rites of spring

I don’t want to eat sweet asparagus, manicured from the piled earth; give me a tangled pot of wild greens, coarse and curled and bitter, to make spring feel less polite. There is something altogether too tennis-and-cucumber about much of an English spring, and a certain tendency among some writers to subscribe to these cut-price Bridesheadisms, as if all anyone wanted to do was sip gin amongst the aspidistras.

Personally, the first onset of hot weather combines with the latening nights to instil in me a desire to drink cold wine in an unrestrained and unrelenting torrent, as different from the furtive debauchery of winter drinking as it is from the full, lazy decadence of a good summer drunk. Spring is the right time for wild abandon. Skin a rabbit and braise it with alexanders; catch a mackerel and eat it raw.

Or maybe not, I don’t know. Wildness is such a luxury now, more so than white linen and pink gin, and spring is the right time to do as you like. Steam a trout and flake it off the bone alongside some hollandaise; ┬ámanicure piles of asparagus from the sweet earth, and dip their boiled tips into butter, hot and liquid in the cool shade.

A little lump

I often think that a dumpling is an underrated thing. Not the wrapped sort, of course, which travel a direct line from China and through the various -stans to reach possibly their greatest iteration in the broth-filled khinkali of Georgia, spreading and mutating into manti, pierogi, varenyky, tortellini and the like; the boiled dough giving way to fillings of chopped or minced meat, scrambled or still-flowing egg or chickpeas or ricotta or anything at all is one of the finest sensations available to the mouth, and everybody knows it. I’m talking about the other, naked kind, the little lumps of dough or breadcrumbs which usually exist more as an accompaniment than as the main event. (To differentiate between these and a wrapped dumpling I suggest we rename the naked form a lumpling).

I last ate a suet lumpling in the depths of our recent second winter, nestling in the hollows of a stew of three kinds of sausage and numerous beans, the whole thing enriched by the liver pate melted through it, which was exactly as heavy as it sounds. You might think the lumpling appropriate only to this sort of heavy cold weather cuisine, rib-stickers designed to line the body against harsh north winds; if you have eaten, though, a plateful of the ricotta-based gnudi then you know how shockingly light a lumpling can be. It would be nice, I think, on a cold April evening, to make a dough with ricotta and shredded wild garlic, and to poach the little lumps in a white ragu of spring rabbit, pale and sweet and green.

Icumen In


The weather seems to have finally caught up with the calendar, having sensibly skipped April in favour of a rerun of February; the skies are a bright, clear blue, small birds sing in the hedges, hares roam the fields, and greengrocers start to stock local produce other than various and manifold forms of cabbage. God, in short, is in his heaven, and all is right with the world; it is time to sit down and write about asparagus.

Asparagus is green, and while it was once the thing to cook it in bunches to a muted pliability, you are now as likely to find it fried, grilled, or otherwise blackened, wrinkled and intense; that’s all I have to say about asparagus, delicious though it is. I like to serve it with feta blitzed with salted lemon until it goes grainy, separates, and then comes back together into a thick cream, though you might not. If there is any overlap between the seasons (which seem to be longer, for wholesale purposes, than the ones stated in magazines and shops), then a blood orange hollandaise can be a lovely thing. So much for asparagus. There is more to the endless somersault of the seasons than green vegetables.

I made the most of one of the hotter days of the year thus far by cooking four halved pigs’ heads, filling the kitchen with a thick, fatty steam for around five hours, extended to six while I picked the nuggets of meat from the skulls and reduced the resulting liquor, which could probably, if the smell didn’t bother you, be used as hair product, though not on hotter days. As an added bonus, the kitchen temperature (hovering around 20┬░C) and humidity seems to be ideal for fermentation of various kinds – my honey and rosemary wine is bubbling away merrily, and the usual array of pickles are all doing what they do at a steady pace; summer will soon be here, and with it the heaps of courgettes, tomatoes, herbs, beans and flowers, all needing preserving in their various ways. It’s good to get the practice in now.

If you get bored of pickling things, and bored of plain-ish asparagus, and if the weather drops a bit, a risotto primavera is a nice thing to make; if you get bored of risotto rice, the same thing done with buckwheat grains, quick to cook, nutty and wholesome, can be very good. As ever with spring cooking, lemon is your friend. A recipe? This is no time of year for recipes. You just take what looks good and you cook it, to make it the best it can be; recipes are for the darkening tail of the year. Besides, any recipe would be redundant soon. The broad beans and the peas, the radishes, the lettuces and the soft herbs are filling the air with the bright promise of a late English spring.