Membership

April

Forced rhubarb isn’t grown on a commercial scale in Scotland, but the first garden grown might be coming through now. Honey bees are busy on the blossoms, producing milder, smoother honey than the heather variety.

April

Honey bees are busy on the blossoms, producing milder, smoother honey than the heather variety.

Calendar Key

  • Best quality
  • Limited availability
  • Reduced quality

Fish & seafood

Razor clams

There are several varieties of clam; all are round and stone-like except the razor clam [nicknamed spoots in Scotland], so called because it resembles a cut-throat razor. Amande, hardshell, Venus and razor clams are the most common varieties. Palourdes (or carpet shell) are considered the finest clams and command a much higher price.

Seafish

Haddock

A member of the cod family, haddock is not usually available beyond 3.5kg so is not good for steaks or suprêmes. The flesh has a slightly sweeter taste, making haddock the best whitefish for smoking. Finnan haddock originated in the Scottish fishing village of Findon, and Arbroath smokies are small whole haddock, gutted and headed, then dry salted and hot smoked.

Seafish

Lemon sole

Lemons have an oval body, more rounded than a Dover, with a lighter, yellowy-brown dark side. Sweet delicate flesh is ideal for any sole recipes, and works especially well with creamy white wine sauces. As well as being a great fish cooked on the bone, fillets are always popular, and are great for rolling around a filling (delice), then steaming or baking.

Seafish

Monkfish

An ugly fish with a huge head, accounting for half the fish’s weight. Usually only the tails are sold: once skinned, trimmed and the membrane removed, the tails yield some fantastic meat, with a firm, meaty texture and a taste similar to langoustine. In the 1970s monkfish was only fished commercially as a cheap scampi substitute! The liver is also highly prized, and is a delicacy in Japan where it determines the price of the fish.

Seafish

Mussels

Rope grown mussels are farmed and grown from the sprat of wild stock, and in Scotland have been granted Sustainable Status by the Marine Stewardship Council. Recommended over wild, they are sustainable and give a better product: free of grit as they don’t touch the sea bed, with thinner shells and more meat. Although mussels are available all year, production will be limited during an algae bloom (on average twice annually).

Jeremy Dixon

Sales and Marketing Director, Ochil Foods

Ling Plaice

Unlike Dover sole, plaice is best eaten as fresh as possible as the flavour quickly fades. Whole fish are easily identified by distinctive orange spots, which also indicate freshness – the brighter the spots, the fresher the plaice. As pronounced a flavour as lemon sole, it takes sauces and other flavours very well, and is great for battering. Best avoided when in roe (around February to April), as the flesh is thin and watery.

Seafish

Coley

An alternative to cod and haddock, also known as saithe. A long tapered body, with a slight blue tint, coley range from 500g to 6kg but are usually only available as fillets. Coley can be a good buy, but needs to be as fresh as possible. The flesh is often a dull off-white colour which lightens during cooking, and has a fine flavour.

Seafish

Hake

Surprisingly not more popular in the UK – a large proportion of the UK catch goes to the Spanish, Portuguese and Italians. A long, round, slender body is mainly grey and silver in colour: its shape makes it great for cutting into steaks or loin suprêmes. The flesh is quite soft, but firms up on cooking and has a good flavour.

Seafish

Langoustine

Creel-caught langoustines are fished for all year round, subject to the weather. Langoustines moult in May, when they can be more difficult to catch as they bury themselves underground. The ultimate langoustine will arrive live in your kitchen capable of drawing blood! However this is not easy to achieve as they are difficult to transport live. Many fishermen will chill langoustine before packing them, so they are lifeless but remain extremely fresh.

Jeremy Dixon

Sales and Marketing Director, Ochil Foods

Lobster

Lobsters are available all year, but it’s good to be aware of females with eggs – for obvious reasons, these are best left in the sea. Most lobsters moult in summer and hibernate in winter: as a result their meat-to-water ratio is normally highest in spring/early summer and autumn, which makes the higher per kilo prices at that time deceptive.

Jeremy Dixon

Sales and Marketing Director, Ochil Foods

Megrim Oysters (native)

Three main varieties are available in the UK – native, Pacific (or rock), and Portuguese. The native (available September to April) is considered the best, but takes twice as long to grow, making it more expensive. Pacifics are available year round. Oysters should feel heavy for their size and be kept with the round ‘cupped’ part of the shell facing downwards to retain the moisture.

Seafish

Oysters (Pacific)

Three main varieties are available in the UK – native, Pacific (or rock), and Portuguese. The native (available September to April) is considered the best, but takes twice as long to grow, making it more expensive. Pacifics are available year round. Oysters should feel heavy for their size and be kept with the round ‘cupped’ part of the shell facing downwards to retain the moisture.

