The arrival of spring can feel instantaneous. Overnight there are buds everywhere, bulbs burst into bloom and the daylight gains that have been steadily accumulating since late December feel suddenly transformational. The ‘firsts’ of the year also start to accelerate — the first breakfast outside, the first outing for the punt and, for the hardy, the first swim in the outdoors. The sunlight works its way through the various rooms and passages of Home Farm across the course of the day, too, and the open windows let in the warmer air. In conjunction with the powerful influx of the leafy scents of spring, it is difficult not to feel a surge of optimism.
Now is the time for foraging. We make pilgrimages to Foxholes, just outside the nearby village of Bruern, where the ancient woodland is covered with bluebells. There’s wild garlic growing in the damp shade, which we pound with nuts and olive oil and put into jars, to make a deliciously pungent garlic pesto for serving with pasta, swirling into soups or risottos and smearing onto roasted vegetables. The leaves are wonderful, too, simply added to salads or wilted as a vegetable. There are also young nettle leaves that make a perfect risotto or a very nourishing soup. Although the kitchen garden is still a work in progress — as are the beehives – I nevertheless plant broad beans, our favourite vegetable, and a multitude of herbs in a flower bed outside the kitchen – chives, vervain, thyme, rosemary, dill, chervil and oregano.
Now is the time new ingredients arrive at the grocers and farm shops – slender pink stalks of forced rhubarb from Yorkshire, mustard greens, leeks, spinach, sea kale, sprouting broccoli and morels. The appearance of Jersey royal potatoes towards the end of March is perhaps the first indication that spring is really on its way. As the weeks pass, we look forward to wild and garden rocket, pea shoots, Swiss chard, spring greens, sweet herbs, sorrel, radishes, baby carrots and fennel. Artichokes arrive from France, as do soft, lemony goat’s cheeses and organic lemons from Sicily and the Amalfi coast, wonderful for a lemon pasta, for flavouring madeleines and for combining with pistachios, polenta and pomegranates in a favourite cake recipe. April means the start of the short-lived English asparagus season, as well as peas and broad beans. Joys for May include peas and the arrival of Alphonso mangoes from India. There is a rhythmic sense of anticipation, as well as a comforting familiarity, if you cook with the seasons. It provides a sense of life’s continuity.