Produce report December 3: Fruit and vege buys of the week
“Those already in New World have come from Hawke's Bay,” Fresh Food expert Brigit Corson says. “Early in the season, we sell the Royal Rosa variety from Hawke's Bay and then later Sundrop and the Clutha Series from Central Otago.
"The start of the Central Otago cherry season may be slightly delayed due to unseasonably cooler weather — it’s not often we’re skiing in late November — but don’t fret, we will have cherries in New World stores in time for Christmas."
Apricots have a fairly short season in New Zealand — from December to February. Give them the smell test when you are buying them, they should be delicately fragrant. As with all stonefruit, store at room temperature until they soften a little and then transfer to the fridge.
The buttercup squash season will be in full swing in the second week of December — it’s a long one, until June. Cultivated by the Incas and thought to have been eaten in the Americas over 5000 years ago, buttercup squash (kabocha) is considered a superfood in Japan. It’s a great source of vitamins A and C, beta-carotene and fibre. The brighter the orange, the more vitamin A it contains.
Look for those with a firm cap. If soft, your squash is too old. Choose one that is heavy for its size, with even colouring. Store in a cool, dry and dark place where it will keep for a few months. Refrigerate when cut.
Do yourself a favour and leave the edible skin on. And don’t throw out the seeds. Like pumpkin seeds, those from the buttercup can also be eaten. Wash well first, removing the bits of flesh that will be clinging to them. Dry thoroughly and then roast. Some people add another step, simmering the seeds for about 10 minutes before popping them in the oven. Lightly coat with a neutral oil and a sprinkle of salt. Bake on a roasting tray in a single layer, for about 25 minutes at 170C. Stir frequently.
Lettuces are growing before our eyes in the garden and they are good buying too. Salads aside, firm lettuces like cos are great barbecued as a side dish, especially when you have a glut over summer.
Halve them lengthwise, brush with oil, season and place them, cut side down, on the grill until slightly charred and warmed through. Also, try lettuce stir-fried with rice and prawns.
Look out for gooseberries. Usually green, they do, however, come in a variety of hues and are also, more often than not, rather tart. Grown in South Auckland, they are available in December only and then always in limited supply. Traditionally used in pies, crumbles and jams, their sharpness also works well in sauces to serve with fatty meats.
As Christmas gets nearer, we may also be lucky enough to find sweet but mild redcurrants tucked beside the berries in store. If their pretty jewel-like clusters are not enticing enough, their high levels of vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties may be the final sway you need before purchasing a punnet.