Spring is here. The Beast from the East – although tremendously tiresome and dangerous – is a mere blip on our radar now we can do the important things, like wear trainers instead of winter boots. My feet actually feel lighter as I skip along through the overcast British drizzle. I wouldn’t go as far to say the air is fresher, as it isn’t, but the gradual loss of shivering cold, and thus with it chilblains, dry skin and sorrowful faces, means there is a sliver of tantalising hope on the horizon.
This in-between phase of the seasons is always difficult to negotiate in the kitchen. Not only do most professional kitchens not have windows so the days all seem the same thanks to the gently-spattered four walls and overhead lighting, and who knows what the weather’s like outside, but all chefs want to serve the best, local food they can buy, and this is down to the seasons. And here I give the bad news: early spring in the UK is rather dismal. Sure, birds are cheeping, crocuses and daffodils are pushing their way up through the earth somewhere (not in London), but sadly seasonal foods, particularly fruit, are scarce.
It is because of this difficult season that I wanted to start this (naturally) four-part series of Eat the Seasons, as much for my own notes as yours, dear reader, so we can all cook the best, flavourful food at the right time of year. Understandably, different countries with different weather to us will have variants to these following foods or a wider selection. I repeat, early spring in Britain is rubbish. To make do with such limited fare there is a great deal of sitting on the fence – a bit of apple from autumn, some forced rhubarb which is genuinely forced to grow early, and some blueberries imported from Spain or Argentina. That said, it isn’t long until ‘real’ spring kicks in and with it a range of delicious, fresh and colourful fruit and vegetables.
So, without further ado here is a list of the of fruit and vegetables available in spring:
Going Out of Season
Most root vegetables are prevalent in the winter but this is the final month to enjoy them with warming stews of turnip and swede, buttery celeriac mash or roasted maple parsnips.
These gorgeous ruby orbs are in and out of season in a flash but manage to dominate Instagram in that limited time. Not always available in usual supermarkets, and quite expensive, this premium fruit is worth it for a salad or dessert requiring some jaw-dropping colour. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any this year except in bottled juice form priced at £4.95. However, I have an incredibly indulgent recipe for blood oranges with pink peppercorn caramel which you MUST try.
Similarly brightly coloured, rhubarb is the main fruit (although technically a vegetable) of the late winter-early spring season because it can be forced to grow in artificial conditions. You can by cover the stalks in a dustbin, therefore preventing the light from penetrating them. This results in vivid, sweet and succulent rhubarb, ready for stewing, baking or crunching on raw with a sprinkling of sugar.
Although available throughout the year this sadly unpopular fruit does not get much recognition in its heyday of winter and spring when it is juicy and sweeter. A tangy accompaniment to blood oranges in a colourful upside-down citrus cake.
The green fronds have a piquant bite while the white base is sweeter. Always better cooked, and served, with lashings of butter.
Purple sprouting broccoli
Less moreish and sweet than usual broccoli or tenderstem, purple sprouting is more woody, earthy, with a tousled mauve head of leaves. Adds a splash of colour to your Sunday roast accompaniments, or can be used as the main event with a lime, chilli and soy dressing.
I like this raw dipped in taramasalata. If you prefer it cooked, blanch some florets, sauté a little chopped onion in oil until soft, add raisins, capers and breadcrumbs and mix into cooked spaghetti. Try my recipe for cauliflower, pine nuts and salsa verde for a quick and delicious lunch.
With a less harsh flavour than normal onions, spring onions are usually eaten raw in salads, or stir fried with ginger and garlic. Sliced on an angle, spring onions are an effortless garnish.
I think we take potatoes for granted. They are such a simple meal that the dishes with flare and sprinklings of savoury granola overlook the humble baked potato, crispy and russet brown stuffed with cheese and beans, or tiny new potatoes with buttery soft insides mixed with mayonnaise and spring onions in a potato salad. Until the weather is warmer, embrace the potatoey comfort foods such as my recipe for tartiflette, basically a dish of cheese and bacon with some potato to make you feel a bit healthier.
The scratchy, dishevelled member of the leaf gang. Mainly eaten for its health benefits rather than it’s flavour, it is vastly improved when massaged with olive oil and lemon so its tough leaves break down. Additionally a favourite when juiced, although more so when combined with sweet flavours than on its own.
Arriving in later spring
I’m baaacckkk! Ready to dazzle us again with its magenta sheen and sour bite, spring is rhubarb’s season. Rhubarb is so adaptable and perfectly balances sweet bakes such as my Bakewell slice with a beautifully tangy rhubarb compote.
The town where I grew up is famous for its watercress. There are whole farms of the tufty leaves, all lined up in vast dams, water pooling over their roots until they are ready to be picked. Just in time for the annual watercress festival! (It’s a big deal, ok?) Thanks to this infatuation with the peppery leaf, I’ve lost my liking for it, particularly after serving shot glasses of watercress gazpacho at a wedding – on a slate I’ll add, a worrisome task for a first-time waitress.
Much milder than watercress, it is fresh and crunchy, perfect for smoothies, salads or sandwiches.
As this leafy plant is quite sour and lemony, only the young leaves from spring should be used in salads, otherwise it can be blitzed into a tangy sauce to accompany fish.
The forager’s delight. Recognisable by their dainty white flowers and deep green leaves, wild garlic can be eaten raw, although pungent enough to require a breath mint, or blanched, wilted, or whizzed into garlicky pesto. Follow this guide to get your hands on some!
Also enjoyed dunked in taramasalata. And, like spring onions, its watery crunch and bright colour makes it a great garnish.
At last, the coveted asparagus. Chefs worship you, you little wily stalk and your two month availability. When cooked well, asparagus is sweet and crisp, and it’s mere presence lifts a dish. Serve grilled with a poached egg and drizzled with hollandaise.
This array of green produce is the perfect placebo after a dull grey winter. Just by listing all them all I feel healthier and at one with nature. But I also might eat them – here’s a simple recipe combining spring greens with baked eggs and salty feta yoghurt.
Spring green baked eggs with feta yoghurt
A large piece of butter
2 small leeks/1 large leek
½ clove of garlic
Small handful of finely chopped parsley and mint
50g frozen peas
Zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs (or more depending on hunger)
3 tbsp Greek yoghurt
Large pinch of sumac
Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Finely slice the leeks. Melt the butter in a large frying pan until sizzling and toss in the leeks. Sauté on medium heat with a pinch of salt until soft and sweet.
- Crush or finely chop the garlic. Add to the leeks with the chopped herbs and cook for another minute.
- Throw in the spinach and gently stir until it wilts.
- Transfer to a smaller frying pan now the spinach has shrunk in volume. On low heat, gently warm through and add the peas.
- Make a couple of rivets in among the greens and crack in the eggs. Pour over the cream, along with some salt, pepper and the lemon zest.
- Cover the pan with a lid and leave to gently steam for a few minutes until the egg whites are opaque and the yolks are still runny.
- Meanwhile, put the feta in a bowl and beat until smooth. Add the yoghurt, salt and sumac and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning.
- Check the eggs regularly – you don’t want rock hard yolks! Once the whites are set, remove from the heat and serve with the feta yoghurt and some toast to scoop it all up.