Seafish

Witch

Fruit

Rhubarb

As the season progresses, rhubarb stems become thicker and redder. All rhubarb can be turned into wonderful pies, crumbles, fools, tarts and preserves. It needs sugar but matches well with oranges, ginger and strawberries. Add some to the sauce to go with game; it will give a decisive sharpness.

Fiona Burrell

Principal and Founder of the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School

Vegetables

Sea kale Kale

Once the peasant winter staple producing food for the farmer and his animals, kale is now widely available nearly all year round. Italian black kale (cavalo nero) comes first, Scots and Russian kale last and for longest. As well as steaming or braising, turn it into winter pesto or vitamin and mineral-rich crisps. The newest veg on the block is a brussels/kale cross variously called Brukale or FlowerSprouts. Small heads are less brassica-ish than brussels and more substantial than kale, though need very thorough washing.

Patricia Stephen 

Owner of Phantassie Organic Growers

Leeks

Leeks are very versatile, and team well with other ingredients such as smoked bacon and mature Scottish cheddar cheese in a quiche. They can be used instead of onions in a chicken and ham pie, put into soup with potatoes, cooked quickly with fish and shellfish or puréed to go into a leek and cheese soufflé.

Fiona Burrell

Principal and Founder of the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School

Broccoli (purple)

Purple sprouting broccoli can be cooked in many ways but it is always best to steam or parboil it first. It can then be added to stir fries with chicken or chorizo or finished off on a char grill. Serve it with slices of lightly fried garlic, toasted sesame seeds and a few drops of sesame oil.

Fiona Burrell

Principal and Founder of the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School

Endive Horseradish Spring greens

Herbs & wild food

Bishop's weed

Ground elder, bane of gardeners, has an aniseed taste. The tiniest leaves, before they are unfurled, make a delicious addition to salad, and the larger young leaves can be served like spinach. It’s best from April until June but young leaves can be found in mown areas much later in the summer.

Fiona Martynoga

Forager and Writer

Chickweed Chives Common sorrel

Best in June, but available in many months where grass is cut, wild sorrel leaves have a fresh tang that will quickly flavour soup or sauces. Add them late to the cooking or use the youngest and most tender leaves in salads – they look like a small, smooth-leaved dock, and are in the same family as wood sorrel. The plant is common and will thrive on harvesting.

Fiona Martynoga

Forager and Writer

Coriander Dandelion Elm seeds

For a brief moment in late spring, the papery green seed bracts of elm make a prolific salad ingredient: a real substitute for lettuce. Harvest in handfuls to enjoy their mild, sweetish taste. Later, the developed seeds are nutty and good but the dried-out papery bracts must be removed.

Fiona Martynoga

Forager and Writer

Garlic mustard

Its other name, Jack-by-the-hedge, describes the habitat of this biennial very well. The new growth of pale, heart-shaped, slightly crinkly leaves appears around October and can be harvested from then until the spring. Take only a few small leaves as they are pungent. Use in sauces or salads.

Fiona Martynoga

Forager and Writer

Good King Henry

Not common but easy to introduce to waste land where it self-seeds, this vigorous spinach family plant produces masses of edible flower shoots from April onwards, providing it is harvested regularly. Steamed lightly and buttered, it makes a useful and unusual ‘hungry gap’ vegetable.

Fiona Martynoga

Forager and Writer

Hawthorn leaves Lovage Mint Nettles

The top 10cm of nettles before they flower are at their most delicious and least stringy. Harvested regularly from the same patch, the plants produce side shoots that can be used from April until the autumn. Best as soup, they can also be served as greens, or even raw in a pesto with surprising flavour.

Fiona Martynoga

Forager and Writer

Sweet cicely Wild garlic or ramsons

Prolific in certain wet woods and found in some city parks, ramsons’ broad green leaves and large heads of starry white flowers smell strongly of garlic. Use the young leaves and flowers, not the bulbs. Best from March – May, either raw as salad or pesto, or added late to a cooking process to preserve the flavour.

Fiona Martynoga

Forager and Writer

Other

Scottish honey

Scottish honey bees produce honey from April through to September. During April, May and June they visit mainly oilseed rape and other blossoming flowers. Many hives are placed in heather during June, July and August producing beautiful heather honey.

Jeremy Dixon

Sales and Marketing Director, Ochil Foods

Meat & game

Roe deer bucks

A lowland deer, found throughout the British Isles in large numbers. They are quite small, ranging from 15 - 35kg. Though there are also seasons around roe deer, like red deer the bucks can be shot year round to protect forestry and farming interests. Roe deer are extremely tender and flavoursome, often preferred by chefs to red deer: on the flip side they are much smaller and slightly more expensive.

Jeremy Dixon

Sales and Marketing Director, Ochil Foods