Autumn is beginning. In a seasonally confusing mode, I had my first porridge of the year for breakfast today, with some of the last mangoes of summer. I've been making roasted quince; pear and date chutney (from this month's Delicious magazine); and eating plums and figs and apples.
It's always best to eat seasonal produce. It's fresher, cheaper, tastier, and ecologically better simply because it's less travelled. I admit I'm not a complete purist; I keep frozen berries and peas on hand all the time. But I do love the markets and the direct farm outlets. On Friday I got to two terrific places - Pialligo and North Lyneham, where I had to check out Choku Bai Jo. If you don't know these places, read on - they are essential to the Canberra cook.Pialligo is not a single shop, but a locality. Barely northside, on the way out to the airport, it's a tiny region built along Beltana Road. You'll find nurseries, garden and landscaping supplies, several orchards, a winery, and a couple of cafes. The orchards are open for direct sales as long as they have any fruit - usually this is from late January to May. They've often sold out the week's pick by Sunday; Friday is a good day to go.
On this trip I got quinces and Cox's Orange Pippins at the Apple Yurt; and beans, tomatoes, and gala apples from the little ramshackle roadsie shack that is officially named "Pialligo Apples". It's all organic, and biodynamic, too, I think. They also sell honey, juice, jams and eggs - it's a nice mixed selection. Both of these places sell unusual or heritage varieties of fruit. It's educational to sample all the apples and discover how different they can be in taste and texture.
The new and exciting place to go for seasonal produce is Choku Bai Jo, in North Lyneham shops. This is run by the Pentony family, who were involved in the EPIC Growers' market, and they currently stock produce from a few of the market regulars. It's open 3-8pm Mon-Fr, and 7am-noon on Saturday. They do eftpos and credit cards. It was buzzing with customers on Friday arvo. The decor is currently very rough - trestle tables with cardboard boxes and plastic crates; a big fridge for the Glenn na Meala salad greens; a wire rack of Homeleigh olive oils and free range eggs. They diverged a little from the market's local ethos with a few mangoes from Mareeba - but everything was labelled with its travel distance, so it's up to you to choose.
At this stage, the prices are really excellent, as the direct engagement with the farmers cuts out the middlemen. The quality of the produce was also very high - much of it is organic, and all of it is superbly fresh. You can't avoid a bit of damage, but it's handled well. A few squished fruits were being removed from the boxes as I watched. A customer in front of me was given some dented fruit for free, because it wasn't up to scratch. I came home with some beautiful red capsicums, plums, salad greens, japanese cucumbers, rainbow chard, cauliflower, pumpkin, corn and olive oil. The beetroot and peaches and apples and tomatoes and eggplants all looked glorious - it was hard to resist buying everything in the shop!