In a Salad State of Mind

It is spring here in England and my body is telling me I need fresh raw food after the long winter of comfort food. I can’t get enough of it.

Luckily I have a garden where I have encouraged those first leafy plants to provide the greens I need (my neighbour thought I was just cultivating weeds) and they are all starting to come through now – rocket, sweet cicely, garlic mustard, dandelions, lemon balm, parsley, chard, spinach, early sprouting broccoli, sorrel and mint. I like to wander round the garden putting a bit of this and a bit of that in a bowl then with a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper just down the whole dish. 

So with salads to the fore I have been reading through some great books with historic salads in mind.

An early recipe for salads ‘A Grande Salade for Spring’ comes from the Receipt Book of John Nott, Cook to the Duke of Bolton, 1723 and shows how spring herbs and greens were used for feasts not for your everyday lunch.

Take cowslip buds, violet-flowers and leaves; young lettuce, spinach, Alexander Buds, Strawberry leaves, water cresses, each apart by themselves and then take also Capers, Olives, Samphire, Cucumbers, Broombuds, Raisins and Currans parboiled, Almonds blanched, Barberries and other pickles, then lay a Turnip or some other hard thing for a Standard in the middle of the Sallad, let it be formed like a Castle made of Paste washed over with the Yolks of Eggs and within it a Tree made in like manner and coloured with green Herbs and stuck with flowers; you must also have annexed to it twelve supporters round it, sloping to it, and fastened to the Castle.

Another early salad recipe is for Salamongundy and comes from The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse published in 1765, one of the absolute classics of English recipe books. Designed to form the centrepiece for a supper table, decorated and formally presented, the original recipe (or receipt) uses 2 cooked chickens, so I have given amounts per portion and you can increase as you need.

Ingredients

110 g (4oz) cooked chicken, a handful of lettuce or other green leaves, 2 chopped  anchovies, a hard-boiled egg, ¼ lemon (peel and chop the flesh), parsley, 6 small silver skinned onions, 2 tablespoons vinaigrette dressing,30 g/1 oz white grapes, 55g/2 oz cooked French beans.

Method

Cut or pull chicken into bite size pieces. Combine the egg yolks, anchovies, lemon and half the vinaigrette. Shred the lettuce or leaves and place on plate. Chop egg whites. Add all the ingredients to the plate either in a decorative order or mix together. I prefer it mixed. Before serving add the last of vinaigrette.  Or as Mrs Glasse says ‘You may always make Salamongundy of such things as you have, according to your fancy.’

On a more mundane level Pearl Adam in Kitchen Ranging – A Book of International Cookery published in 1928, includes that salad horror English Summer Salad. ‘

The ‘green salad’ is in England usually diversified by sliced tomato, beetroot and hard-boiled egs; spring onions are arranged all around the bowl, with two inches of their stems facing upwards. These give the necessary flavour to the salad, while allowing onion lovers to add as much to their salad as they wish.

 

The great thing about salads is that there is something for everyone and any time of the year. Whatever your favourite salad recipe, and there are hundreds of variations for all your favourite foods, enjoy it now whether it is spring, summer, autumn or winter where you are.

Seasonal thoughts

One of the things I love about the allotment, and there are many, is that it really links me to the seasons.

I love the fact that in the spring that taste of the first asparagus reminds me that it is getting warmer even if it isn’t. But it isn’t just the foods, although moving from the summer glut of runner beans, courgettes tomatoes and salads to the first thoughts of roast roots and baked potatoes and warming comfort soups is permanently linked in my mind to the lighting of fires and walks in the frosty woods.

The summer brings the watering and weeding along with the fantastic glut of peas, beans, summer carrot and new potatoes and the long warm evenings (if we’re lucky) and the smells of cut grass and roses.

The preserving of the summer foods, making jams and chutneys, pickles and bottled fruit, leads nicely into fleeces and jumpers and the Community Apple Day and tidying the plot for winter.

So I’m just about to plant the broad bean seeds before it gets too cold and the planting of seeds makes me feel optimistic at any time, then I’ll eat the squashes and celeriac that are just coming ready with stewed apple and custard to follow. And it all feels so right.

So even though the winter evenings aren’t far away, a glass of mulled wine makes up for digging the frosty ground for the carrots and parsnips and there are always the plans for next years crops when Christmas is over.

 

 

Spring

Spring is here and once again it has taken me by surprise – so much to do all of a sudden. Having said that, this time of year I can’t spend enough time outside after the winter. So the pruning has been done and the onions sets are in …..and it stops there, I’m very late with the broad beans but I’m sure they will catch up when the sun comes out. I have gone overboard I think with the tomatoes again, I can’t help but try all the different new and heritage seeds and I really look forward to enjoying them on those hot summer days to come. Some of these are variteies that are only found at seed swaps such as Purple Cherokee a lovely juicy beef tomato and Clear Pink Early a large sweet variety.
With the warnings of a drought this year I am reconsidering some of the things I plant or how I plant them. I stopped planting annual flowers years ago as they take up too much water so, apart from sweet peas, which I can’t resist, the hardy perennials that have shown they can withstand dry summers are the ones to choose. I love runner bean and courgettes but they do love a lot of water so I’m preparing their beds with a load of water absorbent mulch, paper and feathers (my dad always put a couple of old pillows in the runner bean bed) and any thing else to help hold the water and hopefully reduce the watering later.
Meanwhile I am checking regularly for the asparagus to pop up …..