Spring awakening

Categories: News and previews

Ahead of her upcoming demo, Kathy Slack of Gluts and Gluttony talks about the joy of the first spring produce after the hunger gap

Image: Andy Hockridge

It’s a glorious harvest, that first crisp, green bunch of spring veg. The hungry gap, those aptly named weeks between mid-February and mid-March when there is little in the UK to harvest, has been a tough ride. If you eat seasonally, buy locally or grow your own food, you’ll have been living off purple sprouting broccoli and, with luck, the odd leaf of over-wintered chard or kale. It is a frugal time. But with the changing of the clocks come slightly warmer temperatures and longer days. When we finally begin to catch a glimpse of spring, the contrast is so stark that even a pea shoot or a tiny, baby radish feels like abundant, technicolour.

This is when the veg growers of the UK really come into their own. There’s a real art to coaxing seedlings into life against the unpredictable March weather. Being able to persuade peas, beans, radishes, spinach and the like to crop regardless of the chill is no small task. The seeds require careful watering and consistent temperatures. Then the seedlings must be nurtured in cold frames until ready for planting and a cold snap or rainy spell can kill off an entire harvest. You need an eye for detail and no small measure of luck. It’s a tricky business but manage it they do, and we cooks are grateful.

Spring is one of my favourite times of year. I am so delighted to see crisp, green shoots and fresh, raw leaves; they are a welcome relief from the earthy roots and robust veg of winter. Spring is altogether more delicate. We can do away with the cheesy sauces, the long braising, the roasting. Here, instead, it is time for the first crunch of salads, steamed greens and, best of all, the promise of strawberries and asparagus to come soon.

Quick and light and easy
Cooking in spring is quick and light and easy. You don’t want to overcook those bright flavours and textures into a beige mush. You don’t need to do much with spring vegetables. Which makes it an ideal time for mid-week meals. Briefly steamed beans and peas make a delicious supper with baked goat’s cheese; radishes are fabulous now either raw or roasted; peas straight from the pop make a sweet puree, if they get as far as the pot without being eaten. Herbs like parsley, chives and fennel, just making a comeback after the winter lull, breathe new life into almost any dish.

Spring is for easy flavours and simple suppers—time to let the harvest do the talking. I love this type of cooking and in my cookery demonstration, I’ll be taking the first shoots of spring and making five simple, seasonal, mid-week suppers. The recipes will be straightforward and endlessly adaptable—veg-centric, without being puritanical. Expect radishes, beans, peas, purple sprouting broccoli—all the crunch, crisp and colour of the season and all your mid-week meals sorted until June. So do join me, and we’ll cook a harvest feast making the most of the season’s gluts and celebrating the first of the year’s crops.

Join Kathy for tips, tastings and recipes on Thursday 29th March in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm