In-season vegetables and fruit to substitute in your shopping basket

Mandarins are in season at The Happy Apple Greengrocer in Melbourne.
Mandarins are in season at The Happy Apple Greengrocer in Melbourne. Photo: Greg Briggs

It's going to be a tough winter for greengrocers, as the cold weather slows crops recovering from months of heavy rain.

"Everything is just nuts at the moment, everything is so expensive," says Peter Shaheen, one of two brothers who banded together to open Northwest Growers in Castle Hill, NSW.

"We try to keep our prices down as much as we can, but we're pretty much selling everything at cost price."

Shaheen says vegetables such as cabbages, radishes and capsicums have been most strongly affected, as some growers "have been underwater three times already this year".

Where cabbages were once $2-$3, they're now selling between $6-$8. Capsicums, especially red capsicums, have more than doubled in some cases, selling for around $10 a kilogram up from $4-$5 a kilogram.

"The carrot price never really changes, it hasn't for 20 years."
"The carrot price never really changes, it hasn't for 20 years." Photo: Getty Images

"Every time the growers plant, the rain just comes and washes it away," Shaheen says.

It's worth doing your research to find the best prices, as some greengrocers, such as Northwest Growers, have local suppliers with hydroponic set-ups and set price agreements.

"That's how I can keep my prices down on Asian vegies," Shaheen says.

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In Victoria, where local produce wasn't hit as hard, Leon Mugavin scoffs at reports of 75 per cent price hikes. The founder of The Leaf Store has been selling fresh produce for more than two decades, and says it's normal for prices to fluctuate to a certain extent.

"There's a bit of hysteria around produce prices. The increase has been more like 10 to 20 per cent," Mugavin says.

"It's not ideal, but it's not exorbitant, and you can still make a very good meal for a reasonable price using Australian-grown fruit and vegetables."

Mugavin says higher prices can serve as a timely reminder to shop seasonally.

"Ask your local greengrocer what's in season now, rather than looking for some homogenous product that farmers are fighting against nature to grow 52 weeks of the year," he says.

Roast vegetables with flatbreads and whipped feta.

Adam Liaw'sĀ roast vegetables with flatbreads and whipped feta (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem

A comforting vegetable roast may be just the ticket. Cauliflower, carrots, potatoes and pumpkins remain reasonable in price this season.

"The carrot price never really changes, it hasn't for 20 years," Mugavin says. "And pumpkins are fantastic value at this time of year."

Shoppers can substitute capsicum for its higher-protein, lower-carb cousin, the zucchini. About $2.80 a kilogram in Victoria, it's also roughly five times cheaper.

"It's really good value at the moment because it's one of those products we have in oversupply," Mugavin says. "Or you could try swapping in eggplant. There's a lot of eggplant around at the moment."

For those trying to get in their two servings of fruit, Mugavin advises to steer away from blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. Instead, try a mandarin. An early start to the mandarin season means there's "fantastic value" to be had.

"My advice is to be a bit more flexible when doing your shopping," Mugavin says. "There are millions of recipes out there, and chances are you'll be able to find something different that you enjoy."