Eating seasonally and when possible locally, suggests eating food that is at its prime in terms of taste and nutritional contents, while at the same time cutting down on those food miles.
Every month, I hope to publish on my blog a guide to what’s in season the main points are going to be about fresh and locally produced (specifically British) produce.
May is definitely the time for vegetables, there are so many that start at the end of April and are either just coming into season or are in full swing this month.
But of all the vegetables this wonderful month of May our favourite is Asparagus when I say asparagus I mean proper English asparagus, not that stuff from Spain or America, which is a bit wishy-washy not that I have anything against asparagus which is not English I like asparagus period.
The English asparagus season officially starts on 1st May, but depending on the weather can start as early as mid-April the harvest lasts for approximately 6 weeks, until mid-June. Although asparagus was once only grown in certain areas of the United Kingdom, such as the Vale of Evesham, East Anglia, Kent, and London, it is now grown in most of the United Kingdom. It’s a great accompaniment to seasonal meats and fish, Steam, grill or roast it, add it to tarts or blend it into soups no matter which way you cook it you are going to be in for a tasty treat.
English Asparagus is quite simply in my view the finest in the world and we had some last night. AKA ‘Grass’ in greengrocer terms it comes in lots of various grades and when really thin is very grass like, this is usually known as sprue and is much cheaper, this in no way means it tastes any less scrumptious than those thick jumbo stalks that tend to fetch the real money, Sprue makes the most magnificent creamy vegetable soup, served hot or even chilled. Without a doubt sprue is Maureen’s favourite grade especially for pickling in her special brine and that way we can have English asparagus for a lot longer than its short season.
If you grow your own then I honestly envy you, and for those of us that do not, always look for crisp firm spears, asparagus benefits from cooking as soon as possible after picking, and if possible, it is best on the same day as picking.
This is why asparagus from abroad can never be as good as our own home-grown crop. These delectable tender purple-green stalks sadly have a short season, so eat lots of it and enjoy the season while it is with us as it traditionally ends on 21st June, the longest day of the year.
Asparagus should first be tied together in bundles, not too tightly; just tight enough to stop them falling out of the bundle then these should be plunged into sufficient boiling salted water so that they float. Return the water to the boil and boil gently for about 5 minutes (depending upon the thickness of the stalks) until just cooked (The Romans had a Saying “As Quick as Asparagus”) which just goes to show how quick it is to cook.
Carefully lift them out with a large perforated spoon if serving hot then serve immediately or alternatively, for use in a salad, plunge them immediately into iced water till cold.
There are not surprisingly, other vegetables that we can look forward to see this month; English tomatoes will start to become quite obvious and get better as the month fades.
Outdoor grown salad leaves of all types come along, as too do radishes, which once again we are growing ourselves on our diminutive balcony and we have already had two cuttings of Rocket (Arugula), Broad beans, spinach, broccoli, courgettes, and new season carrots, all start to appear this month too.
May customarily sees the beginning of the English strawberry season; we have always related them with much later in the year, more like late June, July and August. Another fruit that surprises me at this time of year is the cherry, imported of course but once these and strawberries appear in the shops then you instinctively know summer is just around the corner.
Late May also sees the first flush of summer berries, gooseberries, red currants, black currants and probably even raspberries, now that’s something to look forward to isn’t it?
The first sardines should soon be appearing at the fishmongers (for those in Pimlico look at the Cornish Chins) so get the barbecue out and start grilling, even though they have always been popular with the Spanish and Portuguese they have never really caught on in this country. We all eat them quite cheerfully while on holiday but it seems when we get back to our own patch, if they do not come in tins then we don’t seem to want to know them, its a shame really as when they are fresh they are very yummy. Drizzled with a good quality olive oil and grilled till the skin turns crispy, served with a salad of tossed leaves with a hint of lemon juice and some homemade crusty bread what could be better?
Fruit and Veg;
From Abel and Cole
(Abel and Cole, The Organic Source For London) we have been getting Apples, Asparagus, Carrots, Potatoes, and White Onions.
