Here at Loch Melfort Hotel, we love to celebrate our use of local seasonal produce, surprising our customers with exciting new dishes that simply let the ingredients speak for themselves. Seasonal fruit, vegetables, meat and fish simply means that they are naturally ready to eat, at their ripest, freshest and best quality at that time of year.
The seasonality of fruit, vegetables and, to a lesser extent fish, is widely appreciated, however, the seasonal aspect of meat is less well known. Beyond an awareness of autumn and winter being a time for game, and confusion over ‘spring’ lamb (especially in Scotland where lambs are mostly born in spring), meat is not usually associated with a seasonal calendar.
March is sometimes referred to as Scotland’s ‘Hungry Gap’, the time of year when food stores run low and only a few hardy plants show any sign of new growth. Modern farming methods, however, mean that meat, fish and dairy are still readily available at this time of year and so to are the traditional Scottish vegetables: potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips and of course kale.
As you move into April and May, there is a huge variety of Scottish foods that start to come into their own, including rhubarb, sprouting broccoli, wild garlic, chives and mushrooms, spring lamb, new potatoes, asparagus, and wood pigeon. Let’s not forget the small window of opportunity in May to enjoy British asparagus.
Fruit is limited at this time of year but a firm favourite is rhubarb, with sweet strawberries coming in at the end of May. As for seafood, spring is perfect for wild sea trout, oysters, langoustine and razor clams.
Continuing through to summer (June-August), flavours become lighter, vegetables leafier and soft fruits more plentiful. Winter vegetables make way for lettuce, courgettes, cucumbers, mange tout and broad beans. Scottish soft fruits are back on the menu as berries and currants of every colour and flavour burst forth from polytunnels across Scotland – and of course, anything that’s not eaten can be made into delicious jams and preserves for later in the year.
Meats, as we mentioned above, are still widely available but beef is a firm favourite in summer, along with chicken, which is popular in salads. Fishy delights tend to be mackerel and sustainably farmed halibut along with mussels, scallops and lobster.
Autumn (September-November) brings heartier flavours again, soups, root vegetables and the last of the summer fruits – a great time to make pickles and relishes for next summer. Vegetables are more commonly of the gourd variety, such as squashes and pumpkins as well as tasty, meaty mushrooms. Fruits include brambles, apples and plums. Game birds, e.g. wood pigeon and duck make a reappearance as the go-to meats, along with venison and hare towards the end of the season. Monkfish and oysters are in prime condition at this time of year.
Last but not least, winter (December-February) is a time for festive feasts with vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, neeps (swede) and parsnips. Fruit is limited but, of course, cranberries are popular as well as chestnuts and walnuts. Seasonal meats include the obvious turkey and goose but game is still a strong contender, too. Fish tends to be unpopular for most us at this time of year as the main focus of meat is that it’s a winter warmer, but you can always trust a good bit of smoked fish, such as haddock or salmon.
Here in Argyll on the wonderful West Coast of Scotland, we’re really fortunate to be surrounded by a host of quality food producers.