Lazy summer days and, hopefully, some holiday sunshine bring out the best of British at the Farmers’ Market this month. Many are situated in some of the loveliest parts of the county so plan to make your trip a day out. Just pack a cold box with a couple of ice packs in the back of the car to keep purchases at their best – a good idea whenever it’s warm. Even better, buy the makings of a great picnic from the market and enjoy food at its freshest in the countryside that it produced it.
So what should you be putting in your shopping basket this August? Plenty of summer vegetables are coming into season as we head towards harvesting time of year. Home-grown tomatoes are in abundance and taste superb right now, as do shallots, onions, French and runner beans, courgettes, aubergine, peppers, cucumber, and an amazing number of salad leaves, some of which will have been picked that very morning. Corn on the cob should be cooked and eaten as fresh as possible before the natural sugars turn to starch – cook the cobs protected by their leaves directly on the barbecue and serve with a lime and chilli butter. Early marrows and squashes should also be available, along with main crop potatoes. Make your own chutneys and pickles now, and then leave them to mature in a cool dark place to allow the flavours to meld and develop. They will be at their best just in time for Christmas and make perfect presents.
The soft fruit season is peaking for raspberries, black, white and red currents, plums, blueberries and blackberries, and with a late start to the cherry season, there should be plenty still available. The cold start followed by a burst of warmth in July has made this a wonderful summer for quality and flavour, so now is the time to buy soft fruit and convert it into jams, ice cream, smoothies and cakes, or store in the freezer to bring a taste of the summer to the winter months. A couple of summer puddings in the freezer make a perfect way to taste summer when the days are shorter. Old-fashioned bottling is another way to preserve fruit for the winter – take a tip from the French and bottle the best quality fruit in alcohol such as eau de vie, vodka or brandy. Or the more adventurous might want to make their own fruit cordials – look on line for recipes or check out the summer issue of new online food magazine Saffron at www.saffronmagazine.co.uk for a feature on bottling fruit (and a in-depth piece on why we are all shopping at farmers’ markets more and more with photographs and film of Penshurst Market).
Summer fish is plentiful this month. Wild salmon and sea trout are a luxurious treat that is scarce even when in season so buy both when you see them and cook as simply as possible to preserve their flavour. Sole, sea bass and plaice are also excellent now. For seafood lovers look out for local crab at its finest at this time of year. Pile the white meat into ripe avocado halves then sit on toasted sour dough bread and top with a dollop of home made mayo and a squeeze or two of lemon juice.
A bank holiday barbecue is a perfect way to make the most of some of the many meat products that you can find at your market. The obvious choices are steaks, burgers and sausages – properly made with locally raised meat, they have far superior flavour and cook really well on the barbecue compared to more insipid mass-produced versions available in supermarkets. You will find some interesting recipe combinations too – wild boar, venison and even pork flavoured with hops – why not organise a tasting and add a competitive element to your barbecue. Many markets can even sell you the charcoal you need, all produced from local woodland. Picnickers will find superb pies, scotch eggs in many different flavours and styles, pates and terrines, quiches and tarts at many markets – all real time savers for making the most of sunny days when all you want to do is head for the beach.
And don’t forget the Glorious 12th marks the start of the new game season so look out for venison, wild duck, wood pigeon and rabbit, as well as grouse. Venison burgers and wild boar sausages all make an excellent choice for the late summer barbecue; serve them with the first of the corn on the cob and some locally made chutney for a perfect partnership.
Tomato, tuna and white bean salad
A really quick and easy salad that makes a perfect quick summer supper or lunch. Serve with good bread to mop up any leftover dressing. Canned cannellini beans are used here but you can substitute boiled new potatoes or any fresh green bean, such as runner or French, or freshly cooked borlotti beans if you find them
2 large free-range eggs
400g can cannellini beans, drained
3 tbsp cold pressed local rapeseed oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp capers, chopped
200g can tuna in olive oil, drained and broken into chunks
300g small ripe tomatoes, halved or 2 red peppers, grilled until blackened and skinned and seeded
1 small red or sweet white onion, finely sliced
small handful basil, torn into pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Place the eggs in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Run under cold water to cool, peel and cut into wedges. Whisk the oil and vinegar with the capers and seasoning. Place drained beans in a salad bowl and pour over the dressing. Toss gently to coat.
2 Add the remaining ingredients to the beans and turn over with a spoon to coat in the dressing. Serve with bread.
Short cut: You can use the oil from the tuna can for the dressing. Or do use quickly griddled fresh tuna if you have some – flake and add to the dressing warm before adding the rest of the ingredients.