Sitting in the warm and dry, listening to the thunder and watching the pounding rain outside being sucked into the parched soil, brings on a feeling of intense contentment – made all the better by the knowledge that the strawberries are picked, planting is up to date and weeds are under control. Unlike last year, when a wet spring delayed planting until mid-April, we were able to plant on time this February, into perfect seed beds.
Remembering the drought that followed 2018’s sodden spring, we grew nervous as soil moisture was depleted and our reservoirs started to drop – but the first ten days of June brought 70mm of rain; ten times more than we had in the whole month last year. It feels dangerous to suggest it out loud, but, with fears of another drought receding with every clap of thunder and half the year’s crops planted and establishing well, it has been a near perfect start to the season for growers and cooks.
For two months, I have been picking my best ever crop of artichokes. They are a thirsty crop, and planted beyond the reach of our irrigation; the rain arrived just in time to save them from the tough, stunted heads that forced us to abandon last year’s crop.
My only sadness comes from you not buying enough of the super-tender baby artichokes (the smaller flowers that grow further down the stem) that are prized as a delicacy in Italy, but defeat most cooks here. They are delicious fried, roasted, preserved in oil or sliced thinly onto a pizza. Rather than see them go to waste, the price will be reduced from £5.45 to £3.45/500g for two weeks.
My son and a small team of youths have escaped the city to fight through tick-infested woods and wade thigh-deep through a river to reach the estuarine marshes, where they squat in the mud amongst egrets, herons and geese, foraging for marsh samphire and sea purslane. On a good day, a flexible, nimble and persistent forager can manage about 15kg before being driven off by the incoming tide.
Samphire’s salty flavour and succulence go well with scrambled eggs, stirred (at the end) through a seafood risotto, or more traditionally as a side for fish. Both samphire and sea purslane will be available to order online, and perhaps appear in some veg boxes, until they become tough or the youths’ bodies give up – probably mid-July. I apologise for the price, but if you saw the labour you would not feel hard done by.