With Christmas lingering around the corner, the next few months are a food lover’s dream. With tantalising smells, caramelised nuts, rich fruit cakes, earthy vegetables and spicy gingerbread, there’s plenty of delicious dishes to look forward to.
As you probably know by now, we love our food at Lucy Bee. However, we especially love to eat seasonal produce wherever we can – not only is it cheaper to buy, but it’s also packed full of fresher, more intense flavours.
This month sees some mouth-watering ingredients come into season, including Brussels sprouts (yes, we really do love them!), spicy horseradish, jewel-coloured pomegranate, celeriac and Quince.
However, it’s parsnips, chestnuts and cranberries that are grabbing our attention this November. Here’s why we’ll be eating plenty of these foods over the next few months…
This sweetly-flavoured vegetable might simply look like a cream-coloured carrot (in Scotland, they’re still known as white carrots) but it can pack so much incredible flavour into side dishes. And, really, what’s a roast dinner without some honey-glazed parsnips on the side? You may well have seen in the Press this week talk about waste of supermarket veg that doesn't look pretty but does it really matter when you're going to chop it up anyway, as in our featured recipe of Parsnip, Carrot and Thyme Rosti?
Native to Britain, this long and tuberous root has been used since ancient times and was especially loved by the Romans (many even considered it to be an aphrodisiac). In fact, one Emperor by the name of Tiberius so loved this humble veg that he even accepted it as part of a payment from Germany.
However, modern-day Italians don’t share their ancient ancestor’s love for this delicious veggie. Instead, they tend to get fed to pigs, especially those used to make Parma ham.
To us, though, the parsnip’s mouth-pleasing flavours have made it one of the more versatile veggies on supermarket shelves. In fact, it’s so versatile that it was even used as a sweetener before cane sugar winged its way into kitchen cupboards in the 19th century.
How to Pick and Store
While parsnips tend to be in season from October to March, they’re thought to be at their tastiest after the first frost. To ensure your parsnips really pack in the flavour though, you should pick ones which are about the size of a large carrot. Their skin should be firm to touch and as unblemished as possible and if you’re picking a parsnip with leaves still attached, then go for ones with green, fresh leaves.
Once you’ve brought your parsnips home, pop them into the salad crisper drawer in your fridge. Here, they can keep for a couple of weeks. Parsnips are also easy to freeze if you’re not going to use them in time – simply dice them up, then blanch and cool before freezing.
We love it when such sweet, tasty foods are also good for us! Thankfully, parsnips pack a hefty nutritional punch and come loaded with body-boosting benefits. They can:
How to Prepare
Thanks to their incredible, sweet taste, parsnips can be used in plenty of ways – even in baking! They can even be eaten raw, although you’ll most likely be dished up cooked parsnips that have been roasted, boiled, pureed, baked or steamed.
We love to toss parsnips into stews, soups and casseroles (they add a rich deliciousness to meals), but we particularly love roasting them with honey or maple syrup for Christmas dinner or Sunday roasts – a Lucy Bee favourite!
Parsnips can also be thinly sliced and then fried or baked into crisps. Heck, they can even be made into a wine.
In terms of preparation, young and fresh parsnips don’t even need peeling – just scrub and serve. However, older parsnips benefit from a good peeling and should be chopped into evenly-sized chunks. If the core is especially fibrous, cut away before cooking.
This beige, knobbly-looking root has a surprisingly delicious taste. You can either treat it as you would a potato, or get creative by using it in your favourite meals, or even cakes.
Here are some Lucy Bee parsnip faves:
This tart, jewel-coloured winter berry is known and loved for its star appearance on Thanksgiving and Christmas lunch tables alike, with their rich nutritional content and antioxidants.
Surprisingly, this small red fruit comes from a woody bog plant and is grown largely in North America and in parts of Canada, where they’re also known as mossberries. However, you’ll also find cranberries grown in the UK, as well as northern Europe.
Their Thanksgiving history can be traced back to the American Indians, who would devour cranberries sweetened with honey or maple syrup during these feasts. By the 18th century, the scarlet berries were brought to England by colonists, where they were even being used for decoration, as a natural dye, and medicinally – their compounds are full of antibiotics and they can also help to alleviate bleeding.
