versatile it can be used instead of spinach and cabbage in many recipes. When buying choose kale with green, moist unwilted leaves, smaller leaves are tenderer than large ones that are more suitable for soups and stews. Store in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge and eat soon after purchasing as it flavour becomes bitter. Wash the leaves to remove dirt and trim tough thick stalks, steam, boil, or sauté until soft and tender (do not undercook). To stir-fry blanch in boiling water for a few seconds (dry), toss in a hot wok with oil, ginger, garlic and spring onions, and stir-fry until tender, add a little soy sauce and sesame oil to taste (serve hot). Why not try this months recipe 'Salmon Fillets with a Skirlie Crust on Kale and Fettuccine'.

Root Vegetables are widely available in the colder months, these include; beetroot, potatoes, celeriac, swede, jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and turnips. Parsnips like kale improve with the frost, by converting some of the starch to sugar, giving them a sweet and nutty flavour. They are at there best from late November through to February. Parsnips were an important source of starch in Europe until the introduction of the potato from the New World. Parsnips can be cooked in much the same way as a potato; boiled, roasted, steamed and deep fried. They make a really scrumptious mash with a little cream and nutmeg. To prepare simply scrub and peel or leave the skin on (the skin has lots of flavour). Late in the season (February-March) the core can be tough, you may wish to cut it out. Parsnips make a delicious and creamy soups. For a rich and warming soup try a combination of parsnip, apple and stilton: Start by sauting roughly chopped onion and leek, until tender. Stir in roughly chopped parsnip and apple (peeled and cored), with a couple tablespoons of flour (mixed into the butter so that there are no lumps). Gradually stir in vegetable stock and a little cider (optional), so that the liquid comes higher than the vegetables. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer until the parsnip and apple are tender. Add a generous amount of broken up stilton and cream, season with a little paprika, salt and pepper. Puree and adjust to soup like consistency by adding more cream or stock if necessary. The soup should coat the back of a spoon and be pourable (not to thick or thin). Serve with well buttered bread.

Onions, shallots, garlic and leeks are all good in November. Leeks have a much milder and sweeter flavour than its relations the onion and garlic, the Romans considered them the superior vegetable. Emperor Nero is believed to have eaten them everyday to improve his voice. They are an essential ingredient in many soups such as Vichyssoise and Cook- a- Leekie (see this months recipes), and stews. In these not only does it provide a mild, sweet flavour, it also acts as a thickening agent. Choose small to medium leeks with fresh green tops, large leeks have a woody like core. Bear in mind when purchasing that only the whites and light green leaves are used in recipes, the dark leaves can be used for stocks or soups. Store them untrimmed in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge (so as not to taint the flavour of other ingredients). Store small leeks for 2-3 days and medium ones for up to 5. Leeks contain alot of dirt so you need to be thorough when cleaning them. Trim the dark green tops of the leeks, roots and any bruised outer leaves. To clean cut down the length of the leek to about 4-6cm of the base and fan out the leaves, rinse thoroughly in cold water to remove the grit. Prepare as close to cooking time as possible as they oxidise quickly (like onions) creating an off taste. Try whole leeks braised in stock with some fresh rosemary and serve as a light dish or as an accompaniment to a meal.

Celery, cabbage, wild mushrooms, pumpkin and squash, are all in season this month. Eat local wild mushrooms now before the frost sets in.


Chestnuts The smell of roasted chestnuts from street vendors is always welcoming on a cold winter day. In Britain they are associated with Christmas, used as part of a stuffing for turkey or to liven up Brussels sprouts. While the rest of Europe has long valued its use in both savoury and sweet dishes. In the 18th and 19th century chestnuts were an important staple in much of Europe, they were eaten fresh, dried or made into flour. The Italians used it to make polenta from chestnut flour until the introduction of maize from the New World. Choose chestnuts with shiny shells and that feel heavy for their size. Fresh chestnuts are best stored in the refrigerator or a cool place and used within a few days. To remove the skin of the chestnut you can either bake or boil them but it is important to pierce the shell first. To roast chestnuts preheat an oven to 200C score the skin with (slits or a cross) and place in the oven for 20 minutes or boil for 25 minutes (to partially cook reduce the time by 5 minutes). Remove and wrap in a tea towel for a couple of minutes before peeling. Chestnuts are excellent with this seasons game as a stuffing, roasted or puree. I like to include them in rich chicken and wild mushroom pie or as part of salad with soft goats cheese and apples.

Bright red cranberries from America are to be found everywhere with christmas on its way. Cranberries with their tartness work well in both sweet and savoury dishes. Try making your own cranberry sauce, it's easy to make and much tastier than commercial ones.

