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VegetablesIdeally, vegetables should come straight from the field or the garden to the kitchen. Though this is seldom possible, there are many clues to the freshness or age of vegetables in the shops.Choose crisp and firm vegetables rather than hard ones, and avoid small vegetables which are probably immature and therefore lacking in flavour. Over-large vegetables, on the other hand, are usually coarse.

Most fresh vegetables consumed in Britain are home-produced and reach the shops and markets in prime condition.

Artichokes, Jerusalem

These tubers grow in a mass of twisted knobs and are covered with a thin white or purple skin. The crisp sweet flesh is white. Prime tubers are fairly regular in shape, and measure up to 10 cm in length and 5 cm across. Avoid artichokes which are misshaped, small or dirty, Season from October to March.


The English season is short, but imported asparagus is available from early in the year. Asparagus is a choice, but expensive, vegetable. It is sold loose or in bundles, and graded according to thickness of stem and plumpness of buds. Look for asparagus with tight, well-formed heads and avoid any with thin, woody, dry and dirty stems. Season (home-grown) May to June.


Two types are available, long beetroot and globe shaped. Small globe-shaped beetroot are sold in bunches from June onwards, but main-crop beetroot is sold by weight either cooked or raw. Buy cooked beetroot with fresh skin which looks slightly moist, and avoid shrivelled beetroot which is usually tough and woody. Uncooked beetroot bleeds easily, and care must be taken not to tear the skin when preparing beetroot for cooking. Season is all the year round.


Most beans are eaten in the pod, but some are shelled.

Broad Beans - These can be long, slender pods, up to 30.5 cm long with kidney shaped green-white or dark green seeds. All pods should have a uniform bright green colour, free from black markings. Avoid shrivelled, dry looking pods in preference for soft and tender pods. These beans are excellent for home-freezing, they must be shelled before cooking, although young broad beans are a delicacy cooked complete with pods. Season from April to September.

French Beans - These include a number of types, varying from almost flat pods , up to 12.7 cm long, to shorter and plumper beans, their colour varies from pale to mid-green. Most are string-less when young. Yellow French beans are also available in small quantities. Buy young, crisp beans. Season is year round, scarce and expensive in winter.

Kidney Beans - These are a type of French bean, usually heavier-podded, with the kidney-shaped beans showing through. The most popular is the purple variety. Choose beans with a distinct bloom. Season from June to mid-November.

Pea Beans - Not often available in the shops, pea beans have short, bright green pods, about the size of peas, and round seeds. Cooked and eaten in their pods. Season early summer.

Runner Beans - Larger, coarser and with more flavour than French beans, runner beans at their best have bright green, succulent pods which need stringing before cooking. A runner bean should snap between the fingers. Avoid beans which are tough, limp, misshapen, dirty, or pitted with brown or black. Season is from mid-July to end of October.

Brussels Sprouts

These are popular in autumn and winter. The flavour is improved by frost. Look for firm, green sprouts and avoid those with loose leaves and any which show signs of yellowing and wilting. Season from August to March.


These are green, white and red varieties, which may be conical or round, loose-leaved or tightly packed.

Spring Cabbage - Choose those with bright green and crisp leaves. Season from April to May.

Spring Greens - Young, mid-green cabbage sold before the hearts have developed. Use on the day of purchase, as they wilt quickly. Season from November to April.

Summer and Autumn Cabbage - These follow spring cabbages, but have larger, more solid heads. Choose only firm, crisp-looking cabbages and check that the base of the stalk is clean. Avoid cabbages with slimy stalk ends and leaves pitted with holes. Season from June to October.

Winter Cabbage - Popular winter vegetables, particularly the round drumhead types. They may be stored for 2 - 3 days. See that the heads are firm, and avoid any with wilting outer leaves. Season from August to March.

White Cabbage - Formerly imported,but now widely grown in Britain. They are excellent both for cooking and in salads. Choose firm, compact heads, and avoid any with loose curling leaves or those with brown smudges. Season from October to February.

Savoy Cabbage - Look for firm green heads with crisp and curling leaves.Pale green savoys are almost certainly not fresh. Season from August to May.

