Guest blog by Sam Hadadi.
September’s Seasonal Foods: Apples and Beetroot
From rusty oranges to mustard yellows, bruised purples and burnished browns, we adore the colours at this time of year.
While nothing looks more beautiful than the coloured leaves on the trees, our seasonal produce also likes to give us an Autumnal rainbow.
From aubergines and gooseberries to kale, mint and parsnips, a whole range of delicious foods are coming into season right now.
However, it’s two of the ultimate Lucy Bee British classics – apples and beetroot – that have us jumping for joy come September.
If, like us, you love these two nutritious staples, then read on to learn how to pick them, why they’re good for us – and even to discover some mouth-watering recipes, too.
From the garden of Eden to the theory of gravity, apples have forever been steeped in history. Yet there’s no doubt that British apples are by far the tastiest to stock our supermarket shelves – even though sweet apples were thought to originate in China!
Although starting their life back in Asia, these delicious fruits spread into Europe through the Middle East, before the Romans brought them over to the UK in orchards. Invasions by the Saxons saw these orchards quickly abandoned but fast forward a few years and the Norman Conquest saw new varieties being introduced across the country from France.
While the Black Death saw apple production plummet, Henry VIII instructed his fruiterer, Richard Harris, to start an orchard at Teynham in Kent – and the popularity of this ever-delicious fruit simply grew and grew.
Over the years, the importing of apples became popular and varieties from New Zealand and other countries soon started pushing out our traditional fruits from the market. However, farmers cottoned on and started growing these varieties from our shores – to huge success. Happily, since 2003, there’s been a huge boom in the Brit apple industry.
If you love your apples, then you’ll be pleased to know that new season fruit will be getting harvested this very second, ripe and ready to keep the doctor away. The British apple season starts in August / September and runs all the way through to May, depending on your favourite variety.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have an apple tree brushing your kitchen window, its branches already full and heavy, ready for you to make homemade crumbles and pies.
If not, then don’t worry – there are plenty of apple orchards dotted across the country, while fruit and veg stores, markets and supermarkets all tend to stock an array of apple varieties. And trust us when we say that buying British will ensure a better, juicier taste than any import.
Varieties currently in season include the Discovery and Worcester Pearmain varieties, while you can also look forward to the Cox and the crisp, yet juicy, Gala. October signals the arrival of old favourites such as the Red Pippin, as well as the Crispin (which can be harvested through til March) and Laxton’s Superb.
However, Golden Delicious and Braeburn lovers will have to wait until later in the year for their picks to fall.
How to Pick and Store
If you’re picking your apple from the tree, then remember to pick the fruits with the most vibrant colour – and only pick them when they’re ripe. A ripe apple will easily come away from the tree when gently lifted and twisted. You can then store them in a cool, dark place.
Amazingly, the apples you buy in supermarkets may already be a year old. After harvesting, the fruit is submerged in water, where defects are spotted and removed. Brushes will also clean and dry the fruit. After this, the apples will be graded and arranged in trays, or bagged, before being put in boxes and placed in cold storage for 6-12 months.
If you bought your apples from the supermarket, it’s best to store them in a similar environment. Perhaps a drawer in the fridge, or in a cool, dark place. However, since apples emit ethylene gas, it’s important to take out any bad or rotting apples first – just one dodgy apple will ruin the lot!
Health Benefits of Apples
We all know that old wives’ tale of ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, but does it ring true? Just how good is the humble apple for our health?
Well, here comes the reality – you should always listen to your mum! Apples are a fantastic source of antioxidants, flavonoids and fibre for a healthy, happy body.
The phytonutrients and antioxidants found in apples can help to reduce your risk of cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, while they’re also rich in immune-boosting vitamin C.
These simple little fruits have even been found to be key in preventing dementia (they can help to protect brain cells against stress), lower levels of bad cholesterol, stave off hunger, reduce glucose absorption, and even decrease the risk of developing asthma.
