Flavours of April

April is a continuation of March with the winter cobwebs being blown well and truly away!

There is only one main star for me this month that is more eagerly anticipated than ever: local asparagus! We have had the prelude in March with the European offering, but it can’t touch ours and I think that is fact. There are a few reasons why, but most importantly it is the fact that you can go from soil to fork in 24 hours. Freshness is always key and this working alongside growers that you can trust.

More growers are moving to this crop but the soil has to be light and sandy to allow the spear to emerge with no hindrance. It is rather like the rhubarb story but with a better ending: the first year you do not take the crop, the second only a small part and then the third you can crop for about eight weeks, then each year for about 10 years in total (after this the crown will be exhausted). The main outdoor season is dependant on the weather and hopefully we get some rain in March to help wash in the fertilisers – normally a mixture of potash, nitrogen and sulphur to help the crown burst into life at the beginning of April. When this happens is purely determined by the sunshine. A few warm days and nights with no frost will see the spears poke their noses through the soil. After that, it is amazing how fast they shoot up! Everyday new shoots will be ready to be cut, and the more they are cut, the more they come.

However it is here that husbandry kicks in and the grower has to decide when to protect the crown because it has to revitalised for next years growth. After approximately eight weeks the asparagus shoot is left to grow and achieves a fern approximately six foot tall.This allow all the carbohydrates to drain back into the crown, retaining the energy to be ready for next year’s crop. If the grower keeps cropping the shoots the crown will be later starting the following year, as it will need time to build up its strength. It really is a “chicken and egg” conundrum: start early finish early or finish late and start late, this is why the season will run for three months. As always, keep your eye on the weather outside as it could be early April or the end of April when it starts.

Growers are constantly looking outside the box – or as I call it the field – and this year will the first time we have English white asparagus, which joins the purple that  has been here for a couple of years.

Foraging is also becoming more popular and this month sees this really kick on. On offer will be wild garlic, wild leeks, sea beet, sea purslane, chickweed, hedge garlic, nettles and ground elder. I think this is important because it revolves around the 24 hour soil to fork or if you like fresh is best. However the added benefit here is that the wild plants and fungi choose where they grow and so contain the optimal nutrient levels and no pesticides.

Another firm favourite that always passes quickly this month is the St George mushroom, so make sure you are ready, and not forgetting that we are well and truly in the middle of the morel season.

April 2014