Red Cabbage - These cabbages are used for braising, marinating or for pickling. Fresh red cabbage have a good bloom. Season from August to January.


These orange-red root vegetables are among the most nourishing and inexpensive vegetable. Young and slender carrots are usually sold in bunches with the foliage intact, they are tender and need only washing before cooking. Main-crop carrots are larger and coarser, they are sold without leaves and by weight. Available washed and unwashed, but require scrapping or peeling. Early carrots showing green in the crown should be avoided, as they are not fully mature, and main-crop carrots should have no woody cores. Avoid pitted and broken carrots. Season is all year.


The stalks of this vegetable are used raw in salads, or braised and used in soup and stews. The common varieties are white or pink, but pale-green celery is also available, blanched, self-blanched or all green. Choose thick celery, plump at the base and with smooth sticks. The leaves indicate freshness, on prime celery the leaves are pale green and straight. Season is most of the year.


A salad vegetable with a conical white head of crisp leaves packed firmly together. Choose heads that are firmly packed and avoid any which show yellow, curling leaves. Season is most of the year.


Both summer and winter varies are available, on winter cauliflowers the dark green leaves are folded over the white curds, on summer cauliflower the leaves are opened out. Choose cauliflowers with the creamy-white heads not fully developed and with clean white stalks. Avoid any with limp leaves and loose, brown, grey or damaged curds. Season is all year.


While cauliflower has one fused head of curds, broccoli develops into numerous shoots, each terminating in a small floret. There are white or green sprouted, as well as purple broccoli. Choose broccoli with small, fresh looking heads and brittle stalks which snap easily in the fingers. Season is all year round.


Type of broccoli imported from Italy, and now grown commercially in Britain, calabrese has a compact head of white, green or purple firm curds. Buy only well-coloured heads, avoiding any with limp leaves. Season from July to December.


These vegetables are sold both washed and un washed. The flavour is improved by a touch of frost. They are best from October onwards before the central cores become woody. Buy parsnips with crisp clear look, avoid any with a split or dried-up root, or with soft brown patches on the crown. Season from September to April.


British onions vary in shape and colour from flattish bulbs with brown skins to round bulbs with red-brown or pale straw-coloured skins. There is hardly any difference in the sharp taste. They store well, especially during autumn and winter, if kept in a cool larder. Choose onions which are firm and regular in shape, with feathery skins. Onions with shrivelled skins and softness around the neck are almost certainly bad. Season from September to March.

Small pickling onions appear from July to October

Spanish Onions - Originally from Spain, the name is now applied to any large mild-flavoured onions.

Spring Onions, Salad Onions - The term spring onion is a misnomer, as this vegetable is in season throughout the year. Spring onions are used to flavour other vegetables, but are essentially salad vegetables. The mild-flavoured bulbs have a thin skin, which peels off easily. Choose spring onions with small bulbs and fresh green foliage, and avoid any with traces of worms or wilting leaves. Season is all the year round, scarce in winter. Best, March to May.

Fennel, Florence Fennel

This vegetable, which looks like a root, is the swollen stem bases with the top leaves removed. It has a distinct aniseed flavour. Choose well-rounded roots, of pale green to white colour, avoiding any which are deep green. Season is all year round.


A member of the onion family, which is sold dried only. The white or pink skin encloses small, curved segments known as cloves. These are surrounded by a thin layer of skin which must be peeled off. Buy garlic in small quantities only. Store in a dry, dark place. Season is all year round.


These thick-stem vegetables are composed of tightly packed skin layers which branch at the top into dark green leaves. The stems are white with a faint onion taste. Look for well-shaped, straight leeks, trimmed at the top and avoid those with yellow, discoloured and slimy leaves. Season August to May.


More than a dozen different varieties are grown commercially in Britain, and shop keepers are encouraged to label potatoes as some are better than others for different cooking purposes. Both main-crop and early potatoes are available throughout the year, and home-grown potatoes come into season in May.

Early potatoes should be purchased in small quantities as they quickly lose their earthy crisp flavour. Varieties include : Arran Pilot, Home Guard, Red Craig's Royal, and Maris Peer.

