March marks the start of spring with longer, warmer days and beginning of British Summer Time. But while it has plenty in the way of sunshine, it’s also the start of the hungry gap when winter vegetables are past their best and spring hasn’t quite gotten up to speed. This can make life difficult when, like Surrey Docks farmer, James Taylor, your food philosophy is to eat what you can grow. ‘That’s the most satisfying thing in this job,’ he explains, ‘eating what is in season and using what is around at the time.’
Taylor is the New Leaf Trainer at the farm and runs projects for adults with learning difficulties teaching them how to grow food and vegetables gaining self empowerment and choice making skills. ‘There are gardens, animals, beekeeping, an orchid and, of course, produce for sale and a cafe. Come on down we’re open seven days a week,’ he urges. March is a month of anticipation, he adds. ‘You’ve gone through the excitement of planting in January and in March you anticipate things growing.’ For gardeners, March isn’t the best of months, when variable weather in March means that young plants need protecting from heat and frost. ‘You have to hope that the peas and beans will survive,’ he continues. ‘The onions and garlic planted over winter aren’t quite ready but you can’t dig them out and look.’
Purple sprouting broccoli
‘It’s marvellous,’ Taylor enthuses, and given the huge nutritional punch it packs, we’d have to agree. Loaded with vitamin C, purple sprouting broccoli is a good source of caretenoids, iron, folic acid, calcium, fibre and vitamin A. It also contains phytochemicals and sulphoraphane – both of which are known for their health benefits and thought to prevent cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes along with building resistance against heart disease. Like Taylor said, ‘marvellous.’ Purple sprouting broccoli is only available for only a short time and is at its peak in March. It makes a great accompaniment to any meat or fish dish and works well with creamy sauces and garlic,
The yellow wild flower might be a ‘problem weed,’ according to Taylor, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good to eat. ‘I suppose that too is part of my philosophy,’ he adds. ‘Eat the problem.’ Make sure you definitely are picking lesser celandine before tucking in and cook it first to remove any potentially toxic protoanemonin.
They aren’t called ‘spring’ onions for nothing, with their season beginning in March when you’ll find the thinnest, youngest onions. Boasting a subtle, delicate flavour, baby spring onions taste wonderful in salads, sauces and stir-fries.
With more than 400 varieties of cabbage available from March, there’s no excuse not to tuck in. Packed with vitamins, high in iron and potassium and low in calories, cabbage is the ultimate versatile vegetable and works brilliantly in everything from soup to stews.
Despite being at the end of its growing season, beetroot can still be found in March. ‘Now is the time use stuff from the store of parsnips, carrots and other vegetables kept through the winter,’ says Taylor. ‘Beetroot for example is kept in tubs of sand and will survive if the winter is cold enough.’ It has certainly been cold enough so it looks like Taylor won’t be the only one enjoying the purple beets.
Delia Smith’s Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Chilli and Sesame Dressing
350g purple sprouting broccoli
For the dressing:
One level teaspoon sesame seeds
One dessertspoon sesame oil
One dessertspoon lime juice
One teaspoon Thai fish sauce
One dessertspoon Japanese soy sauce
One small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
• First prepare the broccoli by cutting it into even-sized pieces – stalks and all.
Then place the saucepan fitted with a fan steamer on the heat then add the broccoli and pour in about an inch of boiling water from the kettle then sprinkle with salt. Put a lid on and time it for about four minutes.
• Meanwhile, to make the dressing, you need first of all to toast the sesame seeds. To do this use a small, solid frying pan, pre-heat it over a medium heat without oil, then add the sesame seeds and toast them, moving them around in the pan to brown them evenly.
• As soon as they begin to splutter, pop and turn golden, they're ready, which will take about one to two minutes. Then just remove them to a serving bowl and simply stir in all the rest of the ingredients.
• When it's cooked, remove the broccoli from the steamer and transfer to a warm serving bowl. Then drizzle over the dressing all over. Toss it around and serve straight away.
This recipe and more like it can be found in Delia’s Vegetarian Collection (£25, BBC Books), available now from Amazon
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