The Market Stall In Tachbrook Street
Who always buys British produce when possible are showing Salad leaves of all kinds, Look out for mixed leaves, similar to the French mesclun, also on the stall is English Asparagus at £2 a bunch we had some last night with some Salt Marsh Lamb and it was outstanding. also available was Broccoli (purple sprouting, English), Cucumbers, Leeks, English Potatoes, Artichokes, new crop Strawberries, Broad Beans, Cabbages, Carrots, Lettuce, Radishes, Salad Onions, Mint and Parsley.
Spanish nectarines and peaches are in good supply, both yellow fleshed and white. English greens also come into their own at this time of year.
Pimlico Farmers’ Market
One of the farmers at the local farmers’ market is bringing in boxes of rocket, mizuna, and mustard leaves.
Jersey Royals are not the only good spuds; look for those grown in Cornwall and Lincolnshire, and use them in salads, with plenty of herbs, especially the pungent garlic chives.
As the chance of frost lessens, it is worth investing in a few pots of herbs for the balcony or windowsill. Stock up on the essentials such as basil, chives and tarragon, and start experimenting with some more unusual flavours. Try growing lovage with its yeasty celery taste, summer savory, which is the classic herb for broad beans, and sweet cicely, with its delicate, anise-flavoured leaves is perfect in summer drinks and fruit salads.
Meat, Poultry and Game;
Our local butcher (Wyndham House Butchers)
Rippon Cheese Stores, 26 Upper Tachbrook Street, SW1 (020 7931 0628 😉
For anyone who appreciates perfectly matured, well-kept cheese of every decent variety, Philip and Karen Rippon’s shop is a treat and when they found out about our local butchers, they immediately tried to fill the gap by arranging to supply excellent free range and organic meat from William Rose a high quality butcher who will also deliver to your door. We bought some Salt Marsh Lamb chops and they were simply superb. I will add to my blog an article on Rippon Cheese and William Rose later this week
In general at all good butchers Beef, Chicken, Spring Lamb, Pork, Rabbit, Veal, and Wood Pigeon are all in good supply
Fish and Shellfish;
The local fishmonger (Jonathan Norris, Fishmonger of Pimlico)
Has been getting in Line Caught Mackerel (See My Recipe Below), Live Cornish Crab, Dressed Cornish Crab, Cornish Crab Claws, Live Cornish Lobsters. Also, from Cornwall and the South West Coast, he has Pollack, Large Skate Wings, Cornish Chins, Cuttlefish, and Red Mullet and from the South Coast, he had in some Wild Black Bream.
His display of fish was a vision and you could see Razor Clams, Scallops, Monk Fish, John Dory (one of my favourites), Megrim Sole, Sea Trout, Brill, Hake, Gurnards (Cornish), Langoustine’s from Scotland and Wild Scottish Halibut.
Almost all Jon’s fish is from around the Cornish, Devon and Scottish coasts you wouldn’t have found Wild Salmon though, Jon was disgusted with the prices that it was bringing and felt he didn’t have the right to ask his regulars to pay such high prices.
Recipe for Baked Mackerel with Gooseberry Sauce
This delicious summer dish (available all year round, if you use frozen gooseberry purée) offers an exciting contrast in flavours, intense oily mackerel is balanced by the sharp tangy gooseberries.
Serves / Makes: 4 very lucky people
Prep-Time: 10 minutes
Cook-Time: 15 to 20 minutes
You Will Need;
4, whole mackerel, cleaned and filleted
Lemon juice, to taste
15 grams, butter
8 ounces, Gooseberries, topped and tailed
1 whole egg, beaten
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the gooseberries. Cover tightly and cook over a low heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until the gooseberries are tender.
Meanwhile, sprinkle the cavity of each fish with the lemon juice. Make two or three slashes in the skin on each side of the fish, and then grill for 15-20 minutes, depending on size, turning once, until tender.
Purée the gooseberries and sieve to remove the pips.
Pour the purée into a clean pan, beat in the egg, then reheat gently, stirring. Place the mackerel on warmed serving plates and spoon the sauce beside the fish.
Serve and Enjoy!
This fish recipe is best served with the freshest mackerel, which if you’re on summer holiday you can buy straight from the fisherman in seaside towns. It makes a wonderful family supper.
It was a great summertime favourite in Devon and Cornwall, Tony the head barman at the Bowd Inn used to go beach casting in Sidmouth in his time off and brought freshly caught mackerel back almost daily, Mmm Happy days.