Seven Stars of Spring
By Jessica Prentice with line drawings are by Sarah Klein (sarahklein.com) colored by Maggie Gosselin
Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us all enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are Jessica’s seven best bets for the spring season. You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at localfoodswheel.com
In late winter and early spring, you might find some odd-looking scallions at the market. One whiff tells you these are not scallions, and the sign (or the farmer at the booth) might tell you it’s green garlic. The same plant as bulb garlic, this younger incarnation is more delicate, tender, and vegetal. It does not have the aggressive flavor of mature bulb garlic, which can be overwhelming when used raw. Green garlic is more subtle and does a lovely dance with other leafy herbs like cilantro, dill, chives, sorrel, and lovage. At its most tender, green garlic makes a great garnish, minced and added at the end of a soup, stew, sauce, or stir-fry. It’s also delicious in dressings, dips, and pestos. Later in the spring, the young bulbs still look tender, but the outer layers are becoming fibrous, so they may need to be peeled away. At that stage, try slicing it thin and adding it to your sautés. Using garlic throughout its season is an opportunity to get to know this plant better and see how it grows and develops. It’s a great experience to share with kids even if you don’t have a garden.
Pea greens are the tender top leaves, shoots, and curling tendrils of pea plants harvested in spring before the plant begins to form pods. They’re delicious sautéed with butter and a pinch of salt, and also make an excellent puréed soup. Sometimes farmers harvest them after they begin to get fibrous—at which point they’re practically inedible—but regular market shoppers know to buy the greens when they first appear. You can ask to taste one before purchasing, or talk to the seller about whether they’re still tender or starting to get tough. Better yet, plant some peas and harvest some of the tops and leaves yourself. You’ll be in for a treat!
I love grapefruits so much that I wonder why I don’t eat them more often. Probably because they are so closely associated with breakfast, and I am not a lover of fruit in the morning. So I’m going to let myself enjoy these when I crave them the most, as a late-morning or mid-afternoon snack. I still eat them the way my father taught me as a child: I cut them in half and cut out each section with a sharp knife, then dive in with a spoon. I also love the sections on a crisp salad, with avocado or blue cheese or both!
Right around Easter, farmer Arthur Davis brings some of his goose eggs to the Berkeley farmers markets. They look just like white chicken eggs, only about four times as big, so you only want to buy one or two. For the full dramatic effect of their size, prepare them hard-cooked or poached. The only downside: The white is a bit rubbery, an effect that can be mitigated by poaching the eggs on a bed of vegetables with plenty of butter. You can also crack them and whisk them with milk or cream and make a wonderful frittata, custard, or even scrambled eggs.
Pastured chicken is available year-round in the Bay Area, but there’s a reason people have long sung the praises of a spring chicken. On traditional family farms, free-range chickens would stop laying eggs in winter when the nights were long and days were short. The older layers would end up in the stew pot, in a pot pie, or as a warming winter chicken and dumplings. As the days got longer, the chickens would start laying again and a few broody hens would be allowed to hatch a clutch of their eggs. Some of these chicks would be kept for layers, but some would be special springtime treats, young, tender and perfect for roasting or frying. When we choose pastured local chicken raised according to humane and ancient principles, we can revive the tradition of roasting a young chicken in spring, and simmering an older one in winter.
When the hills are green from the winter’s rain and the days are getting longer, get ye some spring pasture butter and make your body stronger. The bright yellow of this season’s butter comes from the betacarotenes in the green grasses the cows are eating. Look for it at the stand of Spring Hill Farm at the farmers markets, or if you belong to a herdshare or are lucky enough to have a cow of your own, you can make raw pastured butter yourself. Any quantity of cream can be turned into butter; you don’t need a churn or a gallon of cream to make it at home. If you have a pint or so, put it in a food processor or whip it with a mixer until the butter forms. If you have less, you can put it in a jar with a marble and shake it until the butter forms. In either case, pour off the liquid buttermilk, then turn the butter out into a wooden salad bowl. Press it repeatedly with a wooden spoon to get out as much of the buttermilk as you can. Then form the butter into a log or press it into a jar or ramekin and refrigerate. If you’ve only got a bit, save it for spreading on bread or dolloping on vegetables, and use store-bought butter for cooking.
New potatoes are those small, young potatoes that have been freshly dug while their skins are still thin and papery. Sometimes you can find them as small as marbles, and it’s delightful to stab a whole potato with your fork and put it in your mouth. These are my favorite potatoes to steam whole and serve with butter, salt, and pepper. When they get a little bigger—like walnuts—they’re perfect for Swiss raclette, a meal of steamed whole potatoes topped with sliced ham, seared mushrooms, or whatever you like, then draped with thin slices of raclette cheese and stuck under the broiler until the cheese melts. You can also buy electric raclette sets, which are fun for dinner parties, or do it the old-fashioned way, by placing a hunk of raclette by the fire until it’s soft enough to scrape onto the potatoes. However you melt the cheese, it’s delicious!
Jessica Prentice is the author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection and co-founder of Three Stone Hearth Community Supported Kitchen in Berkeley. threestonehearth.com