In season: May

IMG_1630It’s fair to say I’m a big lover of vegetables. I even had a vegetable sandwich today (not I didn’t get squished between two carrots if that’s what you’re thinking, I put some peppers, spinach and a couple of our orange friends between two slices of bread – mmm mmm). And in terms of being a vegetable lover, things don’t get much better than May. One word for you. Asparagus.

Now allow me to digress. I used to frequently visit family who lived in the middle of deepest, darkest Norfok, where little green spears were very much appreciated. Weaving round the windy bends near their house in spring meant that you’d be greeted by an old farm cart, dominated with a sign saying ‘asparagus’ in big green letters. Ok, I can’t actually remember if they were green, but if they weren’t then they damn well should have been.

Now underneath was a less permanent sign that for most of spring, read in tantalising script ‘coming soon!’, as if it was promoting some kind of vegetable movie blockbuster. (Imagine if you will that gruff-voiced movie trailer guy… ‘In a field. In Norfolk. A tale of two spears, trying to make it in the world’). You could almost feel the fields in the vicinity buzzing in anticipation.

One day, when the farmer thought noone was looking, he would change the sign to read ‘NOW!’, and it would stay that way for the short few weeks that asparagus was in season. My sheer joy at being greeted with the latter as opposed to the former was quite simply way out of the proportion it should have been. But hey, I did state early on in the piece that I’m a massive fan of vegetables. (If said love of vegetables were in fact a epitomised in vegetable form, I think we can all safely assume that it would be a marrow). We’d head to the farmer’s patch of land and grab as many bunches as our eager fists could carry, and dine in style.

See, asparagus is a bit like the coolest of your cousins; the one who lives the furthest away, who you never see nearly as much as you’d like to. When you see him though, it’s so worth it. You hang off his every word as he recounts tales of his hip neighbourhood, awesome friends and charmed life. You know deep down however, that if he did come more often, the sheen would immediate fade, and somehow all of his tales would all of a sudden seem phoney and contrived.

And so it is with asparagus. The season for it is blink-and-you-miss-it short, usually only around six weeks. Thus it carries with it a certain amount of exclusive charm as you realise you’d better enjoy its fleeting presence on the nation’s market stalls before it’s usurped by average-joe summer berries. And just like your hipster cousin, spring’s king of legumes is delightfully low maintenance. In fact, the less you mess around with it, the better. Just snap off the woody ends, whip up a self-saucing poached egg, add a sprinkling of your finest salt and you’ve got perfection on a plate.

For those inexplicably adverse to a plate of delicious spears, here are some other fruit and veg good to eat now.

Broccoli – brocoli
Carrots – carottes
Chicory – endive
Lettuce – laitue
New potatoes – pomme de terres nouvelles
Peas – petits pois
Radishes – radis
Rocket – roquette
Spinach – epinards
Spring onions – oignons blancs
Watercress – cresson
White asparagus – asperges blanches (I’ve wittered on about the green version, but the white is good too – if you can be bothered to peel it…)

In season: January

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The Christmas season generally brings with it an abundance of calories, and for most of January spells regimes, resolutions for a healthier diet, and cutting back on the good stuff. But don’t allow yourself to feel hard done by, learn to embrace the seasons, and you’ll see Parisian markets can offer you all you could need to dine each day like a king (whilst spending like a pauper).

Eating what’s in season is better for the environment given that the produce doesn’t have to travel far, meaning the price doesn’t get pushed up by fuel costs too. Plus produce in season is plentiful and therefore less expensive by default, and the cherry on the pie is that seasonal food just tastes better as you’re eating it exactly when nature intended it to be eaten. And we all know that taste comes above everything when we’re talking about French cooking.

Admittedly January isn’t the most exciting of months when it comes to what’s good to eat now, but there are a few gems to take advantage of – think a month of warming root vegetable stews and chunky soups. Below is a list of fruit and vegetables currently in season in France (by no means exhaustive), and I’ll make sure to update you month by month.

If you’re ever in any doubt when you’re at the market of supermarket, have a look at the sign for each produce item and it will show you the country of origin. Anything further afield than France, Spain, Belgian or the Netherlands for example, and you’re likely to be paying much of the price per kilo for your vegetable’s airfare. And remember, meats and seafood have their own seasons too. But more about that later.

Beetroot – betterave
Blood orange – orange sanguine
Brussels sprouts – chou de Bruxelles
Cabbage – chou
Carrot – carotte
Cauliflower – chou-fleur
Celeriac – céleri rave
Celery – céleri
Chard – blette
Chicory – endive
Clementine – clémentine
Jerusalem artichoke – topinambour
Kale – so difficult to find in France, it doesn’t have a translation. But check out http://thekaleproject.wordpress.com/ to find out where you can buy it
Leeks – poireau
Parsnip – panais
Potatoes – pomme de terre
Pumpkin – citrouille/potiron
Swede – rutabaga

For more information, head here: http://www.fruits-legumes.org/