Vegetables are volatile and Christmas may be without cherries as food prices continue to rise ahead of the festive season. But to eat, drink and be merry, you can count on summer fruit and glasshouse-grown veg this December.
Anthony Patti, from family-owned grocery store La Manna Fresh in Melbourne, is bracing for shortages as demand increases in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to see a lot of vegetables affected … A lot of the paddocks are so wet that farmers are struggling to get through and plant now for that peak.”
Instead, glasshouse-grown vegetables shielded from the weather are the best bet. “Cucumbers, eggplants, capsicums and tomatoes will be OK, and good value,” says Patti.
In tomatoes we truss
At La Manna and in supermarkets, eggplants are reliably between $3 and $4 each or $7 to $9 a kilo. Take three and bake them into a rich eggplant stew with chickpeas and tomatoes, or grab a few more if you have eggplant parmigiana on your mind.
Cucumbers remain cheap and plentiful, with Lebanese cucumbers around 80c each in supermarkets. Zucchinis are also in good supply and ready to use in Alice Zavlasky’s zoodles and her internet-famous zucchini fritters.
What’s summer without tomatoes? Truss tomatoes are cheap at $2.90 a kilo in supermarkets, and cherry tomatoes are about $2.50 a punnet. It must be time for Claire Thomson’s tomato kofte and tomato-ricotta bread-and-butter pudding.
In greens, at Ormond Fresh Produce in Melbourne’s south-east, owner Parminder Dulku says that the once cursed iceberg lettuce is still a great buy, at about $2.90 a head in supermarkets. Green beans are also good value (for now).
Meanwhile, broccoli has almost doubled in price since last month, now in supermarkets for about $6.90 a kilo, with cauliflower prices also likely to rise. Asparagus and broccolini are still reasonable for summer salad and barbecue season at $2.50 a bunch in supermarkets.
Fewer cherries on top this Christmas
The biggest disappointment this December will be cherries, with the persistent wet weather making the trees waterlogged and causing the fruit to split.
“While there is a bit of supply, the quality is not great … normally by this time of year there is quite a bit around,” says Patti.
Cherries in December usually sell for $15 or less a kilo, and while Patti says there will be some good crops by Christmas, “I’d be surprised if there is much for less than $20 to $25 a kilo”.
But fruit is still your best chance to reap the rewards of the season.
Watermelon, at $2 to $3 a kilo, takes over as the fruit of choice, alongside other melon varieties, including rockmelon and honeydew which can be found whole for $3.50. Perfect for Thomasina Miers’ watermelon and chorizo salad, or Sami Tamimi’s watermelon and halloumi, which both look like summer on a plate.
Pineapples, found in supermarkets for $2 to $3 each, are also predicted to remain steady.
Last month’s wait and watch produce is ready to go, with raspberries (around $5 a punnet), blackberries (around $4 a punnet) and blueberries ($3.50 a punnet) likely to remain stable, but strawberries are still suffering.
“Strawberries are definitely poor quality … They don’t like being packed in a punnet in the humidity” says Patti.
Mangoes keep their pride of place
While you can’t have cherries, you can have mangoes. Synonymous with summer, they remain one of the best deals at $2.50 or less each in supermarkets.
Johnnie’s Fruit Shop in Mosman, Sydney, sells five Kensington Pride mangoes for $12 and sees them go very fast.
But owner Pinto Purali says that approaching summer, stone fruit and grapes are also front and centre, particularly by mid-December.
“The best right now are yellow peaches and white nectarines. They have a lot of sugar content, so they’re really nice and sweet.”
While peaches, nectarines and apricots are slightly late this season, smaller varieties are in supermarkets for about $4 a kilo or up to $13 a kilo for premium varieties at this stage of the season, ready to be bundled into a summer stone fruit tart.
White seedless Thompson grapes will also be at their best in a few weeks, at about $10 to $12 to a kilo, with the sweeter autumn crisp variety starting in January.
Capsicums: will come down in price
Passionfruit: fluctuating in price more than usual
Green beans: may be weather affected
Strawberries: remain sensitive and weather affected
Potatoes: still weather affected and in short supply
Corn: likely to rise in price due to rain and lacking crops
Limes: too volatile