We leave behind a rather strange March, with freezing blizzards followed immediately by a very Scottish heatwave, where the thermometer hit 13 degrees and we all rushed into the sun like it was 30.
A more settled April has begun, with longer, drier days than we have seen for many a month.
But will it last? Who knows?
Settled and predictable – words that bring cheer to farmers and growers everywhere.
Unsettled, unpredictable and downright apocalyptic –words that keep farmers and growers awake long into the windy nights. And in truth more likely to be the conditions we face.
It is this variability that makes writing about the Scottish food year both a lot of fun and extremely difficult. For instance, I heard only today of an Aberdonian crofter who discovered his Asparagus ready in March this year, very early for what is usually a May crop.
It highlights that, in reality, the “Scottish” food year is different for all regions of Scotland and depends on the microclimate and soil-type – so forgive me the many crass generalisations that are littered across my monthly musings!
I don’t think it matters too much though because, for most of us, we are lucky to even see “Scotland” named as the origin of most of the food we buy.
Also, for those of us who use big retail chains to buy food, the difference between very settled and hugely unsettled conditions at farm level is evidenced only by a slight shift in price and the occasional “temporarily unavailable” sticker.
We have little sense of the very real drama unfolding across sodden, windswept fields where seedlings and young animals alike struggle to gain a stable foothold on life; where farmers and growers battle to maintain fertility in their fields whilst nature is blowing and washing them all away.
Just as fish in the depths of the ocean remain unaware of a tsunami overhead; us shoppers are often oblivious to the problems that can affect our food supply chain.
We rely firmly on others to ensure food reaches us reliably and cheaply.
Do you know, for example, that at the moment there is an oversupply of cauliflowers caused by warmer weather? To avoid flooding the shops with cauliflowers, which would make the price plummet, farmers are being asked to leave them in the fields or feed them to animals. I say asked - in reality they are forced to do so by shops refusing to buy the surplus cauliflowers.
It’s an odd state of affairs indeed when a supplier over-delivers on what they have been asked to produce and is effectively penalised for doing so.
I can’t imagine that happening in a gold mine. Market forces at work?
On the plus side - plentiful and (slightly) cheaper cauliflowers make for a seasonal opportunity to create dishes that make good use of its sweet, nutty flavour. Purees, stir-fries and cheese bakes here we come.
Other seasonal delights beginning to appear are young Spring cabbages and salad leaves which work well alongside the various root vegetables still around.
There is also wild garlic, which is probably the easiest crop to forage for, so long as you have a sense of smell.
If you walk in woodland or shady glens almost anywhere in Scotland then its gentle waft of pungency is likely to enter your nostrils before your eyes catch a glimpse of its thin green leaves and white flowers.
My only advice to potential foragers is this: it must smell of garlic when you rub the leaves – otherwise you might be picking the wrong plant which could be dangerous.
Also don’t gather too close to where dogs wander… and wash it well regardless.
Other than that, grab handfuls of the stuff. It really is plentiful. Fry its long green strands gently, or chop and add to many dishes to provide a garlicky flavour which reduces when heated.
The whole plant is edible so enjoy the flowers, buds (which are like tiny garlic cloves) and leaves together. Stir-frys are an excellent way to use wild garlic, perhaps in the
place of spring onion. However, the leaves tend to wilt down very small, so use more than you think you need if directly replacing leafy greens like spinach.
One fantastic use for wild garlic, and one which I recommend you try at least once in your life, is homemade pesto. Wild garlic can replace basil in whatever recipe you choose, making for a truly local food experience which you won’t forget – and that’s a promise.
But, while it comes close, wild garlic isn’t quite the highlight of the month. That award goes to something altogether more colourful, more versatile and downright delicious – it’s the blue-purple flowers and dark green stalks of purple sprouting broccoli - cue organ music and flashing lights.
I like simplicity – and this recipe is so simple it barely qualifies as such.
Yet it provides an elegant, moreish starter or side dish that will lift any meal into a hands-on, truly delectable food experience.
Purple sprouting broccoli should have the same status as asparagus – it really is that good.
It can be a little bit pricey but it’s also very abundant so if you can befriend a local allotment owner or buy from a farm at source, you might strike a bargain.
A little tip to make them last longer – pop the stalks in a mug or jug with water and they basically become cut flowers.
• 16 stalks of purple sprouting broccoli.
• 50g natural, organic bio yoghurt (greek style works here too).
• 2 tsp. pesto or other strong paste (e.g. harissa)
1.Cut the ends off the stalks so they fit the steamer and so the woodiest ends are removed.
2. Steam the broccoli for 7 minutes.
3. Blend the yoghurt with the pesto or harissa.
4. Dip the stalks into the cool dip and dangle over your mouth before biting the end off and
enjoying the amazing combination of flavours, temperatures and textures.
5. Wipe the splatters of dip off your clothes.
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