Spring has sprung, and with it an abundance of fresh produce to enjoy, as farmers hope a third La Niña will not materialize.
“Brassicas are really good value, so cauliflower and broccoli,” says Christina Kelman, grower at organic vegetable farm, Rita’s Farm in Wallacia, western Sydney. “Cauliflower is now all the way down to $2 or $3 a head.”
Not to be ignored, cauliflower can be roasted with salt and spices, or form the center of a dish like Thomasina Miers’ Sri Lankan cauliflower curry. Broccoli too lends itself to bulking up salads or serving as an easy side. Broccolini is still slightly higher in price in supermarkets, at about $3.50 a bunch.
“But stay away from cabbage, both red and green,” Kelman says.
Wet weather caused most cabbages to become waterlogged and rot on the inside. Although you need not despair, as one of the best buys of the leafy variety in September is wombok, also known as Chinese cabbage.
“Wombok is big right now and we have lots of it,” says Clare McCulloch from Thriving Foods Farm, south-east of Melbourne.
Popular for making kimchi, wombok is subtle in flavor, making it incredibly versatile to use in stir-fry and salads. Palisa Anderson calls it the Norah Jones of the cabbage kingdom. You can find it whole in supermarkets for about $4.90.
Kelman says Asian greens, which grow on a six or seven-week cycle, recover faster from wet weather. Baby bok choy, choy sum and Chinese broccoli are also selling for $2 to $3 a bunch.
Given the abundance of alternative leaves, McCulloch encourages buyers to shop at markets to gain the benefit of being guided by farmers. “A couple of years ago no one was buying bok choy, but tastes have changed. People … are trying more interesting things.”
The great lettuce price spike has finally eased, with cos and iceberg lettuce coming down in price to $2 or $3 each.
McCulloch also recommends brussels sprouts. Thriving Foods are selling organic brussels sprouts for $14 a kilo, down from about $24 a kilo in August.
Whether you go back to basics or add them to your favorite dishes, there are many easy ways to bring out their nutty flavor.
“With the Brussels sprout itself, you can’t go wrong with a bit of butter and leek, or you can add bacon, and a bit of thyme,” says McCulloch, who sells them loose and on the stalk.
“You could sauté the stalk or steam it with a bit of coconut oil, herbs, tamari, garlic and ginger.”
Another veg worth experimenting with is artichoke, Damian Galluzzo of Galluzzo’s Fruit Market in Glebe, Sydney, says.
“The globe artichoke is coming through now,” he says. “They’re coming down in price and they’re good quality with a nice, fixed stem.” Galluzzo is selling two for $5.99.
While you may need to think a bit harder about what to do with them (see an artichoke manual here), you can use it up, leaves and all.
Beans have dropped in price, selling at Galluzzo’s for about $10 a kilo, down from very high prices last month (one Guardian staffer spotted them for $39.99 at the beginning of August).
If you’re hanging out for garnishes, you still need to pick your herbs carefully. While parsley, coriander and mint are in good supply and about $3 a bunch, more sensitive varieties like dill and sage are still hard to grow, which prices reflect.
The cream of the crop: strawberries
Best of all, this September is for strawberries, Kelman says.
Thanks to several weeks of warm weather, strawberries are about $2.50 a punnet in supermarkets. But consumers may need to act fast.
“Strawberries are one of the first things that feel the weather,” she says.
“Let’s say we get 20mm of rain, that means when we pick the strawberries they will be damaged … which means that we won’t pick them, and that will send the price up.” With that warning in mind, it might be time to try your hand at homemade jam.
“People do their marmalades and jams now,” Galluzzo says. On that note, citrus is still a good buy. “Blood oranges you don’t want to miss at the moment.” He is selling the fruit at $5.99 a kilo.
While Seville oranges are in short supply for jam enthusiasts, Galluzzo says there is an alternative: “Kumquats are about $15.99 a kilo … you won’t see them much cheaper.”
Lemons are ripe for making curd, while the ultimate snack fruit, mandarins, are cheap at $2 or $3 a kilo in supermarkets.
Iceberg and cos lettuce
Parsley, coriander and mint
Asparagus: too early
Blueberries: supply is scarce
Cabbage: too wet
Sage, dill and basil: weather sensitive