With the recent drawn out cold winter and spring finally behind us, this should be the month when everything starts to get going for both young livestock out in the pastures and in vegetable plots. With sun up at 4 am and setting at 10pm, growers and producers are at full stretch and the fruits of their labours should now be in glorious evidence at your local market. So make sure you make the most of all this wonderful bounty and fill your basket with the very best the country has to offer!
For growers one of the biggest indicators of our late spring was the delayed start to the asparagus season. Asparagus is now here and the season will be shorter than normal so don’t miss out on one of the joys of our climate – sweet tender spears of the green stuff picked and cooked the very same day. Try it traditionally steamed with melted butter or if the weather gives us some warm June days, griddle the spears on the barbecue brushed with olive oil until tender then scattered with shavings of a sharp hard cheese such as Lord of the Hundreds or a tart fresh goats cheese crumbled over. Or make into a perfect risotto with the first tender broad beans (freshly picked little pods can be enjoyed whole) and fresh green peas. Other veg to look out for are crisp radishes, spring onions, spinach, and of course new potatoes. And if the weather is right there may be early cucumbers, runner beans and courgettes, alongside all kinds of salad leaves now in season. It’s also the ideal time to plant out ‘ready to plant’ herbs and summer bedding plants.
The long days and the warmth also herald the start of the great English soft fruit season with strawberries in abundance – one of the great advantages of local markets is the chance to try some of the finer flavoured varieties rather than the more robust berries grown to withstand the rigours of the supermarket supply chain that may not have the same flavour. Ditto the finest local cherries (Kentish cherries are justifiably world famous), gooseberries and, just possibly, the earliest raspberries. A favourite way to serve raspberries, cherries and strawberries is to crush them slightly, sprinkle with a little Kentish cherry brandy or Italian vin santo and sugar then leave to macerate for an hour. Serve spooned over vanilla ice cream. (see the recipe below for amounts)
Spring lamb is now at its very finest now and a boned out shoulder or leg is perfect on the barbecue or simply roasted and served with baby new potatoes and minted broad beans and peas. On the fish front it’s really has to be mackerel – bought silvery fresh from the market and cooked the same day to enjoy at its very best. Try it the traditional way for the month – grilled and served with a tart gooseberry sauce. Also good this month are lobster, plaice, sardines and clams.
Aim to plan a wonderfully labour free picnic if your visit to the market coincides with a sunny weekend. Fill your basket with a locally made cheese, pate, raised pie or Scotch egg, add a loaf of bread baked that day, chutney or relish, bag of cherries and maybe a punnet of strawberries and you are all set. A bottle or two of a local beer and you have the makings of a feast….
This recipe is taken from The Busy Mum’s Vegetarian Cookbook by Mary Gwynn published by Simon & Schuster £20
Marinated summer fruit with vanilla ice cream
Basically summer berries soaked in booze, and an instant completely marvelous way to finish a summer supper outside in the garden. You are using fortified wines here so it should not be consumed by small children or drivers – you have been warned! I like to use wonderful Pedro Jimenez sherry, which is supremely dark, rich and fragrant, or locally made Cherry Brandy from Kent. I keep a bottle specially for this dish or to pour over ice cream. It is expensive but a little goes a long way
Prepare 5 minutes plus 2 – 3 hours marinating
50g (2oz) caster sugar
650g (1½ lb) mixed summer berries; strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cherries
6 – 8 tbsp Pedro Jimenez sherry, cherry brandy or Vin Santo
good quality vanilla ice cream
homemade hazelnut and lemon biscotti (recipe in book)
1. Wash and prepare the fruit. Halve the strawberries if large and stone the cherries if using. Crush lightly with the back of a spoon. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. Pour over the sherry, cover and leave to chill for 2 -3 hours.
2. To serve spoon the fruit into glass dishes and top with a scoop of ice cream. Drizzle some of the fruit and sherry juices over the ice cream and serve with biscotti.
And by the way I’m going to be doing a cookery demonstration on preparing an easy summer picnic with recipes taken from my two Busy Mum’s Cookbooks at the Wealden Times MidSummer Fair on the 7th June in Rolvenden, Kent. So do come and say hello if you are there….