Now, cranberries get harvested when the berries turn their beautiful deep red colour (this can be anywhere from September through until November). Traditionally, they’ll be harvested from the vine by flooding the beds with water.
How to Pick and Store
When picking these juicy berries, you should aim to buy plump cranberries that are deep red in colour and firm to touch. In fact, some berry farmers will pick their best cranberries by bouncing them against barriers – the very best will bounce over the barriers, while the rejects will fall in a heap.
Amazingly, fresh cranberries, which are loaded with the natural preservative benzoic acid, can keep for months when stored in a cool place. When frozen, they can keep for years.
Cranberries are thought to be one of the world’s healthiest foods as they’re packed with juicy antioxidants and other goodies. Here are our favourite health benefits from this ruby red deliciousness:
How to Prepare
Cranberries can be simmered in sauces, stirred into cakes and bakes, tossed into pies, or even mixed into meat-based stuffings. Their unique taste also means they are incredible in puds – try adding citrus zest to bring out the fruit’s more floral notes, or vanilla or cinnamon to boost sweetness.
Cranberries can be a little fragile, so handle them carefully and rinse under cool water. Another worthwhile tip is that sugar toughens up a cranberry’s skin, so you can always cook them until tender, before adding a touch of sugar to taste.
However, it’s also worth noting that these berries are at their most nutritious when they’re enjoyed fresh, rather than cooked. Eat them by the handful, if you can stand the tart taste!
Want to add these super fruits to your cooking? Get started with a couple of our favourite recipes here:
What could say Christmas more than chestnuts roasted on an open fire? Conjuring up images of neatly-wrapped presents, burning log fires and old-school movies, chestnuts always have us in the mood for the festive season.
However, these shiny brown nuts shouldn’t just be saved for Christmas – they’re incredibly versatile, and taste delicious in both sweet and savoury dishes.
The chestnut itself is steeped in history, and was even thought to have once saved a Greek army from starvation. However, it’s thanks to the Romans (once again) that our love for these beautiful nuts first started, when Alexander the Great planted sweet chestnut trees across the countries he conquered.
Chestnuts are still popular in Italian cuisine, although many people now associate the nuts as a “food for the poor”. However, whether fresh, dried, vacuum-packed, used in cakes, bakes, roasted, or even milled into a flour, we love our chestnuts – and here’s why you should too!
How to Pick and Store
The foragers among you will be pleased to know that it’s easy to find wild chestnuts to take home and enjoy. However, if you’re scouring the land for wild chestnuts, it’s best to do it in late October, when they fall in huge numbers (just don’t confuse them with inedible conkers!). You should also look for glossy, dark brown nuts wherever you can.
Many shop-bought fresh chestnuts will come from Europe, although you should only plump for the fattest, shiniest ones when you take them home. If possible, avoid wrinkled nuts as they can have a bitter taste. When you do get your nuts back home, aim to place them in a cool, dry place, where much of the starch will turn to sugar, resulting in a sweeter nut.
When chestnuts are out of season, it’s also worth remembering that you can usually buy both sweetened and unsweetened chestnut puree, as well as vacuum-packed chestnuts. Heck, you can even buy chestnut flour and dried chestnuts if you want to get an out-of-season nutty fix!
Lovely chestnuts aren’t just intended as an indulgent treat at Christmas. Instead, they come with a whole host of health benefits and goodness. Chomp down your chestnuts to enjoy the following body boosters:
How to Prepare
When it comes to preparing your nuts, it all depends on which type of chestnut you’re using. Chestnut flour has a sweet flavour and can become slightly pasty when cooked (for this reason, it’s best used in combination with other flours), whereas dried chestnuts are smokier and work wonderfully in soups and stews. Vacuum-packed chestnuts are also delicious in these dishes and taste great in stuffings too.
Pureed chestnuts, meanwhile, can be bought both sweetened and unsweetened, meaning you can use them in all types of dishes and puds, so feel free to get creative!
If you’re working with fresh chestnuts, then make your life a little easier by soaking them in water for 30 minutes or so first. You can then peel them by scoring each nut with a sharp knife, before roasting at a high temperature for around 25 minutes. This will allow you to peel away the hard shell and the inner brown skin.
Dried chestnuts, on the other hand, should be soaked in water overnight before cooking.
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Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.