Early summer is the vegetable new year: out with the old crops and in with the new. The ‘hungry gap’, when very little UK veg is ready for harvesting, is finally over and the new season is a wonderful time for vegboxes. Even after more than 25 years of growing vegetables, I am still excited by the first broad beans, courgettes, salads and homegrown fruit, including the very welcome arrival of gooseberries this week.
I was driven to planting an acre of these traditional British berries by memories of my mother’s gooseberry fool and by frustration at the lack of organic fruit grown in this country. A few people warned me of sawfly (a pest that attacks gooseberries in three waves of voracious larvae), predicting disaster without an arsenal of chemicals. There are always prophets of doom – they keep the chemical companies in business – so I carried on regardless. For the first three years the bushes were indeed stripped bare, but since then, nature has established a balance and we have a mystery predator keeping the larvae in check. There is much joy to be had from these tart-flavoured berries; fruit doesn’t have to be flown around the world to be interesting.
I could happily eat broad beans all month. The season started slowly, but now the spring-sown crops are going strong to see us through the next few weeks. Look out also for sweet, tender sugarsnap peas, which are just starting to arrive in the vegboxes. There’s no need to shell these; snap off the tops, pull the stringy bits off the sides and eat them pod and all. As well as simply steaming or stir frying, they are very good raw in salads, perhaps with a vinaigrette dressing.
As summer moves on, there are even more homegrown ingredients to inspire you in the kitchen, from a range of beans and spinach to British cherries, raspberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants. This is the time to keep cooking simple and light; these new season vegetables need very little cooking and no sauces. I even find myself getting irritable when people add butter to them; it seems almost disrespectful to their perfection. A man obsessed? At this time of year, perhaps.