After a slow start to the season, the new year brings good news for fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes, which paint the city red in January.
John Velluti, owner of Frank’s Fruit Market and Velluti’s, which supplies Sydney’s restaurants, says he hasn’t seen tomatoes this good in ages.
“We’ve had the absolute hit of tomato season and it looks like it’s continuing. Whatever you want, you can get.”
From traditional tomatoes to beef hearts to vine tomatoes, recent warm and sunny conditions have led to plentiful supply and low prices, with vine and vine-ripened tomatoes being the cheapest in supermarkets at £2.90 to £3.90 USD per kilogram.
Use them today in David Atherton’s Tomato and Sourdough Salad, or save them for the future by cooking batches of passata to have on hand.
Velutti also recommends zucchini and eggplant, good December buys that remain strong. Why don’t you take them all – your zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes (and the previously mentioned homemade passata) – and try your hand at Sicilian caponata?
The corn is ready for the barbecue season too. In Gympie, Queensland, this is one of the best January picks at the local Farmer and Sun produce and cafe market.
Owner Trena Waugh says that as the crops continue to recover from the heat, humidity and drizzle of the last few months, “corn is really the only thing that grows really well…cucumbers too.”
“Because we grow it here, we sell five corn for $2.50,” says Waugh. Dress up the corn on the cob by making cheesy, spicy and spicy Mexican elots.
In supermarkets, husked sweetcorn costs about $1 each, and Lebanese cucumbers for less than $1 each, or about $3.50 per kilo.
And if you’re still hesitant to buy loose leaves after December’s hallucinogenic spinach scare, iceberg lettuce and cos lettuce are January veggies ranging from $2.50 to $2.90 each.
Late arrival of stone fruit
Peaches, nectarines and apricots began to arrive, followed closely by plums. “We had a bit of a late start to the season because of the cold weather,” says Velluti.
“It was really noticeable with Tasmanian cherries. They usually arrive about a week before Christmas, but they have literally just started arriving now.”
Nectarines and peaches can now be found in supermarkets for $3.50 to $4.50 a kilo, but Velluti chooses apricots in season. “I’m really, really happy with the quality,” he says.
Apricots are more expensive than other stone fruits, at around $10 a kilo, so make the most of them with apricot pudding, limoncello, and mascarpone if you’re up for some entertainment.
In mango, choose pride
Mangoes are still the biggest deal of the season, selling in supermarkets for as little as $1.90 each.
They are “the only products that have not gone up that much [year on year]says the owner of Camberwell’s Fruit and Veg in the east of Melbourne, Robert Kogut.
Associated with: Mango is $2: 15 Recipes for Too Much Fruit in the Summer
Rooster sells four varieties of mangoes – honey gold, calypso, R2E2 and Kensington Pride. The latter is the most popular. “Kensington Pride is the juiciest and sweetest … R2E2 is nice and big … but no sweetness.”
Expensive passion fruit
For other fruits, as a result of labor shortages, fuel prices and rainy weather, the Rooster says some items are still in short supply or may become “very scarce immediately”.
“I’ve spoken to fruit growers and people who have been in business for generations… and they say, ‘my father has never seen anything like this. My grandfather had never seen anything like it.”
Passion fruit is especially likely to raise an eyebrow at the checkout at $20 to $30 per kilo. In normal season, it would cost $9 to $10 a kilo at this time of year.
Grapes are also not a sure thing. “Normally we would have all the grape varieties, white and red, but now we only see one variety instead of five, six or seven,” says Rooster.
Grape prices have dropped to around $8 or $9 a kilo since last month, but despite past volatility, blueberries are a better deal.
At Haberfield, Velluti says they are a safe choice for January shoppers, with no “double-digit prices”.
Blueberry ($1.90 to $2), raspberry ($3.50) and blackberry ($5.50) skewers can be tossed into Alison Roman’s semifreddo dessert, or eaten right out of the box. Strawberries remain cheap at $2 a scoop, but may not have the quality or flavor that consumers are used to.
If you care about quality, Velluti suggests you treat yourself: “Lychees are sensational.”
While they’re not cheap – currently between $20 and $50 a kilo – you should still pick them up quickly because by the end of January with the arrival of the lunar new year, demand will push prices up.
Limes: cheaper than lemons
Iceberg lettuce and cos lettuce
Watermelon: price fluctuations
Cherries: late and will probably remain expensive
Lemons: out of season and expensive
Red pepper: rare, with most imported from New Zealand
Ruby Grapefruit: off season
tangerines: off season
Blood Oranges: off season