I don't know what it is about the impending end of the year, but Time just seems to fly as soon as October first rears its head! One day I'm thinking pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, and the next I'm getting ready for Christmas! It doesn't help that the days are cut short: the sun barely comes out nowadays, and when it does it quickly goes back into hiding by mid-afternoon. Taking pictures in natural lighting becomes a challenge akin to an intense treasure hunt.
While most people will spare few thoughts to the upcoming holidays, for the catering world, November spells the onslaught of Christmas parties and the busiest period of the year. The frenzy just makes me want to curl up in a dark place and never come out! Don't get me wrong: we are all thankful for the business, but it would be nice if it was steady all year round, instead of being frantic at one end and dead at the other...
In any case, the cold weather is sticking around for a little while yet, so it's a good thing that the seasonal offerings are perfectly suited for soups and stews; slow roasting; and comforting bakes. Now all we need to do is hunker down until it's all over!
Apples and pears are the old standbys at this time of the year. Both keep well in storage, so producers dole them out in trickles until the end of winter. However, they are not the only kids on the block: the new harvests of citrus are on shop shelves, and they are very nice indeed. Although most citrus are available year-round, I've noticed that the varieties available in November and December tend to be juicier, thinner skinned, and generally more sweet-tart than at other times in the year: in other words, just the way I like them!
Of course, some citrus only make an appearance come November, and are all the more special for it: Key limes have a very short season, and though they are full of pips and rather greedy of their juice, their fragrance is quite intoxicating and well worth the effort to extract it. Clementines, tangerines and satsumas are definitely winter favourites, and it simply feels wrong to eat them at any other time of the year (I know there's still well over a month until it's officially winter, but it bloody feels like it already!) There are also grapefruits to look forward to: cut in half, layered with brown sugar and grilled, they make a great addition to brunch.
Pomegranates are another cold season fruit. Although they hail from warmer climes, they only make it to market from November to February. Their jewel tones and sweet-tart flavours lend themselves well to both sweet and savoury, and do make a meal feel festive.
Carrots, onions, leeks, potatoes and beetroots are old faithfuls in the kitchen, but they don't always get the love they deserve. Nevertheless, they are steadfastly affordable, full of flavour, and they keep incredibly well, so if you happen to forget them in the pantry or fridge, chances they will still be fine when you get around to them. Sooner or later, you will be craving a good, heartwarming soup or stew, and they will be there for you.
Winter squashes are another cold season standby: they will keep for months in cool dry storage, such as in the garage, an insulated shed, or a cold pantry, so if you stock up now, you will be covered when they eventually disappear come January.
The butternut squash has become the most ubiquitous squash on restaurant menus and in food magazines. They offer a good result to effort ratio given that a good chunk of it is all flesh and no seeds, but in my humble opinion, they are not the most interesting of squashes. The buttercup -pictured in October- has a dry, starchy flesh that is definitely sweet, yet has enough savoury oomph to complement any salty dish -they are the most prevalent squash in Japan, and are perfect for making croquettes.
But there are other winter squashes to try out there. The acorn squash, tiny compared to most of its brethren, is often sold as 'single portion' sized, and its flesh, though not as dry and starchy as the buttercup, is full of intense squash-y flavour that you would never get from a butternut.
The red kuri squash is so-called because its flavour is nutty and starchy, much like chestnuts (kuri means chestnut in Japanese). Because its walls are relatively tin, they are not very difficult to chop up, so they are rather hassle-free.
If you are more into pumpkins, then you should veer towards the French squashes such as the potiron, also known as the cinderella squash, or the potimarron, a more compact version. Both are pumpkin-like in appearance and flavour, but have a dryer flesh, so keep much better than their Hallowe'en counterpart.