Sunday, 14 April 2013

What's in Season: April

Last month's Eat Cambridge food and drink festivities left little time for a post on the seasonal food on offer in March. Hopefully regular readers of the Blog didn't miss it too much. Indeed, according to Paul Waddington in Seasonal Food, the 'Hungry Gap' means that there wasn't much to shout about anyway. With winter stores almost depleted, this barren period traditionally lasted until the next crop of staples surfaced in June. Interestingly, this is also the time of year when more purist veg box schemes cease operation, says Waddington, although in reality, most farm shops, markets (and of course big supermarkets) provide enough variety and imports all year round to ensure that the Hungry Gap has little impact on us city dwellers.

Of note this month, albeit not a local addition to the seasonal menu, are the first new potatoes of the season, the Jersey Royal - a favourite of mine for marking the start of warmer weather and roasting whole as mini jacket spuds or boiling for potato salads. Spring is finally making an appearance and with it comes some prime foraging opportunities. Waddington's top tips include seeking out springtime delicacies such as morel mushrooms and dandelions to add some excitement to the last of the store cupboard ingredients. The latter is easy to spot in April, with its bright yellow flowers. But the leaves are what we're after: taken from the centre of the plant in spring, the youngest are the least bitter and make a great salad treat. Waddington suggests copying the French and serving the raw dandelion leaves with fried lardons in a salade de pissenlit, not forgetting that the clue to the plant's side effects is in the name so perhaps not a treat to indulge in just before bed! 

British outdoor rhubarb is the only seasonal fruit on offer this month - just in time to replace the stocks of delicate forced rhubarb, Waddington notes - and seems to be making an appearance on every fruit and veg stall, restaurant menu, and pudding recipe at the moment. I'm not personally a huge fan of fresh rhubarb but Waddington is persuasive in his summary of its many uses, from a partner to oily fish to a robust yet refreshing crumble. Just this weekend I was fortunate enough to taste some great local rhubarb... in a rhubarb crumble martini courtesy of Afternoon Teases's Sweeteasy event at Hot Numbers

One would be forgiven for being sick of the sight of members of the brassica family, especially when combined with the words hardy, winter and vegetable. Not I. This month I'm celebrating the arrival of spring greens, the vibrant, highly nutritious and tasty cabbage variety which represents the first green arrival of the natural British veg season. Added to a refreshing spring broth or lightly steamed and piled high next to almost anything, spring greens are an easy and pretty vegetable to fall back on until early summer salad treats show up.

What seasonal treats are you cooking with this month?

Enjoy! :-)