As Scottish food grows in reputation, supporting ingredients like wood sorrel, pigeon and celeriac are increasingly familiar sights on menus across the country.
Some of these foods – wild garlic, for example, or native oysters – are almost impossible to find out of season, making their yearly heyday a special event to be anticipated and savoured. Others, like tomatoes or asparagus, simply don’t taste as good after travelling long distances, or raise ethical questions when grown in certain countries around the world.
This seasonality calendar, created by Scotland Food & Drink and The List, goes much further than parsnips in winter and strawberries in summer. It will show you when chanterelles and sea buckthorn are ripe for foraging, and our expert tips will give you great ideas for cooking with plums, or advise you how to tell if a langoustine is really fresh.
The mix of climate, weather, light and landscape that define our seasons are uniquely Scottish, and therefore so is this calendar. Foods you would expect to see on a UK-wide calendar might be omitted or have slightly different timings. You won’t find forced rhubarb, for example, because though it is a welcome relief after the lack of winter fruit, it’s not grown on any sort of commercial scale in Scotland. Similarly, lamb is listed in autumn rather than spring, and you’ll not find peppers or sweetcorn – however sea kale is included, because Scotland has the UK’s only commercial grower. Some foods will still be easier to come by than others, but there’s always something seasonal and Scottish to experiment with.
Remember that the seasonal harvest is not an exact science, and is necessarily beholden to our famously, and increasingly, unpredictable weather patterns. Broad beans are available until the first frost, whenever that might occur, sloes and sea buckthorn are best afterwards. Recent years have seen unusual changes in growing patterns, with wet springs halving the asparagus season, as one example among many of the challenges faced by growers and farmers.
While there’s food to source and anticipate at any time of year, Scotland does have a ‘hungry gap’. April, May and early June are the most difficult months for growers. Stored fruit and vegetables run out in March or start to sprout, wanting to return to the ground. Fields get ploughed up for new crops, and frost and the lack of sunlight prevent much overwintering. The widespread use of polytunnels has made a considerable difference, but dedicated seasonal eaters still need to get creative, taking advantage of our modern ability to freeze ingredients, or calling on traditional techniques like pickling and preserving.
Misidentification can be fatal: if you are at all unsure about the identity of a plant you are collecting, never eat it. Do not collect from marshy or polluted environments. Practise responsible and sustainable harvesting techniques: as a general rule, do not dig plants up. Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods has written good web pages on foraging and the law, and responsible foraging. The photos in this calendar are not intended as identification aids: have good ID guides with you when foraging, and use collecting guidance notes – our foraging contributor Fi Martynoga recommends Miles Irving’s The Forager Handbook.
With thanks to NFU Scotland