Summer officially began on 1 June. It was a day of cold, rain and wind and only 15C. It was not summer. Summer arrived yesterday, which made my trip to Worcestershire and the pub lunch in the pub’s garden all the more enjoyable. And today, summer is still here. However, tomorrow, apparently, we shall have rain and thunderstorms. In England you have to make the most of summer when it’s here; and that may mean ‘here’ on a daily changing basis. It’s not something you take for granted and you need to celebrate it while you can. Lyndsey, Freddie and I took a stroll down into central Twickenham this afternoon, sat outside Osteria Pulcinella in pretty Church Street with a coffee because it had outside seats and was also the only place open. Afterwards, we cut down a narrow street to the river. The Thames was flooded, flowing over on to the towpath. Freddie thought testing out the waterproof quality of his new Crocs a great game.
Back at home in the evening I had a treat of asparagus waiting for my supper. When I was up in Worcestershire yesterday, Rachael’s mum Janet kindly gave me a bunch of asparagus which they’d bought from a local farm. Asparagus is a wonderful vegetable and I like that it’s so seasonal – you can only really enjoy it at a certain time of year. And that season is short, beginning on 23 April – St George’s Day – and ending just two months later. Of course, it will be in the shops for longer than that, but it’s not something you can buy all year – or not home grown English asparagus anyway.
Asparagus is a herbaceous perennial which has been cultivated as a vegetable since Greek and Roman times. The parts we eat are the young shoots that spring from the ground from a complex crown of roots planted quite deep. Some places like to cover them with soil to inhibit the production of chlorophyll so they remain white instead of turning green. I remember eating the white variety in Tuscany many years ago, a speciality of a restaurant we visited, and it was quite a ceremony serving them to us. The white variety are usually large and quite thick. However some people say they are bland compared to the green (though I remember the Italian ones we had being wonderful) and declare the green variety – the kind we more usually buy – to be more tender and tasty. Whichever you prefer, they are a treat. And they are a real mark of summer, evoking all that is best of my favourite season.
Janet told me that she’d heard the best way to keep asparagus was upright in some water, so I duly put my bunch of asparagus in a mug with a little water and then in the fridge when I got home yesterday.
This evening, when ready to prepare supper, I took about half the bunch and snapped off the ends. They will snap at just the right point to discard the tough bit, leaving you with the tender end of the stems. Then I put them in a steamer, sprinkled over a little sea salt and steamed until just tender.
Meanwhile, I’d grilled a salmon fillet simply with just a little olive oil smeared over the top and some seasoning. I should perhaps have gone down to the fishmonger to buy wild salmon as I was planning to write this post. Wild salmon is another fabulous seasonal food, available only from about April until September/October. Wild salmon is expensive but in a league all of its own and I love to sometimes buy it as a special treat. Like the asparagus, it evokes summer and is at its best then, cooked simply or perhaps poached to have cold with mayonnaise. I took the easy route this evening though and took a piece from my freezer. It was however organic salmon so although farmed a healthier option and definitely a tastier one too.
It was warm enough to eat in the garden, thus bringing all that joy that a warm summer evening and lovely summer food can bring. The salmon was moist and tender. The asparagus cooked to retain just a little bite, its unique sweet sulphurous taste gorgeous, and like nothing else. And I think the foods we enjoy in just their limited season have a special flavour that possibly only comes from knowing we can’t have them anytime we want.
A summer meal has to include strawberries – English strawberries, of course! Their fine reputation stems from their uniquely sweet and wonderful flavour. I really do only like to have strawberries in season. And again, I like to eat them simply – just as they are. People get carried away adding sugar, balsamic vinegar and all kinds of condiments. But a good strawberry needs no embellishment – other than a spoonful or two of cream maybe. Tonight I didn’t have cream so had some Greek yogurt instead – not quite the same but still good. And the strawberries were gorgeous, just as they should be, sweet and full of flavour.
They are like my favourite season, summer: to be enjoyed not all the time but at just the right time.