Often I am asked which of the four seasons I prefer. ‘I love them all,’ I say, ‘though spring is very special.’ The season of reawakening, a time of new beginnings. It was in the spring of 1984 the manor house of Great Milton was reborn as Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. By the end of this spring, our new king will be crowned.
Spring is the pick-me-up time for gardeners and cooks as it brings beautiful, colourful, exciting crops and ingredients. Centuries ago, it was known as ‘springing time’, a perfect description of new shoots pushing their little heads through the soil in their search for sunlight. There’s a spring in my step as I inspect my kitchen garden – mon précieux potager – at Le Manoir. This morning I lifted from the soil a few Jersey Royal potatoes (or International Kidney, as this variety is known when it is grown outside Jersey). They’re buttery, nutty, rich and truly magnificent with frisée and a good dressing. (Potato salad is best made with waxy potatoes, such as Jerseys, and served warm, and never cold.)
And to think that the potato was once considered a poison by the British. In France, this tuber has a charming success story, which I must share with you briefly. Our hero is a French army officer, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. During the Seven Years War he was imprisoned by the Prussians and fed a diet of potato. Did he hate potatoes when he was released? Non! Instead he was now an obsessive potato lover, and encouraged Louis XVI to eat them. Soon Marie Antoinette’s dresses were adorned by potato flowers, sparking a new fashion craze. Parmentier grew fields of potatoes around Paris and, ultimately, these sustained the French revolutionaries. His name features in street names in Paris, as well as dishes such as pommes Parmentier – cubes of potato, sautéed with garlic and rosemary. I salute the great man!
I have some exciting suggestions for your spring repertoire … As this is the season for English asparagus, which I adore, you may wish to try either or both these recipes: grilled asparagus with vegetable crumble; poached asparagus with soft-poached egg and mustard dressing. If you fancy a delicious starter (or a light lunch), try spring vegetable crudités with fresh green pea vegan dip. Watercress soup is also simple and quick. Meanwhile slow-roasted shoulder of spring lamb is simply perfect for Sunday lunch. Or perhaps you’d prefer chicken with morels – my favourite type of mushroom – with sherry sauce. As for desserts fit for a coronation party, how about chocolate mousse or lemon tart or rhubarb soufflé? Have fun in the kitchen, and bon appétit!
Here are some of the exciting things coming up in my world
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