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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Maddie Thomas

Australia’s best-value fruit and veg for December: ‘Instead of mango salad, use nectarine’

Nectarine fruit on a wooden table
December grocery prices: Peaches and nectarines are better value than mangoes this month. Photograph: gresei/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The wet end to spring is now affecting summer fruit and veg. And the first week of December has not brought good tidings for festive fruit.

“Two big things to say about the Christmas favourites: mangoes and cherries are facing really really short seasons,” says Chris Frame, general manager at The Standard Market Company in Queensland.

“One of our cherry suppliers told me this week he has called a farmer in New Zealand for supply for the first time in 22 years because he is so concerned.”

Cherries, when found, can be upwards of $40 a kilo.

Despite a rosy outlook last month, heavy rain has damaged crops, causing the cherries to split and casting doubt over supply ahead of Christmas.

A warm, dry winter has thrown a spanner in the works for mango season, with Frame saying the supply and prices is “as bad as I’ve seen it in a decade”. Kensington prides aren’t living up to their name, so you might have a better shot with R2E2s. “They are the best eating mangoes you can buy,” says Robert Able, owner of Grandma Rosie’s Fruit Market in Wollongong, NSW.

“They have a small seed, a lot of flesh and are not so stringy. They are a very good, wholesome mango.”

Currently, you can find R2E2s in supermarkets for about $4 each (at least until the kensington pride shortage drives them up in price), while the prized honey gold variety are a little more expensive at $4.50 each.

After the eastern seaboard was “smashed” by storms last week, Frame has been told that all fruit arriving in the Brisbane markets this week will probably be rain damaged.

“If I was advising people what seasonal produce to get … it would be your peaches and nectarines,” he says.

“There are so many peaches in the market so … instead of making mango salad, encourage people to make their yellow nectarine salad instead.”

Thomasina Miers’ nectarine and burrata salad
Say cheese: AThomasina Miers’ nectarine and burrata salad. Photograph: Yuki Sugiura/The Guardian. Food and prop styling: Aya Nishimura. Food assistant: Songsoo Kim.

So, nectarine salads it is. Eat them fresh with grilled halloumi, or grill them and top with fresh burrata, à la Thomasina Miers’ cheesy combinations. Or try Nigel Slater’s summery salad of roast chicken and fresh nectarines. And considering prawns are high in quality but low in price, Neil Perry’s prawn, tomato, nectarine and hazelnut salad sounds like a good idea indeed.

Yellow and white nectarines are already in store, with the yellow specimens on special for $3.90 a kilo in supermarkets. Peaches are still on their way down in price, while plums will be the last to arrive.

Budget punnets, and the wait for watermelon

Able says berries are good in quality and supply. In supermarkets, you can find raspberries for as little as $2 to $3 a punnet. Blueberries, blackberries and strawberries are a few dollars more, between $3.50 and $4.50 a punnet. If you’re thinking ahead to your Christmas spread, berries look impressive simply piled high on a platter.

You should also consider grapes, which are coming in. Red grapes are the best value at about $9 a kilo in supermarkets.

And while they’re tasting good now, it pays to wait for watermelon.

“When you’re talking about a melon that weighs four, five, six, maybe even eight kilos, you’re talking about upwards of $25 for a watermelon,” says Able.

Avoid lemons, which are sitting between $6 and $7 a kilo.

Vert-y deeds, done dirt cheap

‘Tis cylindrical season. Zucchinis are about $2.90 a kilo in supermarkets and cucumbers are “dirt cheap”, according to Julian Senserrick, owner of Senserrick Green Grocer in Melbourne. Yotam Ottolenghi’s cucumber salad, inspired by the one served at a Shanxi restaurant in London, is a crunchy, garlicky number; but if you’ve left your cucumbers in the fridge too long they can be rescued and grilled too.

Tom Hunt’s chargrilled bang bang cucumbers
‘Tis cylindrial season: Tom Hunt’s chargrilled bang bang cucumbers. Photograph: Tom Hunt/The Guardian

As for summer zucchinis, Ottolenghi has a trio of recipes – including a savoury, cheesy zucchini cobbler.

Lettuce remains a good buy, with iceberg going for as little as $1.90 a head in supermarkets. You can also find cos and gem lettuce for about $3. They are, of course, destined for salad, as long you as wash and dry them properly. Water is the cardinal sin of salad.

Meera Sodha’s aubergine donburi
Aubergine dream: Meera Sodha’s eggplant donburi. Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay. Food styling assistant: Susanna Unsworth.

Eggplant is a good buy at about $4.90 a kilo in supermarkets. Sure, you’ve had eggplant parmigiana, but are you familiar with the joys of eggplant on toast, or in a vegan donburi?

Asparagus is still going strong – you can still get a bunch for under $2 and continue reeling in the spears. Elsewhere, brassicas like cauliflower ($3 a head) and broccoli (about $3 a kilo) are good for now.

Thomasina Miers’ roast mushroom and sweet potato salad with sweet balsamic onions
A meal in one: Thomasina Miers’ roast mushroom and sweet potato salad with sweet balsamic onions. Photograph: Yuki Sugiura/The Guardian. Food styling: Aya Nishimura. Prop styling: Yuki Sugiura.

Although you might associate them more with winter, Able says that shoppers should think about using cheap root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes for summery salads, like this Moroccan grated carrot combo, or this meal-in-one salad of sweet potato, roast mushrooms and balsamic onions. Sweet potato is currently on special at $2.50 a kilo in supermarkets, while carrots are about $2.50 a kilo.

Avocados, meanwhile, are the fruit friend you can rely on at $1 to $1.50 apiece.

Blemished beans, pricey pineapples

Green beans ($5.50 a kilo) and snow peas (at least $15 a kilo) remain available, but the wet weather may blemish supply.

“Peas, sugar snaps, snow peas – they will all be affected by the rain,” says Senserrick.

Tomato prices are on the high side, with truss tomatoes still the most affordable at about $4 a kilo. But if you’re lucky to find gourmet varieties like heirloom and black Russian, they are well placed in Yotam Ottolenghi’s stunning tomato salad.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s tomato salad
No truss, no fuss: Yotam Ottolenghi’s tomato salad Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay. Food styling assistant: Katy Gilhooly.

Senserrick also warns against sweet staples like pineapples and passionfruit, both high in price for this time of year.

“Normally passionfruit would sell three for $2. They are now about $2 each, and scarce because they are in between state growing seasons.”

Sweet potatoes

Snow peas


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