Season's best

With Wimbledon, alfresco weekends and the start of the school holidays, July brings with it plenty of opportunities for enjoying the best of British seasonal produce, from juicy strawberries to refreshing melons and earthy beetroot.

Cherry tomatoes are the perfect addition to summer recipes, adding a pop of colour and a burst of juicy sweetness. Usually sweeter than larger tomato varieties, cherry tomatoes are delicious raw and are easy to eat on their own as a snack, or can simply be halved and tossed through salads. Cooking cherry tomatoes brings out their sweetness even further and they make tasty toppings for pizzas and breads, or mixed through freshly cooked pasta with a tomato’s best friend – basil. When buying cherry tomatoes, look for firm fruits with a deep colour and store at room temperature for the best flavour; there’s no need to refrigerate as chilling actually hinders their natural ripening.

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Also in season...

Strawberries

Strawberries

The British strawberry season runs from March through to October. Strawberries belong to the rose family, along with raspberries and blackberries. Sunlight helps the strawberry plant produce natural sugars, which gives these ruby berries their sweet flavour. Look out for delicious varieties in store – great with soft cheeses, such as Brie or Camembert.

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Blackberries

Blackberries

Naturally glossy, blackberries have a sweet and tangy flavour. At their best in summer, store these sharp yet sweet fruits unwashed, on a layer of kitchen paper in the fridge to prevent them crushing each other. Leave blackberries at room temperature before eating for the best flavour. For a fresh and fruity drink, blitz blackberries and quartered lemons (peel and pips removed) in a food processor with a little sugar and a few mint leaves. Strain, then top up with soda water. 

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cherries

Cherries

These naturally sweet stone fruits are at their best in high summer. Store them, unwashed, in a sealed container in the fridge. Wash and pat dry just before using. If you don’t have a cherry pitter, you can remove the stones by inserting an icing nozzle or chopstick into the stem end of the cherry, then pushing the pit through the other side. For a light summer lunch, spread soft goat’s cheese on toasted ciabatta. Top with spinach, cherry halves and chopped pecans. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. 

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Raspberries

Raspberries

A member of the rose family, this soft and delicate red berry must be carefully hand-picked. British varieties are at their best in July and August. When choosing raspberries, avoid any with the hulls still attached, as this indicates they were picked before fully ripe and so are likely to be tart. Try Rosedene Farms raspberries in a coulis with ice cream. You could also use in place of strawberries for a twist on Eton mess.

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Nectarines

Nectarines

These sweet and juicy stone fruits are at their best from May to September. Although similar in taste and appearance to peaches, nectarines are slightly more acidic, with a smoother skin. Ripe nectarines have no green patches and are firm but give a little when gently squeezed. Keep in a fruit bowl and move to the fridge once ripe. Ripe nectarines are delicious raw. Under-ripe fruit benefits from being cooked: try poaching in Marsala with vanilla, then serving with mascarpone.

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Radishes

Radishes

Crisp and peppery, radishes are great for adding a savoury crunch to salads. Like watercress, radishes are a member of the mustard family. Historically, ancient Egyptians were paid in radishes for their work in building the pyramids. For a delicious summer snack, heat butter in a frying pan until foaming. Add the radishes; fry until softened. Squeeze over lemon juice and sprinkle with dukkah to serve.

Celery

Celery

This versatile vegetable works in soups, casseroles and salads, and is great for roasting, too. Tougher, outer stalks are best to cook with, while inner stalks are tender enough to eat raw – just trim the ends and wash. To revive limp celery sticks, trim a small amount off the root end and stand in lukewarm water for around 30 minutes.

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Melon

Melon

From cantaloupe to honeydew, there are many delicious varieties of melon, all of which are vibrant, sweet and delicious. Spanish piel de sapo (‘toad’s skin’ in Spanish) melon is the ultimate summer refresher. This delicate, sweet melon is a winner matched with cheeses, such as mature Cheddar, salty feta, or rich Manchego. Ripe melons should be firm to the touch with a little give and should smell gorgeously floral. You can keep a whole melon in a cool spot on your kitchen worktop, away from direct sunlight, for around two weeks.

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beetroot

Beetroot

With its sweet, earthy flavour, beetroot is delicious in salads and soups, and adds depth to chocolate cakes, too. Beetroot is at its sweetest in summer; pick beets that feel firm when pressed. The green leaves are also edible: wilt larger ones with butter and lemon juice, as you would spinach, or use in salads. To roast, wash (but don’t peel), then trim the stalks and root to about 3cm each – this will prevent the colour from bleeding. Wrap in foil, roast, then peel and remove the stalk and root.

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Watercress

Watercress

Watercress, a relative of the mustard plant, has a strong peppery flavour. It's a source of folate and calcium, as well as being high in vitamin C. Watercress has been celebrated for its nutritional content for hundreds of years; it first appeared on a menu in the 1300s. There is a dedicated annual watercress festival near Winchester. Try using it to make a vibrant salad with griddled pears, Stilton and walnuts.

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