Mid March through to early April, is quite often referred to as the ‘hungry gap’ by farmers and growers. The stored root crops from winter are dwindling and if the weather is harsh and we experience a ‘blackthorn winter’*, there is little coming though in the form of green shoots and leafy vegetables. We make the best of what is available in the garden as well, as suggesting a few treats to bake in the warmth of the kitchen.
This time of year can often catch out the most experienced of gardeners. There is a flurry of warm days and the daylight hours are lengthening. We are busy sowing seeds in the greenhouse and planning Easter menus to share and feast. But more likely or not, there’s a chance of frost, here in the South of England until the end of April or early May.
What’s in the garden, hedgerow or veg box
- Rhubarb – the early ‘forced’ stems give way to homegrown, which can be cooked in much the same way. This plant will keep on giving so instead of gently poaching a few stems for breakfast compote or dessert, you can now indulge to your heart’s content with jams, chutneys, wine and a pie or or two for the freezer. For a gathering make a cheesecake, fool, or compote to partner with your favourite citrus, baked custard or ginger biscuit.
- Nettles – armed with gloves, the tips of this plant can be used instead of leeks in this risotto recipe as well as soup or wilted and then squeezed dry to add to sorrel for an early spring pesto. Select carefully from permissive paths.
- Wild Garlic – with its pungent aroma, this free food is hard to miss. But take care you are certain of the identity before gathering just enough for yourself.
- Purple sprouting – delicious stir fried with toasted pine nuts and a hint of chilli, or blanched and refreshed to partner with slow roasted onions and a cumin infused hummus.
- English Asparagus – will begin to arrive in mid April. We love to roast ours in the AGA with a light drizzle of olive oil and then serve with an anchovy dressing. But these sought after stems herald the beginning of spring for many and partner beautifully with butter, cheese, fish and bacon. When it is more plentiful make soups, tarts or serve for breakfast with a boiled egg.
- Watercress – introduced as a salad that could withstand the colder days of early spring, this salad leaf is largely cultivated here in Dorset and neighbouring Hampshire, along the famous Chalke valley. It has a distinguished peppery bite and partners well with strong flavours such as beef and oily fish, but also compliments eggs, cheese and citrus. Incredibly versatile and good value as used on the day of purchase, there is no waste. If you have any leftover simply blitz a lemon zest and softened butter and freeze to serve with fish or chicken. Alternatively make pesto with walnuts and pecorino for tomorrow’s lunch.
Chocolate has become synonymous with our Easter celebrations. Very few of us can resist a baked treat alongside a lazy pot of coffee during the holidays or a toasted bun with a generous knob of butter for breakfast. Here are a few of our favourite bakes for Spring…
- Easter buns, biscuits and edible gifts.
- Chocolate puddings and desserts.
- Breakfast treats.
- Lazy day brunch.
- Spring lunch in the garden.
*If your intrigued by the term ‘Blackthorn Winter’ it’s something the country locals refer to when there is a period of harsh weather with frosty mornings or snow flurries at the beginning of April. This usually happens when the hedgerows are covered in a blanket of white blossom from the Blackthorn and the rural villages appear to be shrouded in white.