The Hungry Gap
The Hungry Gap is almost over, that’s the name gardeners traditionally gave to the 3 or 4 weeks between the end of the Winter vegetables – roots, kale and leeks and the beginning of the Summer bounty when there is little or no fresh produce available in gardens and virtually no greens on the supermarket shelves. Well, here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, our Farm shop has been super busy for the past seven weeks since isolating regulations were introduced. People all over the country are discovering the seasonal treasures in their own parishes, local honey producers, farmhouse cheese makers, fish smokers, poultry and egg producers, charcuterie makers and artisans of all shapes and sizes.
We’re so fortunate to be in the midst of a 100 acre organic farm in East Cork with hens, pigs, cows, a micro diary which yields Jersey milk, home-made butter, buttermilk, yoghurt and thick rich cream everyday. A Bread Shed in a converted mega trailer and a Fermentation Palace in another repurposed trailer, but best of all from the food point of view is an acre block of greenhouses (a relic of a horticultural enterprise which operated right into the 1970’s ) which we now use as a protected garden.Although it’s not heated, the crops mature 2 or 3 weeks earlier than outdoor vegetables and herbs.
I feel elated when the first of the beetroot is ready to harvest. Three super delicious vegetables in one, thebeets, stalks and leaves. Most people just think of pickled beetroot but the young beets are unbelievably delicious served as a hot vegetable particularly with a roast duck or a fish gratin. I pickle the stalks too. They cook in a minute or two, drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil and add a little shredded fresh mint for a feast. We add them to stews, fish dishes, on and on..but certainly don’t waste a scrap.
We also have the first bunches of Spring onions and the new seasons Sturon onions are bigger than a golf ball by now with lots and lots of green leaf. I’ve been melting the sliced bulbs in extra virgin olive oil for 4 or 5 minutes on a gentle heat, then adding every scrap of the sliced greens, some thyme leaves… A gorgeous accompaniment to a main dish or add a good dollop of cream to make an unctuous sauce to accompany a steak. The green spears of asparagus continue to pop up in beds in the garden so do try this asparagus and spring onion tart sometime during the few short weeks when Irish asparagus is in season.
The pea pods are already forming lots of pea shoots and flowers so we’ll have those in a couple of weeks but guess what – we’ll have some new potatoes ready to harvest and sell this coming week.There’s something especially exciting about the first of the new potatoes,every year when we sit down to enjoy the first of the crop, we make a wish and I remember my parents annual refrain, “Please God, hope we’ll all be as well this time next year”, all the more poignant in the midst of this Covid 19 Pandemic.
We’ve also had the very first globe artichokes this week. Simply cooked, in boiling well salted water with a dash of vinegar. Then served with a little bowl of lemon butter to dip the base of each leaf in and to enjoy the heart in chunks.
We’ve had lots of rhubarb for week snow, I eat it in some shape or form almost every day in a sweet or savoury recipe and as a compote for breakfast. A little stewed rhubarb makes a change from apple sauce and cuts the richness of pork deliciously.