Get the best of British and eat food in season.
Spring is a time to celebrate new food in season. May is such a wonderful time of year with gardens blooming, crops growing rapidly and livestock grazing the fields with their young while the constant twitter of birds is carried through the air. Traditionally the beginning of the month is celebrated by the Scots with the fire festival Beltane and by the English with maypole dancing and beating the bounds celebrations to honour the fertility of the land and to ask for a blessing on the crops. Unfortunately I never attended either this year but will endeavor to do so next year, particularly as I am planning to start my own small vegetable plot in the garden.
If you are a frequent visitor to farmers markets you will notice Asparagus a plenty along with sorrel, radishes and rocket. From the sea we have brown crab at it’s best, and I recall seeing some at the farmers market in Wimbledon just this Saturday passed.
Grab it quick while it lasts! The season for luscious green British asparagus is rather short lasting just six weeks. This gourmet vegetable is a difficult one to grow and can’t be stored or frozen. To get the very best flavour from asparagus you need to eat it as soon as possible after cutting, so unless you grow your own or are close to someone who does, your best bet is a farmers market or a good green grocers. Failing that the supermarket is an option but supermarket asparagus will have already spent a fair bit of time on the road. Don’t waste your money on imported asparagus, it will be much too old before it is on your plate ready to eat. It doesn’t take much cooking or tampering, simply steamed for a few minutes and drizzled with lemon juice and a dash of sea salt is how I like mine. I find it goes ever so well with a poached egg, organic and free range of course. It’s also said to be great in risotto, put the thicker ends of the stalk in early to flavour the stock while reserving blanched spear heads until the end. There really is no need to peel asparagus at all unless the ends of the stalks are particularly thick then you might want to thin them down a touch with a peeler.
The main thing to look out for with crab is the region from which it came. Devon boasts crabs weighing up to 3kgs second only to the Alaskan King Crab the worlds biggest! Cromer, Norfolk crabs are known for their sweetness and rated highly by chefs while crabs from the east coast of Scotland are the best of the all due to their rich feeding in fairly unpolluted cold water. Most of the time you will buy crab already cooked whether from a market, shop or restaurant. However if you are shopping for live crab, you should look for one with a well worn in shell as these ones will have the most meat on them. Interestingly, I recently learned that crabs shed their shells from time to time since they cannot grow them. Apparently the male crabs make for better eating and can be identified by the narrower and more pointed apron, the sort of T shaped flap on it’s underside. When it comes to the horrid task of killing it, boiling it alive will result in meat that does not taste as good, since it is stressed before it sucomes to the heat of the water, nor I think is it very humane. The recommended way of killing, though it sounds quite gruesome, is a spike between the eyes and another under the apron.
These cute pretty peppery pink vegetables are great in any salad. Radishes of varying types, such as mooli and daikon are used frequently in Asia, while we really just have the one type grown here in Britain. Try to buy them with their leaves on, you’ll most likely have to shop for them at a farmers market or green grocers to get them like this, the leaves will be a good indication as to their freshness and can also be eaten up in the salad. Radishes are really quick and easy to grow and can be sown successionally so that there can be a constant supply from spring through the summer months. I think I will be adding those to my vegetable plot when I get it! Pictured here is a lovely Asian influenced salad of soy bean, butternut squash, spring onion and of course radish, dressed in a light peanut satay sauce.
Another peppery salad ingredient and one of my favourite salad leaves. It’s a wonderful robust vegetable which can even survive a very mild winter. It is also another very easy to grow plant for the veg plot which after sowing in March/April will be ready to eat from May onwards. Just snip off the leaves you need and they grow back, fantastic! As well as a great salad leaf it also makes the most delicious pesto. Very easy to make and tastes so much better than supermarket bought jars. Just grind down the leaves with some garlic, salt and pine kernels, add to olive oil, lemon juice and grated parmesan cheese and Hey Pesto! Sorry I couldn’t resist. Here’s a link to a nice rocket pesto recipe from Delicious Magazine so you can have a go yourself at home.
Last but not least another one for you foragers out there taking advantage of fantastic free food. Sorrel can come into season as early as February, I know it was certainly showing itself in my friends garden early April. It is available for much of the year, growing wild and flowering in the summer. It’s a lovely leafy vegetable which my Ukrainian friend and food stylist used to make a modern green borscht with when we were filming for the Guardian. It takes little cooking, just a simple blanch or can be eaten raw in a salad. It’s a bit of a forgotten favourite, once so popular pre eighteenth century I think it is high time we fell back in love with it again. Try it out with some eggs, or in a soup, stew or perhaps even a borscht and see what you think. I will post the link to the amazing green borscht recipe for you to try when it comes out of edit.
Let me know what your favourite seasonal food in May is and what recipes you have rustled up with these fine British ingredients.