Spring into action: 20 reasons foodies should celebrate the arrival of the new season
1. Bone up on the BBQ
Fire up your barbecue skills with the world's leading manufacturer. Places are available in May and June for one- day courses (£120) at Weber's Grill Academy, Nuneham Courtenay, near Oxford. Thrill of the Grill Part 1 is an introduction to direct and indirect cooking methods and smoking, while Part 2 explores advanced techniques through 15 recipes. Should the summer sun prove elusive, you can still get grilling: Weber says you can use the BBQ for the Christmas turkey. grillacademy.co.uk
2. Spring on the onion
It's a crying shame that some discard the green stalk and others the white bulb of the delightful spring onion. Eat the lot. For a variation on colcannon, try stelk from Dorothy Hartley's Food in England (£22, Piatkus). Chop spring onions into half-inch lengths and simmer in milk until tender. Add the infused milk to boiled winter potatoes and beat. Stir in the onion with butter and seasoning. Make a well in each serving and put in butter to melt. "Eat from the outside, dipping into the pool."
3. Festive feasting
When the gastronomic capital of Ludlow lays on a Food Festival (10-12 May), there is no shortage of local talent. Ludlow cheese-maker Dudley Martin, creator of Shropshire Blue, is expounding at an event called King Pong, while Will Holland, boy-wonder of the Michelin-garlanded La Bécasse, is tackling the festival's themes of beer, bangers and bread. With 180 real ales and 60 food producers, there is little danger of visitors suffering hunger or, indeed, sobriety. springevent.org.uk
4. Rosé glasses
Though a perfect accompaniment for spring meals, rosé wine can provoke disdain from hairy-chested drinkers. Such knee-jerk machismo is rebutted in Paul Hendrickson's Hemingway's Boat (£9.99, Vintage), an absorbing study of the adventurer, big-game hunter, marlin fisher and, oh yes, author. During Hemingway's Havana phase, meals at his preferred restaurant were lubricated by "Tavel Rosé, Papa's favourite". A bottle of Chateau d'Aquéria 2006 Tavel Rosé is £9.99 from majestic.co.uk.
5. Kaspar's Caff
Arguably the handsomest dining-room in London re-opens on 2 May. The River Room was the focus of the Savoy Hotel. Its new identity as Kaspar's Seafood Bar & Grill continues the watery association, but who is Kaspar? Not a chef de cuisine but an elegant wooden cat produced by the Savoy as a 14th guest if there are 13 at dinner. A feline guvnor is appropriate for a fish joint but if you find yourself missing an oyster, you'll know who is to blame.
6. Book for chooks
As the days lengthen, free-range hens raise egg production. Hence spring chickens. Appropriate for the season, Chicken & Eggs by Mark Diacono (£14.99, Bloomsbury) is the latest addition to the admirable River Cottage Handbook series. It informs new recruits to the growing army of home poulterers about picking the right kind – Buff Orpington or Derbyshire Redcap? – how to keep them, how to encourage breeding, dispatch them for the table and recipes for both chicken and eggs.
7. Spring starter
Spring cheeses made with goat's milk, such as Tymsboro from Somerset, are characterised by a clean, verdant tang. At Quo Vadis in Soho, Jeremy Lee serves a signature starter of Tymsboro combined with the first peas and broad beans (boil and mash lightly), torn mint leaves, a splash of good olive oil, sea salt and ground pepper. Our home-made rendition has become a spring favourite. Serve with thin slices of toast.
8. The flower of cordials
Late arriving this year, the heady, Muscat-scented elderflower produces the best of all wild-flower drinks. Pick them as soon as the flowers open to avoid what one horticulturalist calls "the feline fragrance of middle age". Pour 750ml/1¼ pints boiling water into a large bowl containing 1kg/2lb sugar. Stir in 1 sliced lemon plus 25g/1oz citric acid and 10 washed elderflower heads. Leave for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain through a funnel lined with two layers of muslin and bottle. Serve diluted with fizzy water.
9. Cooking a cornucopia
Located in a part of North Yorkshire that is a cornucopia for surf (crabs, lobster and sea bass from the North Sea) and turf (the Ginger Pig farms are typical of local quality), the Malton Food Lovers Festival should attract around 20,000 on 18 and 19 May. Attractions include Antonio Carluccio, Tom Parker Bowles, Yorkshire maestros Andrew Pern and James Mackenzie along with 150 producer stalls, 40 types of beer and a huge selection of street food. maltonfoodfestival.co.uk
10. Pursuing pizza
The Pizza Pilgrims, aka James and Thom Elliot, spent 2011 touring southern Italy in a spiritual quest for true pizza. The transcendental results can be savoured at their pop-up, a Piaggio Ape van on London's Berwick Street. The duo's new book, Pizza Pilgrims Cookery (£20, HarperCollins), reveals their secrets (use "00" flour and real yeast). It ventures beyond the strict dualism of pizza fundamentalism (a book devoted solely to marinara and Margarita would be rather slim) to include Tuscan chicken, saltimbocca and more.
