Make the most of your festive produce this Christmas. We've partnered with Gardener's World to explore the best of winter comfort food and boozy drinks.
December is a season of feasting and frivolity, but fresh produce is limited at this time of year. Instead, we cook with all things dried, preserved, pickled and cured. All is not completely lost on the fresh produce front, however: cress, the original microgreen, is an all-year-rounder and can be scattered over pretty much anything to provide some much-needed peppery greenness to winter dishes.
We must also doff our party hats to forced rhubarb. It's grown in special pots in the winter months and harvested by candlelight – you don’t get much more festive than that, surely?
These cook in very much the same way as potatoes, and coincidentally, they taste great together. Mash or roast, or fry into fritters, as we have below. These tall sunflower relatives are among the easiest vegetables to grow – in fact, they can become invasive. Harvest by carefully digging out the tubers as needed, but do get them all, as any that are left will resprout and multiply next year.
Jerusalem artichoke fritters
Peel then coarsely grate 400g potatoes and 100g Jerusalem artichokes. Wrap both tightly in a clean tea towel and squeeze out any excess moisture. Tip into a bowl with 2 tbsp plain flour, 1 large egg and 1 tsp natural yogurt, stir, season and mix again. Heat a ½cm depth of vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry the mixture by the tablespoonful, pressing down a little and turning once or twice until crisp and cooked through. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil, then put on a baking tray and keep warm in a low oven while you fry the rest. Blitz 1 bunch of mint with 1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley (stalks trimmed), 2 tbsp cider vinegar and 2 tbsp olive oil in a small food processor or with a stick blender until finely chopped, then stir in the juice of ½ lemon, 1 tsp fennel seeds and 1 tbsp capers. Spoon the herb dressing over the fritters, then serve the fritters with more yogurt on the side. Serves 2
See our Jerasalem artichoke collection for more inspiration.
Sprouts grown for the festive season are started in spring and sown in fertile but firm soil. Sow a few seeds fortnightly to get a harvest over several weeks – keep young plants well-watered, then only water during droughts and tie the stems to stakes. Brussels sprouts are brassicas, which attract pigeons, so make or buy a veg cage for protection – fine netting (7mm mesh), keeps cabbage white butterflies away, too.
Happily, harvesting is the easy bit: when the sprouts are about 3cm in diameter, snap each one downwards, starting at the base, away from the stem as needed. These Christmas staples are in season from October to March. Make this sprout remoulade to add to a Boxing Day buffet.
See more sides in our Brussels sprouts collection.
Fresh mint brings fantastic freshness to heaps of dishes and drinks, but can easily become bitter and overpowering if not treated carefully. Roughly chop or simply scatter whole leaves over your dishes, and try to just gently bruise the leaves before adding to drinks instead of crushing them.
This herb is different from most as it loves shade and moisture, so it grows well (sometimes too well) in our climate. Growth stops in midwinter, but it’s not too late to pick leaves as you need them. At the same time, pull up any underground stems that are colonising nearby soil. Add fresh mint to this champange mojito.
This celery soup recipe is perfect for this time of year as it’s warming and comforting without being too heavy or rich. But, do reserve the celery leaves to use as a garnish – they have a more delicate flavour than the stems, and also add texture.
This is the end of the celery season, so use it up this month. Water the crop before harvesting to keep the cut stems stiff for as long as possible. Trim the plant back to the main stalk, wash, then refrigerate it. Break off each stem as needed.
See our celery recipes for more ideas.
We’re just at the end of the romanesco season now (it's also called romanesco broccoli or romanesque). This bright green brassica has intricate florets, but cooks like standard cauliflower and has a sweeter, nuttier flavour. This marinated lamb leg, romanesco & pickled walnuts dish is inspired by a recipe from The Mash Inn, Buckinghamshire.
Try romanesco in your cauliflower cheese recipe or blanch the florets for 5-7 mins, refresh in iced water, drain and use in a salad.
It's not just for egg sarnies! It’s so easy to grow yourself or buy a punnet, which will usually set you back less than 50p. Try our four-ingredient salmon & herb blinis – they're perfect for a last-minute get-together.
To grow cress, find
a container (a disposable plastic fruit or veg tray works well) and layer with cotton wool or kitchen roll, wet it, then sprinkle seeds densely
on top. Gently press the seeds down and place by
a window. Keep damp,
and within 10 days your cress should be ready to eat. Miranda Janatka, BBC Gardeners’ World magazine.
A great way to cook leeks is to blanch them, then char them on the outside. You'll end up with a great mix of textures, and the sweetness of the inner leaves is balanced by the blackened edges. This burnt leeks on toast with romesco recipe makes a great starter.
Try using leeks in place of onions in your recipes – they're especially useful when cooking for one, as you can lop off a small piece and leave the rest in the fridge for another day.
Try this hearty veg in our leek recipes.
Rhubarb is tricked into growing early during the winter by being planted inside warm, dark sheds. Most famous for this practice are the farms in the Yorkshire Triangle, an area of nine square miles in West Yorkshire. The resulting rhubarb is a bright pink and a little sweeter than the maincrop variety. As with all rhubarb, do not eat the leaves as these are poisonous. This recipe for rhubarb cordial is great with sparkling water for a refreshing non-alcoholic party fizz.
Look for firm stems of rhubarb, free of breaks and blemishes. To store, keep it loosely wrapped in the fridge to stop it drying out. Don’t seal it up too tightly as it will overripen and deteriorate.
Garden tasks for December
- Use cloches or fleece to cover delicate crops like salad leaves or young cabbages. A little protection may save them from the worst weather.
- Check your stored fruit and veg. If you see any mould, remove the item before it spoils the lot.
- Plan next year’s beds or pots, and calculate how much seed you’ll need to buy.
- Start preparing your plot for next year by removing all traces of harvested crops and adding lime to your next brassica bed.
Check out more seasonal recipes
What are your favourite ingredients to cook with in December? Leave a comment below...
Emma Crawforth is a qualified horticulturist who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and is the gardening editor for BBC Gardeners’ World. Miriam Nice is a published author and illustrator. She has written over 350 recipes for BBC Good Food.
The Decmber issue of BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine is on sale now.