Ed Smith on the multi-layered meaning of seasonal eating, and its important role in the creation of the new Borough Market Cookbook
Image: Issy Croker
My first post introducing the forthcoming Borough Market Cookbook ended with a recipe that represented seasonal market shopping. Based on a quick walk around Borough Market, I’d spotted wild garlic and purple sprouting broccoli—both bang in season in early April, and the kind of produce you’re most likely to find at farmers’ markets and independent greengrocers rather than traipsing along a supermarket aisle. They quickly inspired me to pick up a few other specialist items from Market traders (parmesan from Bianca e Mora, vivid, shelled pistachios from Oliveology, an unusual shape of pasta from Gastronomica) and cook up a vibrant spring pesto.
The recipes in the cookbook are generally sparked by a similar style of seasonal shopping and eating—what might market ingredients lead you to cook throughout the year?
Eating seasonally isn’t only about eating ingredients at their peak, at a certain time of year, though. To me, it also encompasses appetite, as well as food prompted by seasonal events so throughout the cookbook there are recipes and stories reflecting these themes too.
By ‘appetite’, I mean what kind of food we want to eat at different times. In part this reflects the ingredients that are around at a given time (the drivers for seasonal eating are not exclusive of each other), but it’s also about disposition. For example, as we move finally and definitively into spring and soon towards summer, the foods we desire morph from comforting, warming and filling, to vibrant, invigorating and light.
Mood and weather
More specifically, in May, my mood and indeed the weather makes me want savoury tarts, large salads, and often more of a mezze-style of eating, compared to the previous months of filling meat-and-two-veg meals or stodgy bowl food.
Our eating urges and desires are also affected—both consciously and sub-consciously—by events, celebrations and traditional feasts. Christmas, obviously, has us hankering after mulled wine, mince pies, stuffing, stilton and so on. The mention of Chinese New Year will provoke many to flick through their recipe books for something to suit that moment. Most Brits feel the urge for a pancake topped with lemon and sugar on Pancake Day. You get the idea.
One occasion that has just been celebrated at Borough Market is Saint George’s Day, the feast day of England’s (and many other countries’) patron saint. There were red and white banners throughout the Market, plays, kitchen demonstrations, brilliant British meats and even human tower makers (‘castellers’) from Barcelona. The cookbook includes a short essay and brilliant images capturing celebrations (other similar sections cover Christmas scenes and Apple Day).
What does St George’s Day make us want to eat, though? Despite it being a feast day, we have few (or no?) traditional meals or well-known dishes to commemorate it. The Market’s acknowledgement of sustainable, slow and quality animal husbandry and butchery is totally logical and a good place to get the creative juices flowing. But there’s another ingredient that’s intrinsically linked to the day—23rd April—and that perhaps ought to be more synonymous with England’s celebration of Saint George than it already is: asparagus.
Medieval dragon slayer
The British asparagus season officially begins on Saint George’s Day each year. I can’t remember when I first joined the two dates, but I don’t mind admitting it’s a relatively recent realisation. Now, though, the mere mention of Saint George’s Day quickly reminds me that these green spears (see—totally appropriate to a medieval dragon slayer!) are ready to go, and so prompts me to get buying and cooking them.
With seasonal ingredients, a change in appetite, and topical eating urges in mind, I’m moved to head down to Borough Market and pick up a few bunches of asparagus. There I spot lemony sorrel leaves and decide to combine these two springtime ingredients as the lead players in a puff pastry tart.
It’s extremely simple: just unfurl ready-rolled puff pastry, score a border and spread a sorrel, creme fraiche and parmesan paste over the middle to create a sharp base layer, arrange blanched asparagus on top and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, then finish with a little more shredded sorrel. Served with a sharply-dressed green salad and the last of the ‘winter’ marinda tomatoes, it’s exactly what I want to eat right now.