Kathy Slack gives us a preview of what’s in store at her upcoming demo: a celebration of the last of the winter harvest
This time of year is, rather poetically, known as The Hungry Gap among vegetable growers. It conjures up images of cheerful country folk living off their chutney stores, sat by the Aga and patiently awaiting spring, doesn’t it? All very Cider with Rosie. The reality, in fact, is far less romantic. I live in the countryside and grow my own food and I find this time of year to be characterised mainly by digging a muddy allotment in the rain with very little to show for it.
The Hungry Gap is the time of year when the winter crops—squash, savoy cabbage, parsnips and the like—have come to an end, but the broad beans, radishes, peas and lettuces of spring are yet to arrive. It’s the end of one growing year and not quite the beginning of another; the New Year of the vegetable world. With it comes that same sense of renewal and spring-clean de-cluttering we associate with the new calendar year.
For me, this is the time to use up the final winter harvests and a chance to celebrate the last hurrah of the wintery veg. I also find that weeding the allotment after a winter of neglect reveals some unexpected harvests. The parsnips which I thought had died are sat patiently below ground, waiting for my fork—no green leafy tops to give them away, but the root is perfectly edible. The new variety of late-growing potatoes, which I planted in September and forgot to harvest at Christmas, have survived the frost hidden beneath a blanket of weeds, and the leeks have been so slow to grow this year that they are only just ready to eat. It’s surprising how much you discover when you spring clean the patch.
I develop an unexpected nostalgia and affection for these winter crops at this time of year and want to use them whenever I cook, because they will soon be gone. I’ve longed for spring since Christmas, but now it comes to it, I’ll miss the leeks and the cabbages and, yes, even the kale.
But March isn’t all austerity. There are also some plants which have a very short season and are at their best now, specifically radicchio, purple sprouting broccoli and forced rhubarb. These bright, delicious jewels are to be devoured by the plateful; relished while you can before we lose them for another year.
This, then, is why, I like to cook food that makes wintery crops the stars of the show one last time. I’ll be celebrating the fleeting harvest of March and saying goodbye to the winter vegetables at my next cookery demonstration on 22nd March, so do join me for one last look at leeks, buttered with za’atar and dished up with sea bream and garlic oil; charred radicchio; cavolo nero with orange and hazelnuts; plus, rhubarb, thyme and pistachio bread and butter pudding. It will be a feast to thank the winter vegetables for their long and stalwart service and to welcome in the new year of the growing season.
Join Kathy for tips, tastings and recipes Friday 22nd March in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm