What's in season: December
Spark festive joy with warming dishes packed full of goodness. We've got gardening tips and recipes to help you make the most of seasonal fruit and veg.
Fruit and veg to harvest and buy
- Brussel sprouts
- Spring green cabbage
- Savoy cabbage
The garden pear (Pyrus communis), which is thought to originate from the Caucasus, has been cultivated in Britain for more than 1,000 years. There are around 1,000 varieties of garden pear and many can be grown and harvested at this time of year.
When should I plant a pear tree?
Winter is the best time to plant a pear tree. Plants are usually supplied bare-rooted for planting between November and March.
How do I know how big the tree will be?
Like an apple tree, the size of a pear tree is dictated by the type of ‘rootstock’ it has. You'll need to decide whether you want to 'train' the tree to save space.
When should I pick pears?
Pears are harvested before they are fully ripe. Late varieties are ready for picking in autumn and can be ripened and stored for several weeks.
Like apples, pears are described as either dessert or cooker varieties. The latter are great for a spicy Christmas dessert.
Jobs for the garden
Shorter days and colder temperatures mean that many of us retreat to the warmth and comfort of our homes during the winter months. But some gentle gardening on a bright day is still an enjoyable way of connecting to nature and getting some fresh air. While there aren't a huge amount of jobs to do this month, it's always worth turning over the soil, adding fallen leaves to your compost heap and layering your beds with mulch.
Harvesting in the garden
Parsnips can be picked throughout the winter for a tasty soup or roast. It’s a good idea to pick a few for storage in case frozen soil makes harvesting impossible when you need them.
It's traditional to start chitting potatoes and onions after Christmas but this can also be done in the New Year. Chitting means letting the seed veg sprout, normally indoors, before planting them.
The versatile leek can be used to liven up all sorts of dishes but it needs to be carefully cleaned to remove soil from between the leaf layers.
Sprouts are not just for Christmas and can be harvested as needed throughout the winter. They taste best after the first frost and should be picked from the bottom of the stalk upwards.
The tastes and smells of Christmas
The evocative tastes and smells of Christmas owe much to the variety of herbs and spices that have found their way from across the globe and into our gardens and kitchens.
Our festive celebrations would have a lot less flavour if we only used native herbs in our winter dishes. We've been growing sage, rosemary, bay and thyme for so long that it's easy to forget they originally come from the Mediterranean. Many herbs arrived with the Romans and were soon cultivated in gardens for culinary and medicinal use. They were popular during medieval times and were often used in dishes for special occasions.
The rise of colonialism during the 17th century saw the introduction of flavours from East Asia and the trade in spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. It was only possible to grow the plants that produced these spices in European gardens if there was a heated glasshouse.
Initially, the scarcity of these spices made them very expensive and only enjoyed by wealthy diners. Mince pies with their blended spicy filling were popular during the Stuart and Georgian times and became something of a Christmas status symbol. Gradually, through a combination of wider cultivation and improved transport, the price of spices fell. By the Victorian times many spices were readily available and commonly used at Christmas.