In winter, Sydney cooks rely on the great fruit bowl around Bowen in Queensland for their tomato fix. The so-called gourmet variety sold loose in greengrocers and supermarkets, and roma tomatoes are grown in Bowen's fields. But this year has been a shocker. First, rain knocked off flowers and damaged fruit. Then more rain prevented farmers from planting successive crops. Cold weather slowed growth, winds knocked plants flat and, just as conditions looked like improving, another chill rattled through the fields. At the same time, tomato greenhouses are in their annual lull. When daylight hours reach their low point in June, glasshouse tomato growers rip out most of the plants, clean out the glasshouses and start again. The glasshouse truss tomatoes will arrive on the market in reasonable numbers from about mid-September. Farmers in Bowen, meanwhile, have their fingers crossed for warmer weather before then. This week's full moon would usually be followed by a bounce in the tomato harvest next week. Much depends on this week's weather.
Friends with herb gardens can be a bit stingy with their thyme by the end of winter, but they're always generous with rosemary. This hardy herb keeps growing through Sydney's cold season, even producing the odd flower to decorate a salad of roast vegetables. Rosemary can be quite dominant when used as fresh leaves, though some cooks like it finely chopped in mustardy dressings. When fried, grilled or roasted it takes on a rounder, smoother, quieter flavour.
WAYS WITH ROSEMARY
Finely chop the leaves from a few sprigs of rosemary and of thyme. Grind over plenty of black pepper. Rub some oil on a steak, then press into the peppery herbs. Add a sprinkling of salt flakes, then barbecue. Serve with a wedge of lemon.
This tropical fruit is now grown commercially around Darwin. It looks a bit like a durian, but is bigger and the thorns on the skin aren't so fierce. Its size can be a bit off-putting - it's at least as big as a football and can weigh up to 30 kilograms. The mass demands a certain amount of commitment for cooks, as it all needs to be prepared at the same time. Also, some varieties exude a sticky substance when cut that is hard to wash off. Wiping your hands and knife with vegetable oil stops it sticking. Once the jackfruit is cut open, the arils should be removed and the seeds taken out. Some cooks like to wash and dry the fruit before eating; most don't bother. The flesh stores well in the fridge and can also be preserved in a sugar and ginger syrup, or frozen for later use.
WHAT TO BUY
Artichokes Make soup, braise or preserve.
Broccoli Good quality.
Blood oranges Juicy and plentiful.
Fennel Great bargains.
Lemons At preserving prices.
Mandarins Lots of varieties available to choose from.
Pears Ripen at room temperature.
Radicchio Keep an eye out for the long treviso variety.
Radish Small red and large white Japanese types are both good.
Rhubarb Lovely rich colour.
Spinach Local growers are harvesting.
Strawberries Western Australian season is starting.
Zucchini Overgrown fruit is a bargain for soup.