11. The real big apple
If you associate the Big Apple with New York, think again. Now in its 25th year, Herefordshire's Big Apple is a celebration of apples and pears around Putley and other villages of the Marcle Ridge. The Blossomtime Festival held on 5 and 6 May encompasses guided tours, the natural history of orchards, bottle-fermented cider, Britain's pear heritage and vintages from 60 cider and perry producers. bigapple.org.uk
12. King of kings
If asparagus is the king of veg, British asparagus is the king of kings. Though the first spears appeared mysteriously early in chilly March, the official season ends on 21 June, so eat while you can. Snap off the woody end and boil or steam. Default accompaniments are gently melted butter or hollandaise (M&S makes the best ready-made), though I go for warm olive oil with grated Parmesan stirred in. Alternatively, follow Jane Grigson and use the spears as soldiers for boiled eggs.
13. St Bruno's healthy gospel
Capitalising on his triumph at the Zetter in Clerkenwell, Bruno Loubet opens Grain Store in June. The King's Cross eatery will contain a cold store with a glamorous display of vegetables inside. "I want to reverse the way we are eating," Loubet has announced. "Instead of having a massive amount of protein and the irrelevant garnish, the garnish becomes the focus." Though the price will be "pretty much the same", he promises "lighter, more interesting, different and more exciting food".
14. Divine ovine
Hold your horses if you fancy spring lamb, advises Tim Wilson in the Ginger Pig Meat Book (£25, Mitchell Beazley). This is best left for "a few more months" after Easter "so it can develop in flavour texture and size". By mid-June, roast leg of lamb will be approaching peak for flavour and value. "Ask your butcher to cut around the aitchbone and hip bone for ease of carving." One more thing: "Please do not overcook spring lamb." For rare meat, 70 minutes at 190C/375F/ Gas5 is sufficient for a 2.7kg leg. Another 10 minutes for medium.
15. United states of americano
One spring morning, I found myself judging a cocktail competition in Villefranche-sur-Mer. (Yes, sheer hell, I know.) Before the proceedings began, I was intrigued to see what my continental colleagues ordered when it was too early for a serious drink. The universal answer: Americano – a favourite with US expats in the 1920s (hence the name), it was also the first drink ordered by James Bond. Pour 45ml/1½fl oz Campari and 45ml/1½fl oz red vermouth over ice in a tall beaker and top up with sparkling water.
16. Conran's cruncher
Red, crunchy and delivering a delicious prickle of heat, one spring arrival is sadly undervalued, though Sir Terence Conran is an ardent advocate. Asked to pick a favourite dish several years ago, the great restaurateur plumped for fresh butter, Maldon salt and a bowl of French breakfast radishes. I've eaten them like this ever since – spread a dab of butter on each long radish and sprinkle with salt crystals – and think of him every time.
17. Pea super
The French make the most of the tantalisingly brief pea season: à la bonne femme (with pearl onions and diced bacon), à la fermiere (baby carrots and pearl onions) and, best of all, à la française (shredded lettuce, pearl onions and butter). Over here, butter suffices. According to Jane Grigson, fresh-picked peas are best boiled in the pod: "Everyone picks them up by the stalk, dips them in melted butter and sucks out the peas with the delicious outside of the pod."
18. Cooking not looking
Perhaps the most interesting of all food writers, Michael Pollan continues his campaign for real food in his new book Cooked (£20, Allen Lane). Though he is American, Pollan's view that "the food you watch being cooked on TV is not food you get to eat" is particularly pertinent in the UK. Cooked brings us back to earth, fire, water and air through (respectively) fermentation, barbecue, braising and baking bread. Calling on experts such as Chad Robertson (a deity in bread circles), Pollan urges the giant step from telly to kitchen.
19. Royals or commoners?
Though Jersey Royal prices start stratospherically, they become an increasingly affordable partner for lamb, sea bass, scallops… Less regal spuds can take more robust treatment. Simmer small new potatoes for eight minutes and drain. Leave to dry, then shallow-fry in a deep pan with olive oil for another eight. Stir occasionally and spray with lemon juice. The resulting spatter is a small price to pay for deliciously citric spuds.
20. Spring greens
If you see someone drinking a green pint in Wilts, it doesn't mean you've taken a drop too much. Made by Stonehenge Ales of Netheravon until the end of May, Sign of Spring beer (ABV 4.6 per cent) is a startling light green. Head brewer Stig Anderson says green beer is a spring tradition in his native Denmark. "Some pubs love it, others loathe it," he admits, though there seem more of the former: "It's our bestselling seasonal beer."
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