Spring is literally around the corner... And I am, yet again, posting really late in the month. Apologies, it would seem that work is getting in the way of life.
Last time I was in Montreal, there was still snow on the ground, and everyone was getting ready for a fresh onslaught. However, I get a feeling that Spring is inching her way into Old Man Winter's territory, and the snowdrops have broken ground, the wild crocuses have poked their heads through the frost, and the hellebores have unfurled their buds and leaves from under the mouldy sheets of crusty snow. Over on this side of the Atlantic, the camellias have flourished and faded away, and the cherry blossoms are in full glory. There are clear signs that Spring is here to stay, and though the season is slightly out of sync, the Northern hemisphere is generally moving in the same direction.
Although I have sighted peas and broad beans from the warmer parts of Europe, I know that most of North America is just barely coming out of hibernation, and these harbingers of spring are still weeks away. Nevertheless, you should all be noticing clear signs of renewal at the farmers' markets and even in the shops.
I cannot help repeating myself, but this precious, liquid gold is truly a sign of spring if ever there was one. The sap is definitely running, but only time will tell if it will be a good season. I'm crossing my fingers for warm, sunny days, and cool, frosty nights for a long and plentiful season.
It might feel like it's still to early to be out searching for wild edibles, but it isn't. March is a wild and unpredictable month, swinging from bright, sunny days to violent, snow-filled temper tantrums, however, if the ground is bare, it will have thawed out enough for you to rummage for wild treats. I've mentioned dandelion greens a few time before, but if bitter flavours are not your cup of tea, you should seek out the unfurled buds of the tonic herb. They will be poking their heads through lawns and scrub lands, and if the snow has only just melted, they will be even more noticeable as they will practically glow amongst the yellow grasses.
For those of you living in warmer climes, the wild garlic and leeks are up and ready to embalm your kitchen. Nettles should also be on their way, and they will be a welcome addition to your plate because they are a great source of iron.
As always, when foraging, make sure that you are allowed to pick before you go traipsing on private land.
Cabbages and Kissing Cousins
Come March, my appetite lags, and my taste buds begin to crave flavours more exciting than the usual fare of beets, swedes and cabbages. Sharp flavours like that of the bear garlic that grew in my garden of yesterdays would perk up tired winter vegs, and I ached to be digging around on muddy ground for wild foods, but for those of us who do not have the luxury of foraging for new taste sensations, there are the early risers of the cabbage family to liven things up a little.
Now old hat in the UK, purple sprouting broccoli is only just making an appearance in North America. I noticed the seeds available in catalogues about two years ago, and I am hoping that they will be showing up at farmers' market in the very near future. Unlike regular broccoli, sprouting broccoli does not form large heads, and is less of a hassle to grow than its big-headed sibling. It is one of the first spring vegetables to appear on store shelves in the UK, attesting to the hardiness of the plant. Its flavour is similar to other broccolis, only it comes in a smaller, more bachelor-friendly format, in fact, it closely resembles Chinese broccoli.
Another spring cole that many of you should be familiar with is the collard. Collards are ubiquitous in the South, and, apparently, are synonymous with vegetable down by the Mississippi. Over in the UK, collards are simply known as spring greens. Even though seed mongers sell seeds for collards, they are not actually a separate variety of cabbage: they are, in their most basic form, side shoots and sprouts from cabbage plants that survived the winter. In colder climes, collards can be harvested as a second crop in late autumn up until the first hard frost.
March is truly an exciting month for locavores. Perhaps not so much because of the abundance of new, seasonal flavours, but most certainly because this months marks the end of winter and the beginning of a new season of plenty. Peas, asparagus, morels, and other delights are around the corner... And for those blessed with a spot of land and a green thumb, it's time to sow this year's crop.
Bon app'! And happy digging!