what's in season: december

my santa's elf hat chilli!
No Christmas elves were harmed in the delivery of this seasonal post. 


I was tidying up some plants on a dusty windowsill and found the saddest plant you've ever seen. I say plant; it was actually a few twigs in some dried-up compost. It had been a chilli plant and still clinging to it was this wrinkled chilli, which to my mind looked like the sort of hat you might see on one of Santa's little helpers, if he hadn't bothered to iron it. 

Once I had stopped laughing, I decided to photograph the chilli to illustrate December's good food. And it is highly likely that I will later even use it in some paste or other. That's a guarantee really.

So it has been yet another mild year and London has barely been touched by winter. I know we've had a frost because my beautiful drifts of nasturtium flowers that had looked like underwater plants with their leaves floating horizontally to the ground, have been hit by the cold. They now look like seaweed thrust against storm-lashed rocks. Never mind, by next spring they'll be lush again. And so the seasons go around.

As usual, as the weather gets colder and damper, I crave winter warming soups, packed with flavour such as celeriac and Stilton, a rich mushroomJerusalem artichoke or spicy parsnip soup. A beef and ale stew is always welcome with lashings of winter vegetables, whether mashed potato and lashings of buttered greens, or a monster mash of swede and carrots.

Of course, we will also be gearing up for the festive season, so it’s time to think of party food and nibbles, though I tend to go for tapas or mezze. I also love my chorizo and nutella crostini and anything on a stick – honey mustard sausages and cherry tomatoes stuffed with pesto and mozzarella (in suitably festive colours!) Or what about fabulous beef and beetroot pattiesmini burger sliders or smoked salmon 
pâté on little biscuits.?

You may want to think about how to deal with Christmas leftovers, and while I am not very fond of turkey, a brilliant way of using up the carcass and leftover roast imeat is making a fabulously spicy Thai tom yum soup with a chilli sauce – nam prik pao.

There are also lots of lovely things to bake this month – mince pies (especially if you have made your own mincemeat), as well as yeasted dough cakes such as stollen.

I shall also be breaking out the damson gin - cheers!

vegetables, herbs and wild greens:
artichokes (Jerusalem), beetroot, broccoli (purple sprouting), Brussels sprouts, Brussels tops, cabbages (various green varieties, red and white), cardoons, carrotscauliflowerceleriac, celerychard, chicory, endive, greens (spring and winter), kale, leeksonionsparsnips, potatoespumpkins (and squashes), swede, turnips

fruit and nuts:
apples, chestnuts, hazelnutspears, rhubarb (forced)

meat and game:
beefchicken, duck (wild), goose (farmed and wild), grouse, hare, mallard, mutton, partridge, pheasant, pork, turkey, venison, wood pigeon

fish and shellfish:
cod, crab (brown and hen), hake, herring, mussels, oysters (native and rock), sea bass, shrimp, sprats, whiting

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