March is known for one thing more than any other in the traditional Scottish seasonal calendar – the “hungry gap”. It’s the time when food stores are almost depleted and new growth is restricted to a few hardy plants.
Meat is limited because animals, when allowed to follow a natural pattern, tend to give birth in Spring to provide the longest possible chance for their offspring to survive before Winter sets in again.
"Farmers' markets are a great place to find local growers who will tell you precisely what is actually growing right now (kale) and what you’ll have to wait a little longer to enjoy (purple sprouting broccoli)."
All it really means for the average shopper in 2017 is that you’ll find very little Scottish produce in the shops right now and have to instead enjoy produce that has been imported from warmer areas.
Is that a good thing? Well yes, in that the hungry gap no longer exists in any meaningful way in modern society so we don’t have to go hungry.
But also no, in that many of us lose any connection with local produce during this time and, unless we put effort in, we may not get it back. This represents a loss for us and for Scottish producers.
Happily, with a little effort it is still possible to inject a core of delicious seasonality to our meals even during these apparently lean pickings.
Modern farming means that the hungry gap no longer really encompasses meat, fish or dairy. Certainly cheese is unaffected – stored in cool dark places so that it can be offered year-round.
And what cheeses we enjoy in Scotland! Tangy hard Dunlop or beautiful organic Loch Arthur from near Dumfries – home of such rich pastures. Cloth-bound, sharp Isle cheddars of Mull or Bute perfectly accompanying a last-of- season apple or pear. Soft cheese aplenty – crowdie, caboc or brie-style.
Then we have the majestic blues, with several regions of Scotland producing world-beating rich varieties.
A Scottish cheese board can be truly something to behold – and March feels like an excellent time to enjoy one [heads into kitchen to gorge on cheese].
Scottish vegetables too, remain very possible during this time.
Kale seems almost impossible to avoid at any time of year and small leaves will already be growing in Scottish fields, if you can find a source of them.
Supermarkets may have switched to Spanish, but that doesn’t mean we all have to.
Farmers' markets are a great place to find local growers who will tell you precisely what is actually growing right now (kale) and what you’ll have to wait a little longer to enjoy (purple sprouting broccoli).
Root vegetables, seemingly held in time within their near-frozen stores and ideally covered in earth, still offer themselves up as accompaniment.
Potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips of course but there is one root vegetable that deserves to be highlighted at this time of year if for no other reason than it provides something different among the otherwise familiar flavours of Scotland’s March offering.
That’s why I’ve made it March’s highlight of the month. Celeriac, your time has come.
Looking like a cross between a brain and a dirty little alien baby, celeriac can appear tricky to handle but, in truth, it’s simple.
Clean it up, slice the skin off like a turnip (with a knife rather than peeler, about 1 cm in) and you can do all sorts with it. The recipe below is a personal favourite.
• 1 celeriac root
• 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
• Glug of olive oil
• 1 teaspoon grainy mustard (other mustards work too)
• Juice of lemon wedge.
• Salt and Pepper
Wash & Peel the celeriac.
Slice it into French-fry size pieces (i.e. thin chips).
Place in a pan of boiling water and leave for 3 minutes (just to blanche and soften slightly).
Drain and put into serving bowl.
Pour over olive oil, mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice.
Season and serve.
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