Get ready to load up your basket with fresh new seasonal food in April featuring morel mushrooms, wild salmon, spring greens and more.
We are off to an exceptional start this year with unexpected temperatures of almost 20 degrees, sunshine and little rain, certainly it is the case in the south of England. Though I hear from back home in Scotland they are still wearing their winter woolies and trudging sodden ground which does not fare well for a good lambing season. I hear rumours of a cold snap on the way to be followed by a three month heatwave. Great for sunbathers and tourism perhaps, but not so good for our farmers.
Much of the land is already in bloom, my own garden is sprouting rapid new growth while the countryside bears new fruits and vegetables for this wonderful time of year. Look out for those tasty Jersey Royal potatoes, Morel mushrooms bucking the autumn trend, dandelions, spring greens and outdoor rhubarb. Our hunter forefathers would traditionally have been bringing home wood pigeon or fishing for wild salmon, elevers and sea trout. Unfortunately elvers and sea trout are both rather rare now a days.
Lets kick off with a bit of free food so get your foraging hat on once again. This one is not so hard to find, in fact you will most likely have dismissed this plant as an annoying weed that ruins the look of your garden when in fact you could be plucking the youngest leaves for a tasty salad. The older outer leaves tend to be quite bitter, so it’s probably best to leave those off the plate. The plant grows throughout the year, but in the spring they have their pretty yellow flowers which were traditionally used for making wine and beer. Even the root can be eaten as a vegetable. With so many health properties that the dandelion offers it would be a terrible shame to waste it. So go ahead, exact a little culinary revenge and rustle up a little French salade de pissenlit.
From cheap and easy to find we reach for the other end of the scale with the Morel Mushroom. It’s quite rare and rather fussy, it has not responded to cultivation but sprouts up when it feels like it in the wild. Mainly found in chalky or sandy soils they are considered to be quite the gourmet ingredient, and thus when bought is attached a hefty price tag.
Potatoes – Jersey Royal
Potatoes, the British staple. Potatoes are to us Brits what rice is to Asia. I was surprised to learn that potatoes are actually linked to deadly nightshade and were regarded with deep distrust when they were first introduced from South America in the sixteenth century. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that they became real feature on our plates. Being such an easy hardy crop to grow, producing all year round it’s not surprising that they planted themselves well and truly within our diets. With all kinds of ways to cook them they are extremely versatile and store well. So for April we have our “early” crop, the Jersey Royal, a waxy potato perfect for salads and for boiling. In the summer months you will start to see larger varieties coming in many of which are considered to be floury making the perfect mash or baked potatoes, while the Autumn brings firm / dry potatoes great for making chips and roasting. Keep the skins on as many of the nutrients lie just below the skin, just give them a good scrub before preparing them for cooking. Discard green potatoes, or peel away small patches of green, caused by having been left out in light too long. This produces solanin which is poisonous.
Another hardy easy to grow British crop is outdoor rhubarb. Although it can take up a fair bit of space if you wish to grow it in your garden you will only need the one plant to feed your family. Interestingly it grows in response to the lengthening daylight hours rather than the warming temperatures. Only the stalks should be eaten, with the leaves to be put in for compost. Quite a tart fruit, or vegetable as it actually is biologically, it is often stewed with sugar and made into various desserts, my own favourite being in a crumble. It can also be paired with oily fish if you are looking to do something a bit different with it.
For me the king of fish is Salmon, I loved it smoked, pan fried simple as can be drizzled in olive oil and seasoned served with a wedge of lemon, or raw in sushi / sashimi. Packing loads of Omega oils it’s incredibly good for you too. However salmon is at the centre of much political debate and being an ethical eater I am torn as to what salmon is best to source. Wild salmon is endangered due to overfishing, though I am sure the healthiest, most natural and environmentally friendly option over farmed salmon. Farmed salmon requires 3 kg of fish feed to produce just 1 kg of salmon, pens are often over packed, and they are fed with drugs and chemicals all of which has a negative effect on the environment. There is now of course the option to select organic farmed salmon which is free from drugs and chemicals, using better husbandry techniques and allowing more space for the fish in the pens. The feed used is also sustainable using trimmings and offal from fish caught for human consumption.
Boasting many health properties loaded with vitamin A, C and E, potassium and iron this natural British vegetable is not to be missed. Of the cabbage family it is lighter than the winter varieties making a great accompaniment to any lunch or dinner. Simply lightly steam, that is all they need. I like to add a little lemon juice to any of my greens, the acidity helps the body to absorb all the nutrients.
Available in abundance the British wood pigeon is largely considered a pest due to their numbers. Head over to your local butcher or gamekeeper to acquire some. They make a great roast, game pie or the breast can be cut into steaks. Don’t forget to use the carus to make a rich stock. The nice thing about pigeon is that any you buy are likely to be truly wild and free from additives unlike most other game birds which tend to be bred and therefore subjected to various levels of husbandry and manufactured feeds.
Although I have to admit I have never tried wood pigeon or dandelion before, I’m more than willing to give it ago. Let me know what you make with your seasonal ingredients this month.