Main-crop potatoes are available from August to May.They may be bough in larger quantities then early potatoes. After long storage,the red-skinned varieties tend to lose their colour. Main-crop variety include : Desiree, Kerr's Pink, King Edwards, Red King, Golden Wonder, Majestic, Maris Pipers, Pentland Crown, Pentland Dell and Redskin.

Although there are restrictions on growing certain varieties in allotments and gardens in order to bring British regulations concerning wart disease into line with those of the EEC, there is still a wide range of potatoes available in the shops.

Kohl Rabi

This has a swollen stem, with a turnip-like flavour. The white or purple-skinned vegetables should be bought young, when they are the size of an orange. Avoid large coarse kohl rabi and any with decayed leaves .Season from July to April.


This long, strongly flavoured root is seldom seen fresh in the shops. It is not used as a vegetable, but as an ingredient of cold sauces. Horseradish at its best has straight roots, 2.5 cm to 5 cm thick at the top. Season from September to March.


Large marrows have coarse, insipid flesh and tough skin. They should be avoided in favour of young marrows, no more than 30.5 cm long. The skin should be soft, with a dull bloom to it. Avoid awkwardly shaped and flabby marrows. Season from July to October.


Two main types are available, cabbage and cos. Cabbage lettuce is divided into soft-leaved and curly leaved lettuce, the Webb strain being the most popular. This is round and crisp with crimped leaves. Cos lettuce are oblong with crisp leaves and sweeter than cabbage lettuce. Choose lettuce with fresh and bright leaves and avoid any with brown or slimy patches on the hearts. Season is all year round.


These are sold either as buttons, cups or flats according to age. White and brown types are available with no difference in taste. Large flat mushrooms have more flavour than the young buttons. Choose mushrooms carefully as they turn limp quickly and lose their flavour, use on the day of purchase. Avoid limp, broken mushrooms with a sweaty look to them. Season is all year round.


Hothouse cucumbers are the ones usually seen in the shops, although small amounts of ridge or outdoor cucumbers also appear. Choose straight firm cucumbers no more then 5 cm wide, the skin should have abloom to it. Season is all year round, best late summer.

Mustard & Cress

This is another misnamed vegetable, as boxes of mustard and cress usually contain salad rape only. Buy mustard and cress in punnets, it should have a bright green colour. Season is all year round.


The earliest are the flat mangetout or sugar peas which are cooked and served in the pods. Early peas (May) have round seeds, while main-crop and late varieties usually have wrinkled seeds. Buy peas with bright crisp pods and avoid any which are so large that they show through the pods. Test for freshness by eating the peas raw when they should be sweet and tender. Seasons from May to October.


This herb is used mainly for flavouring, in sauces and as garnish. Choose parsley with fresh green foliage. Avoid any with yellow leaves and tough flowering stems. Season is all year.


The broad leaves vary in colour from dark green to purple. They are heavily crimped and have prominent pale green or white mid-ribs. Avoid kale with yellow, drooping r damaged leaves. Season from November to May.


A salad vegetable, similar to lettuce but with pale green, almost yellow and curly, bitter leaves. Choose dry firm endive, avoiding any which look greasy at the base. Endive should not be confused with chicory. Season is late autumn and winter, often scarce.


American pumpkins may weigh up to 45 kilograms, but those in Britain weigh much less and are usually bought by the half kilo. Choose close-textured, non-stringy pumpkin. They are cooked like marrow or used for jams or as pie fillings. Season is summer and autumn.


Small, pungent vegetables, used fresh in salads and for garnishing. Radishes may be round and bright red, tapered and pure white, bright red with white tips or black skinned with white flesh. Choose young, not too large radishes with a crisp look. Season is all year round.


There are two types of true spinach, the round leaved summer variety and the prickly leaved winter spinach. Both have tender dark green leaves which must be handled carefully as they easily bruise. Spinach wilts quickly, and should be crisp to the touch. New Zealand spinach is similar to other leaf spinach, but with smaller, drier and tougher leaves. Season is all year, best in March and April.

Sea Kale Beet, Chard, Swiss Chard

This has spinach-like dark green crisp and crinkled leaves with prominent white mid-ribs like celery stalks. The stalk as well as the leaves are used. Season from August to March.

