This drink is the taste of high summer for me. A bright floral scent that fills your mouth, yet it has none of the slightly 'soapy' taste that some floral things can have. The recipe gives you a bottle of syrup which can be mixed with water, tonic water or added to gin and tonics. It can also be used to marinate strawberries - layer them up in a pavlova with rose petals and cream and you will have the summeriest of puddings possible.
You do need lots of flower petals - grown without sprays - so this recipe is something for someone with access to a garden really or it could be expensive to make. The flowers don't have to be perfect, I collected the damaged heads after a rain shower - great blotches on their petals but still otherwise perfect.
I love the way the syrup changes from dull beige to jewel pink when you add the lemon juice.
This is a lunch to celebrate the first days of Spring - the days are brightening, leaves are unfurling, birds are singing their hearts out. We should celebrate it all, preferably sitting with eyes screwed up against the low sun, catching up with friends.
I chose these recipes for a Spring celebration because they let the flavours of Spring sing out, but also because every dish is simple to make in advance, and easy to transport to take advantage of the weather.
Hopefully the sun is shining and they can be eaten as a picnic, or a lunch in the garden - blankets on the garden chairs maybe. But if the weather is too chilly for that, they can just as easily be eaten at the kitchen table with the fire on full.
The centre of the meal is a frittata. April and May are the months of increasing light, when hens naturally get back to full egg production and everyone who keeps hens suddenly has too many eggs for their own use. They are also the months when free range hens eat those fresh spring leaves which make their eggs particularly delicious.
Eggs aside, you can vary the ingredients of the frittata according to what you have, it is a great leftover recipe and you can add in beans, broccoli, cheese etc. etc. whatever you have in the fridge.
In the recipe here I used stored potatoes which were just beginning to sprout and soften - perfect for boiling and then cubing - the last of the leeks and vibrant kale leaves, which are beginning to regrow after winter.
With the frittata I’ve suggested serving a carrot and cabbage coleslaw with orange dressing and sunflower seeds - I always have a tub of this in the fridge at this time of year and left overs are brilliant stuffed into sandwiches or even eaten as a mid afternoon snack that feels healthy.
Add in some bread and a fresh green salad and you have a simple feast.
Did you know that, if you live in Europe, the lemon you buy in December has much less of a carbon footprint than it will have in June?
Perhaps you don't think of lemons as having a 'season' - they are now available in supermarkets and greengrocers all year round - but at some time in late Spring, supplies stop coming from Europe and the main supplier becomes South Africa.
November until January is the season for European citrus fruits.
I ought the lemons in this photo right at the beginning of the season - a box of organic lemons from Spain, still green when they arrived, gradually turning yellow over the next month.
I bought them specifically to preserve in salt - lemons and salt are two of my favourite ingredients but I do not like the preserved lemons that you can buy in supermarkets as I find they have a chemically after taste.
Preserved lemons are one of the things I regularly crave and therefore one of the things I bother to make. They are also an essential ingredient in many of the North African recipes I love and a great way of using up every single bit of the lemon without waste.
They take a month to mature so if you start them now they will be ready to add a bit of brightness to January.
- A wide necked pickling jar sterilised (dishwasher is fine)
- Something heavy which will fit through the neck of the jar and keep the lemons under the liquid. (I use a beach pebble which I also put through the dishwasher)
- 8-10 smallish organic lemons (if you are going to eat the rind you don't want it sprayed or waxed)
- Flaked sea salt (a lot)
- Olive oil to cover
- Optional - 2 teaspoons black pepper, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 3 fresh bay leaves.
- Take each lemon, stand it on end and slice down vertically to about 1 cm from the base.
- Turn by 90 degrees and cut again so that you have a deep cross cut.
- Cup the lemon in your hand so it opens out and then stuff as much salt as you can inside before squashing it shut and putting it into the jar.
- Do this with all but two of the lemons - squashing them down hard as you go so that the juice begins to come out.
- Put the weight in on top and leave somewhere for 48 hours so more juice comes out. Take out the weight, juice your remaining lemons and add to the jar.
- Hopefully the lemons are now covered by the juice - if not then either squash some more or add more juice. Add in the pepper corns etc. at this point if you are using.
- Gently add a layer of olive oil to the top to provide a seal and carefully replace your weight.
- Leave for a month before eating. They will keep for a year in the fridge.
Using the lemons
In his novel Palace Walk, the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz writes of a breakfast eaten on a Cairo rooftop;
‘The mother carried in the large tray of food and places it on the cloth. In the centre of the gleaming copper tray was a large oval dish filled with fried beans and eggs. On one side loaves of flat bread were piled. On the other side were arranged small plates with cheese, pickled lemons and peppers as well as salt, cayenne and black pepper’.
Preserved lemons are central to many recipes in North Africa - notably Moroccan tagines - and South East Asia - particularly Cambodian soups.
More surprisingly - though not at all surprising really if you think of the seasonality of lemons before C20th - they were an important luxury ingredient in C18th Europe, used particularly in fish dishes and threaded, alongside lard, through the flesh of poultry.
A perfectly seasonal recipe for November.
Endives, chicories and radicchio are all at their peak as we move from Autumn to Winter - their bitterness offset here with the creamy sweetness of fresh hazelnuts and the sharpness of new season lemons.
You can use the pesto as a pasta sauce or dilute it a little bit and add as a dressing for a plate of beans.
- Half a radicchio head (or the discarded leaves from making a salad) chopped
- 80 g hazelnuts
- Olive oil - about 100 ml
- Juice of a lemon (if making the bean salad zest the lemon and use to scatter over the top of the salad)
- Salt to taste
To make pesto put the radicchio leaves and hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse to combine well.
Carefully add in the lemon juice, pulsing and then put motor on and slowly add in olive oil until it becomes the right consistency, something quite thick that you can spoon into a jar.
This can be stored in a sterilised jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
Spread it on sandwiches, mix into pasta. It also adds a lovely earthy, slightly smoky base to soups, just stir in at the end.
Figs are my favourite fruit - that heady aroma my favourite summer smell.
I even have a fig tree outside my bedroom. It produces masses of leaves but very few figs.
When I saw mention of a fig leaf ice cream being served at my favourite restaurant I had to investigate and see if I could try it myself.
The result was so much better than I even imagined - it is just the perfect flavour for ice cream - that warmth and fullness comes through in a sweet, creamy, honeyed taste.