Unlike most fruits, avocados don't ripen on the tree. Picking triggers the ripening process, which takes two or three weeks. While avocados are hard and green, and may appear impervious to rough handling, they're not. All may be well on the surface, but the damage shows in the ripening flesh, which is why so many of us hold our breath when we cut an avocado. Perfect buttery-green on the inside or studded with brown spots? The chances of success are improved if hard, green fruit is ripened under protected conditions, at home in the fruit bowl. A banana speeds the process. The bumpy-skinned hass are currently in peak supply from orchards around Bundaberg, Childers and Queensland's Sunshine Coast. They will turn black as they ripen and give slightly at the stem end when ready.
When Japanese ships dumped ballast water off the east coast of Tasmania in the 1980s, it wasn't just water they left behind. Hitching a ride in the water were the spores of Undaria pinnatifida, better known as wakame. The seaweed has literally become a weed of the sea, especially around Maria Island, though it is found as far south as Port Arthur. Proving a crisis is also an opportunity, Ashmore Seafoods last year started harvesting Undaria and processing it for restaurants. The plant is a perennial, which dies down during the summer months. The fronds grow as the water cools and by August they are the right size to harvest. Divers collect the plants from August to December. The fronds are blanched, packed and snap-frozen. Retail packs will be available for the first time this season, at Sydney Fish Markets and selected fish retailers.
Green-stem rhubarb is dormant in winter, but several crimson-stem varieties have been bred to keep producing through the coldest weather, albeit more slowly. Rhubarb is the only plant whose stem we eat for dessert. The usual approach to rhubarb preparation is to cook the washed and chopped stems, with a splash of water and about half a cup of sugar to 500 grams of rhubarb. Vanilla, ginger, or orange juice and zest are all good accompaniments.
WAYS WITH RHUBARB
For a different texture to stewed mush, soak short lengths of rhubarb in sweet wine and sugar for an hour or two, then roast in a moderate oven until just tender. These tangy sticks are delicious on a salad of wild rocket and spinach, with toasted walnuts and crumbled feta; or with a leg of duck confit.
WHAT TO BUY
Bananas Those with silvery-grey skin still taste sweet.
Beetroot Choose firm, unwrinkled bulbs.
Broad beans Early season beans are in stores.
Carrots Always a bargain.
Cauliflower Lots around.
Cavolo nero Look for unwilted leaves.
Oranges Sevilles briefly available.
Papaya Supplies increasing.
Passionfruit Freeze the juice for summer ice-creams and jellies.
Radicchio Adds a mildly bitter note to minestrone or a salad.
Strawberries Rain in Queensland means shelf life is even shorter; buy to eat.
Swedes Smaller ones have the best flavour.
Tomatoes After a slow start the Queensland season is warming up.