I think we’re finally allowed to feel it – that first giddiness
when we realize that it is actually spring.
I notice it most definitely in people now as we desert our boots
for shoes for the first time, retire the turtleneck sweater (even
if the weather still hovers around freezing) and, most importantly,
our attitude lightens as we greet neighbours we have not seen all
winter, except when shovelling snow.
With this inhalation of fresh air comes a wish to breathe new
life into our mealtimes, try new recipes and expand our repertoire.
I love the lush flavours that each new season brings, and I like to
follow a simple rule that guides me through creating new dishes and
It makes perfect sense to buy what is at its peak of freshness
and quality, but when May brings on the first pick of asparagus,
how do you know what it matches with best? What flavours highlight
that gentle greenness, and are there accompanying proteins or
starches that best suit the texture and taste of asparagus cooked
until just tender?
The guiding rule: What Grows Together, Goes Together.
There’s a reason strawberry rhubarb pie is such a perfect fruit
pairing – our first official fruit of spring, rhubarb (not really a
fruit, but by now, I am starved for a local field crop) crosses
into strawberry season. And what are the first herbs to make an
appearance in April or May? Mint, chives and tarragon, which are
mild and subtle companions to those vibrant first pickings of snap
peas, asparagus and tender greens.
In mid-summer, zucchini, beans, tomato and corn are in abundance
and pair with punchier herbs like basil, dill and oregano. In fall,
the earthiness of squash and onions match with hearty herbs like
sage and rosemary harmoniously. Using fresh, seasonal herbs is the
simplest trick to adapt a meal to its seasonal appropriateness. The
chart below is simple, yes, but is a quick guide to what grows
together over the peak six months of harvest.
Cooking methods also change with the season and seem to
co-ordinate with our financial investment in our food. In winter,
it makes sense to spend less on meat, since our produce is at a
premium cost. A tough but affordable cut like a beef blade roast
becomes a tender pot roast when slowly simmered over the course of
a chilly winter afternoon, and with carrots, parsnips and potatoes
as the vegetable base, the meal is cost-effective, too. In
mid-summer, we’ll spend the money on a New York steak to
successfully grill in less than 10 minutes, but the corn to go with
it costs only $2 for a dozen ears, and tomatoes are merely $5 a
basket at the market.
There are, of course, a few exceptions to every rule. Fresh
thyme is a universally appropriate herb, not seasonally restricted
(I have thyme that, while still buried under snow, can be trimmed
from my small garden and used even in winter). It is subtle and
works to heighten other flavours, which is why it is a staple in
basics like chicken stock. It also has a great shelf life, and can
survive at the bottom of the crisper in the fridge for a month,
unlike basil that turns brown within a day or two.
If you do not have access to a farmers’ market to purchase from
on a regular basis, make an excursion at least once this year to
visit one. Walk around the stalls, admire, buy lots and appreciate
looking the grower of your food in the eye and say thank you.