Matt Wilkinson
19 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Jacqui Melville

Before I talk about spring specifically, I want to talk about the seasons in general. Because the thing about seasons is that they are really fluid — they’re not cut and dried.

Plants bud and bloom, depending on the sun and the rain, and the seasons aren’t really the three months that we humans have tried to arrange them into. They roll into one another. It isn’t necessarily 40ºC on the first day of summer, just as it isn’t guaranteed to be frosty on the first day of winter. You can feel the changes coming in the weeks leading up to the end of one season and the beginning of the next, and the way the plants and animals behave also give us clues as to what is coming.

Our calendar means nothing to good old Mother Nature – she just throws the seasons at us. Australia’s Indigenous people, with their innate connection to the land, actually believe there are six seasons that influence the birds, animals, and of course plant life. The indicators of seasonal change are all taken from when plants bud and bloom, when certain reptiles hibernate, when animals birth their young, and even when birds moult their feathers. The Indigenous seasons are highly respectful to the land, and I really think that we forget in the rush of our modern lives that respect for the environment is so important. We need to take care of Mother Nature because she takes care of us.

But let’s talk about spring. Springtime is all about renewal. It’s right there in the name, isn’t it? Everything ‘springs’ back to life after the dormancy of winter. The bulbs are starting to come through, and green shoots poke their heads out of the ground. There is new life all around, from animals and their young, to the grass starting to wake up with the warmth of the sun after winter’s chill has passed. Creatures are emerging from hibernation – hedgehogs in Britain, and in Australia yabbies and eels are coming out of their burrows. Spring makes me think of mowing the lawn in shirtsleeves when I was back in the United Kingdom, and the smell of onion weed as the mower ran over it. No other smell makes me think so much of spring.

The daffodils and tulips bloom and give us back some of the colour we have missed. Winter is either incredibly green or bare. In spring the colour comes back, like a sneak preview of summer. Here in Australia, it conjures images of gorgeous flowering wattle, all bright greens and gold. The wattle is so vibrant, it’s easy to see why this combination has been adopted as the national colours.

There is an innate sense of hopefulness about spring. It’s easy to become a bit low and depressed by the bleakness of winter, especially if there is a lot of rain, but spring acts as a restorative. Everything is warming up and shaking off the frostiness of winter.

No wonder there are festivals all around the world dedicated to spring’s arrival. Many countries boast a tradition of celebrating the spring equinox. There are actually two equinoxes every year – one in spring and one in autumn. An equinox is a day in the solar calendar that is marked by the day and night being of equal length. The spring (or vernal) equinox was considered of particular spiritual significance to many cultures, and entwined with the notion of resurrection and rebirth – not only in the Christian calendar, but also within age-old Egyptian and Mayan beliefs. There is evidence that the ancient Cambodian temple at Angkor Wat is aligned to the spring equinox. For many cultures, the equinox represents the struggle between the forces of good and evil – of the light versus the dark.

In the garden you start to see some of the berries and tropical fruits shooting and getting ready for their peak in summer. Rhubarb, mandarins and oranges are all in their prime, from their kickoff in winter.

We all think of spring lamb and spring as symbols of verdant fertility, but we can even see the effects of seasonality in produce we don’t usually think of – such as milk, for example. Like every other living thing, the quality of the feed in the paddock is affected by the seasons and the amount of sun and rain. Spring is the pinnacle of good pasture for farmers, after the paddocks have woken up from their winter dormancy, when the ground has thawed and softened. There is (hopefully) plenty of rain, and the sun is warm and gentle. The searing heat of summer is still some months away.

If you follow this principle along the food chain, it then affects other things like the quality of milk that is coming from animals, and then the quality of produce that is made with that milk – you may not realise that even cheese comes into season! For my good friends Ann-Marie and Carla at Holy Goat farm in Victoria, spring is when their farm really kicks into action. The goats kid in spring, which increases milk yield, but the quality of the milk is also improved by the amount and variety of fodder that is available to the goats in the fields. All this combines to produce peak cheese-making season. And the cheeses themselves change according to all the variables in the actual milk, such as the taste, aroma, colour and fat content. Do yourself a favour and try some gorgeous fresh goat’s cheese in spring.

And when it comes to the ultimate in spring vegetables? I’ve said it before in my first book, but I’m going to say it again, just so you know I really mean it. If there is one vegetable that you should wait for spring to enjoy, please make it asparagus. Just like cherries in summer, the season is short, but plentiful. Asparagus is just so crisp and delicious when it is young and fresh, and the price drops so dramatically that you can have it at every meal, if you want.

And why wouldn’t you want to?

Early spring

There is something annoying yet so wonderful about early spring in the garden. It has sat on the fence, not too sure if the cold air at night means more chill is to come, or heed the delightful midday sun saying that warmer weather is on its way. The garden itself is trying so hard, and weeds are everywhere, which reminds me that I have neglected her for a while, like you neglect your dog when your first-born child arrives.

I’m eager to get into the garden to plant, but still not too sure about what and when. My crop of broad beans has flowered and small buds are appearing; the celery is so good I have to eat it there and then. My farmer friends are delighted by the first signs of asparagus, and tell me the avocados are looking amazing, but many are worried, hoping there won’t be a late frost that could end their season of growing just as it has begun.

Mid spring

Driving through the countryside, the signs of new life are everywhere, from the lambs and calves in the fields to the wild apple trees all in bloom. In the garden, my bed of early beans are creeping up the pole, starting to show the first of themselves for me to pick, the brassicas are starting to go to seed, showing their wonderful flowers of yellow and white, the maple trees are back, full of life, and that damn lawn needs mowing and I really should weed the dandelions out of the grass, which are showing their yellow heads or fluffy whites that as a kid I loved to blow while making a wish.

Late spring

I have bombarded the garden with tomatoes, chilli and eggplant seedlings, the basil is in, as are the cucumber seeds in a tray. I hope for an earlier crop than last year, but in summer Mother Nature will let me know soon enough if I got it right.

My chickpeas are ready for the harvest, to be eaten like a pea – a love affair that has been going on for four years now, trying to understand crops that we generally only know of as dried legumes and grains, to see what they taste like fresh. Chickpeas are a brilliant source of nitrogen for the soil, so once picked they will be turned back into the soil, ready for the late-summer plants to go in.

Other uses for black bean vinaigrette

–Great as the sauce to a steak.

–Marinate some pork in it, fry it off, then add to rice.

–Add to stir-fried vegies.

–Cook up some clams and mussels, drain them, then toss the vinaigrette through and add some coriander – yum!

–Toss through seared scallops with some cooked corn kernels.

Other uses for caper and raisin dressing

–Amazing with a seared pieced of tuna.

–Simply smear on buttered bread as a snack, or serve as a dip with crudites.

–Toss through simple pasta with broccoli.

–Great sauce for roasted chicken.

–Drizzle over roasted pumpkin or carrots, or both together.

Other uses for bacon vinaigrette

–Super dressing for roasted quail.

–Toss through warm potatoes as an easy salad.

–On oysters for your own oysters kilpatrick.

–Toss through cooked spaghetti.

–Great as a sauce with salmon.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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