How to Prepare Apples
Since the skin of an apple is rich in nutrients and fibre, we’d always suggest leaving it on – even when the recipe states otherwise! We’d also advise you to always buy organic apples wherever possible, or at least scrub the skin under hot water if not.
When apples have been cut up for a recipe, it’s simple to avoid browning- just soak them in a bowl of cold water with a squeeze of lemon juice.
If you’re processing apples for a recipe, try to keep them in tact as much as possible – and avoid boiling or over-heating them, since this destroys nutrients.
Now you have your beloved apples, how about some ways to enjoy them? Here are some Lucy Bee favourites to get you started – including toffee apple and pear crumble. Need we say more…?
From beetroot cakes, brownies and breads to beetroot hummus and even beetroot burgers, this vibrant root vegetable has seen a revival in recent years, thanks to health food bloggers and chefs.
For a long time, many people (perhaps associating it with crinkle-cut, or pickled beetroot) shunned this beautiful veggie. Yet not only can it brighten up your salad a treat, but it also packs a hefty nutritional punch – particularly for mums-to-be.
You see, right from the Middle Ages, beetroot has been used medicinally to treat all manner of conditions. Centuries ago, its star use was to treat digestion-related conditions or problems with the blood – it was even used to combat “garlic breath”, and has been used as an aphrodisiac in many cultures.
In fact, even though beets tend to grow best during spring and autumn, they were so beloved by Ancient Romans and Greeks that they developed ways to produce them during the hotter months.
Beetroot also happens to be one of the most environmentally-friendly crops around and is naturally organic since it rarely needs to be treated with pesticides. In fact, beetroot is so incredible that it was even said to have grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And, really, who are we to argue?
How to Pick and Store
Although beets are usually that beautiful jewel-red, purple colour, they can come in a rainbow of shades, from white to yellow and even a “candy cane” red-and-white variety.
In the UK, beetroot tends to be grown on the fertile soil of the Cambridgeshire fens, which give a full-flavour and sweet taste. The crops are ready to harvest from early July onwards, although the season doesn’t end until October – after this, the beetroot you buy in shops will come from beet stores.
Ideally, when you buy your beautiful beets, you should be aiming for veg with a smooth, undamaged surface. Smaller is also better as the smaller roots will often be more tender – those larger than 6cm in diameter can have tough cores.
To store, you should cut off the leaves and keep in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge. If you want to use the leaves (which can be eaten but have a slightly bitter taste), they should be consumed within a day or two, although the root itself will keep for a couple of weeks.
Health Benefits of Beetroot
As we mentioned, beets have long been used for their body-loving benefits and to treat all manner of illnesses. Traditionally, they were often used to combat liver problems as beetroot can stimulate detoxification, while the pigment that lends the root its beautiful purple colour (betacyanin) is even thought to suppress certain types of cancer.
Beetroot also happens to be full of fibre, which is fantastic for a healthy digestive system and for helping to lower bad cholesterol. This same beet fibre can also boost antioxidant enzymes in the body and increase white blood cells (which kick out abnormal cells).
What’s more, beets are also jam-packed with glutamine, which ensures a healthy intestinal tract. Beetroot juice can even lower blood pressure, while the nitrate found inside can boost heart attack survival rates.
Finally, beetroot are wonderful for expectant mums as they’re a great source of folic acid, which supports growing babies.
How to Prepare
To lock in the beetroot’s colour and nutrients, you should rinse and brush it clean before cooking. However, don’t remove the skin or root if possible until after it’s been cooked – this is where all the goodness tends to be stored.
It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves when cutting and handling beetroot since it can leave a bright stain. However, a Lucy Bee tip – if your hands do become stained, simply rub some lemon juice over them and watch the colour fade! Magic.
Beetroot is renowned for its versatility and can lend sweetness, moisture, or an earthiness to all kinds of recipes. Heck, it can even be used as a natural food colouring!
We love to simply grate raw baby roots into salads, but if you’re looking for more ideas, why not try these recipes? We adore the hummus!
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