Quince, Quince is a fruit that is sadly overlooked and due to its lack of popularity is becoming hard to come by. I know people who are happy to give them away or throw them away. Silly really when many of us are happy to pay a fortune for Quince Cheese, which is so simple to make. Quinces need to be cooked, often with sugar as they are to bitter to eat raw but when cooked they are delicious. Quinces can be difficult to choose as they go rotten from the inside, look for fresh unblemished yellow fruits. Quinces flesh is hard so use a sharp heavy knife when cutting, the flesh will brown when exposed but as it turns a dark pink to light burgundy when cooked this isn't an issue. Quinces are good with poultry and game and scrumptious in cakes and pies or simply baked as an easy dessert. To bake peel, half and remove the core, coat the cored sides with butter flavoured with brown sugar and cinnamon, and bake at 200C for 25-30 minutes. Quince Cheese: Wash 2kg quince thoroughly and roughly chop (no need to peel or decor). Place in a large pan, cover with water and boil for 30-45 minutes until the fruit is soft. Puree and sieve or pass through a mouli (food mill). Weigh the puree and add 400g of sugar to every 500g of puree. Place puree and sugar in a pan and gradually bring to the boil, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Cook for 2-3 hours stirring regularly. When ready the mixture will be thick and come away from the sides, and it will turn a deep burgundy colour. Remove from the heat. Spread the paste evenly onto a lightly oiled tray so that it is 2-4cm thick, cover with a cloth and leave to dry for 1-2 days. Cut as required and place in layers between grease proof paper in a sealed container. Store in the fridge or in cool dark place for up to a year.

Apples and Pears are in abundance with a huge variety to choose from. It never ceases to annoy and surprise me though that the supermarkets still insist on importing them, rather than sell those available locally. Try making a simple chutney with cooking apples and dates or for the more adventurous an apple and mint jelly (yummy with roast lamb).

Also good are walnuts and sloes. Sloes are best picked after the first frost and of course are perfect for making sloe gin (very simply made by adding sloes and sugar to gin, of course needs to be agitated regularly and left for a few weeks before drinking).


Native Oysters season is from September to April, usually larger than the pacific oysters that are available all year round and superior in flavour. They have flat shells with ridged edges. The best way to enjoy oysters is freshly shucked on their half shell with their juices accompanied by a pint of stout. To shuck an oyster place it cup side down in the palm of your left hand (right if left handed) wrapped in a thick tea towel and insert an oyster knife or small sharp knife in the hinge of the shell and twist it to open, then work your knife around the edge to pry it open.

Monkfish has a succulent firm white flesh and flavour comparable to lobster. It has been known to be sold as lobster on its own or as an extender to a small amount of lobster. It is an extremely versatile fish suitable for many cooking methods. Delicious pan fried, barbecued, deep-fried, steamed, poached, roasted and cured. It is a very ugly fish with huge head and small tail, so it is often sold without its head, making it difficult to check for freshness. When purchasing make sure that it smells fresh, buying only from a trust worthy supplier, and use within 24 hours after purchasing. Remove the skin and membrane before cooking. The tail has two fillets with a bone running through the centre, you can cook the fish with the bone or simply remove the fillets by running a sharp knife along the bone. Monkfish makes a wicked Thai Green Curry or try medallions crumbed and pan or deep fried with homemade chips and tartare sauce or creme fraiche and sweet chilli sauce. See this months recipes for more ideas.

Brill, plaice, lemon sole, John Dory and turbot are all flat fish to be found this month. Cook flat fish until opaque, firm to touch and easy to flake Fillets of plaice make tasty gojouns for a child's meal. John Dory is one of my favourite fish with succulent firm flesh, it can be pricey though and has only three fillets. Try fillets pan-fried in a little olive oil and served with tomato concase and basil. Brill is a smaller relation to the turbot but never the less a fine specimen and slightly less expensive. It is good cooked simply on the bone grilled, pan fried or baked, and served with melted butter, lemon juice and chopped parsley.

Lobster, crab, scallops, clams, mussels, squid, sea bass, mackerel, whiting, haddock and hakeare all included in the huge selection of seafood available this month.


Game season is still in full swing with plenty of stewing and roasting meats.

Goose though farmed is a seasonal bird. The season begins in late September and by November they are large and fat. Goose is the traditional bird for a Christmas meal in England but makes a delicious meal for any occasion. It has lot more fat than any other poultry, which when roasted results in tender and slightly gamey meat. The reserved fat is excellent for roasting potatoes. I like to confit the legs (see confit duck) and roast the breast. Goose makes an amazing Gallontine impressive served both hot or cold. (see recipe index)

Guinea fowl, grouse, hare, mallard, pheasant, pigeon, rabbit, teal, and venison are all good in November. For plenty of game recipes see our recipe index.