January is a funny month for foodies. After the indulgence of Christmas society forces health in our faces and social media feeds, and it’s the month of ‘no’ – whether it’s dry Jan or Veganuary. Instead of focusing on what we can’t have this month, we are celebrating everything that just gets better in January, so we turned to the seasonal experts at Natoora to find out what’s what in their world of fruit and veg.
Our rhubarb is grown by Robert at his farm in Pudsey (within the rhubarb triangle). He is the fourth generation of Tomlinson family to be growing forced rhubarb, stemming from the same crowns his grandparents used before the Second World War. The family’s exclusivity on crowns gives them the same varietal control as growers who save their own seeds, and other examples of forced Rhubarb from within the Triangle won’t come close to the appearance and flavour of his crop. Hand-harvested by candlelight, we start the season with Harbinger variety, known for its elongated, fibreless stalks and deep gradient of colour.
We first introduced winter tomatoes to London’s chefs in 2008 and it wasn’t easy changing the deep-set preconceptions that tomatoes were only good in the summer. It took a few years and a rebrand, where we coined them ‘winter tomatoes’, for them to be accepted but now they are a firm favourite amongst London’s best restaurants.
Right now, we have the Black Iberiko variety in, with Marinda and Camone to follow in a few weeks. This particular variety of tomato can only reach their full potential during winter. In Andalusia, Sicily and Sardinia where these tomatoes grow, night time temperatures can drop to below 5 degrees! Stressed by the cold and exposed to fewer hours of daylight, the plants must work harder to produce ripe fruit.
The plants are put under even greater duress by the salinity of their environment. Using a finely-tuned balance of rainfall and seawater, the growers irrigate the plants just enough to keep them alive. In these conditions the plants are forced to mature slowly, drawing on the unique balance of natural salts and minerals in the soil.
The fruit they produce reflects this slow, stressed growing process. Ripening from the inside out, their skins remain firm and streaked with green. However their flavour is fully developed, balancing the bright acidity of their seeds with the distinct umami sweetness of their slow-ripened flesh.
With the day to night temperature divide now at its most extreme, we enter into the peak of Sicilian citrus season. We work with Carmelo in Scorida, and his blood orange harvest has just begun, starting with the Moro variety. Moro are the most highly-coloured of his blood oranges, owing their distinctive flesh to the presence of anthocyanin, the same antioxidant that tints purple grapes. Anthocyanin is the source of the fruit’s distinct berry flavour, which together with its pigmentation will intensify as the season goes on. They are picked at full maturity and left unwaxed, as with all of Carmelo’s citrus fruit
Calçots are the shoots from fully developed white onions, replanted as temperatures begin to drop with their stalks buried deep in soil. The term Calçot refers to a Catalan agricultural term “calçar” which means to cover the stalk of a plant with soil. This practice, similar to Fenland celery, means that a longer portion of the stem remains tender and distinctly sweet in flavour. We’re sourcing Calçots direct from their native growing region, where the Mediterranean maritime climate and alluvial soil provide the ideal growing conditions for this unique onion.
During radicchio season, we work directly with growers producing the real deal (sadly, as forced bitter leaves gain popularity, industrial growers are changing their methods to meet demand).
Real forcing is growing artistry we must fight to preserve. Our growers know that to produce genuine flavour, they must wait for the first frosts and transplant their chicories for the crucial second stage of growth. Industrial growers have eliminated this essential final stage of maturation by selecting seeds designed to self-blanch in the field. Harvested early to meet demand, these intensively-grown leaves are dull in colour and limp in texture.
If left until the temperature truly drops, the plants will build a dense concentration of essential salts and sugars for survival. This is the moment to harvest for regrowth. Paired back, the bare roots are re-planted in the dark and come back as tight, crisp heads with a depth of complex flavour.
It’s peak season for pink radicchio in Veneto region of Italy. We work with the grower Antonello who perseveres for the delicately-balanced flavour, dense texture and standout colour that only this unique method of growing can produce.
Natoora is leading a food system revolution by delivering radically seasonal fruit & vegetables to over 1000 restaurants in London, New York and Paris and they count among their customers some of the most foward-thinking chefs.
Sourcing produce directly from over 400 independent growers across Europe and the US, Natoora is creating a more meaningful and responsible food system that preserves seed varieties, growing techniques & traditions that are threatened by modern industrial farming and supermarket culture. For more information, please see www.natoora.com.