Spinach Beet

Although seldom seen in the shops, this all-year round spinach is a favourite vegetable in many allotments.


Imported tomatoes are available throughout the year, but the best tomatoes are home-grown, in hothouses or in the open under cloches. Season from March to November

In autumn, green tomatoes for pickles and chutney are often available. Pick firm and perfect fruit - yellow or soft areas on the skin indicate bad fruit.

The small Canary Island tomatoes are sweet and juicy, and often cheap.They are excellent for soups and purées.Large squat Mediterranean tomatoes are orange and red, with coarse flesh, but excellent for stuffing.

Tomatoes should be firm and regular in shape and bright in colour. The skin should have a matt texture, avoid any with blotched or cracked skins.


This small-leaved vegetable is mainly used in salads, soup and for garnishing. Avoid any in flower or with a high proportion of yellow or wilting leaves. Use within 24 hours of purchase. Season is all year round.


There are two types of this root vegetable, early and main-crop. Early turnips have tender mustard-flavoured flesh, which may be eaten both raw and cooked. They are usually sold washed, in bunches, and appear in the shops from April until July. Main-crop turnips have s somewhat coarser flesh, but are excellent boiled and in soups and stews. Avoid turnips with brown spots and holes, and any with spongy patches. Season from August to March.

Sweeds, Swedish Turnips

These winter vegetables are similar to turnips, but the yellow flesh is milder in flavour. Avoid roots which are forked. Season from September to May.


These small onions are chiefly used to flavour sauces. The smooth and firm bulbs have a slight garlic flavour. Choose hard, rounded bulbs, avoiding any with thick necks. Season from September to March.

Sweet Corn

Best cobs should be creamy and shiny within the bright green stiff leaves, they should exude a milky liquid when punctured. The tassels at the top should be black and withered. Season from July to November, also imported.

Less Common Vegetables

Peppers, Pimentoes

These tropical vegetables fruits have green, yellow or red skins. They are sold with the stalk ends attached,and before use these must be cut off and the inner white mid-ribs and seeds removed. Excellent for stuffing. Choose firm shiny peppers and avoid any which are misshapen and dull-looking. Season is all year round.

Aubergine, Egg Plant

Oblong and near-round types of these distinctive, purple or white vegetables are available. Prime aubergines have a slight bloom to the shiny tough skin, the mealy flesh is yellow-green. Season is all year round.


This little-known root vegetable has soft white flesh. Look for young salsify roots with fresh grey-green leaves, which can be used in salads, and regular tapered roots. Season from end October to May.

Scorzonera, Black Salsify

This long slender root vegetable, similar to salsify, has black skin and white flesh. Avoid small roots ans any that have shrivelled dry skins. Season from October to March.

Globe Artichoke

These vegetables are mainly from Mediterranean countries. The artichoke is the leafy flower head of the plant. The grey-green, stiff leaves overlap each other, and the edible parts of the leaves are the fleshy bases of each leaf. Below the leaves is the fond, which has the finest flavour. But artichokes with stiff leaves which have a slight bloom. Season is all year. Best late summer.

Okra, Ladies' Fingers

These vegetables are curved seed pods up to 22.8 cm lo.g. They are usually eaten green, pod and seeds, when slightly under-ripe, and are served either fresh or cooked with butter, or in soups and curries. Season from December to June.

Sweet Potatoes

These are not related to ordinary potatoes, the only resemblance being that they are both tubers. Sweet potatoes are globular or elongated and may be white, pink, red or purple. The white to yellow flesh is firm and sweet. Season is winter.

Avocado Pears

These pear-shaped fruits are used as a vegetable rather than a dessert fruit. They have green to purple skins. The oily, pale green, soft flesh surrounds a large stone. As avocado pears are imported they are not always ripe when bought, test for ripeness by pressing the flesh gently at the rounded end - it should yield slightly. Avoid pears with blotched dry skins. Season is all year round.

Courgettes, Zucchini

Distinct types of vegetables marrows, specially grown and harvested at about 15 cm long. Prime courgettes are straight, firm and light green. Season is all year round.

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