With British springtime officially kicking off on 20 March, the psychological clouds start to lift, the season brings optimism, and minds turn to a brand-new year of fresh produce. 

Seasonal spring vegetables don’t appear on the shelves with a bang – it’s a slow burn, but one that’s worth keeping your eye on. The earliest crops can be the sweetest and certainly the most gratifying of the year. Ashley Wheeler, who runs Trill Farm Garden in Axminster, says: “Spring is a bit of a teasing time for vegetables. The days are getting longer and we are coming out of winter, so it feels like there will be lots of vegetables ready. However, in reality there is not a huge amount available until late spring; but when it comes, it’s great. After feasting on kale and root vegetables all winter, it’s a treat to taste the first radishes, spring onions, fresh garlic and the first baby beetroots. They all seem so sweet and fresh in the spring.”

So, as the days lengthen and temperatures (hopefully) rise, what springtime treats should we be looking out for?

Leafy and green

Zinging with vibrant colour, spring’s leafy greens range from the first baby spinach leaves to peppery rocket and punchy watercress. The wild larder starts to offer pungent wild garlic and young, delicate nettles for those keen to go foraging. All leafy greens are packed full of vitamins and superfood promises, but if it’s flavour you’re looking for, the greens have no difficulty offering a broad spectrum. Alex Coutts, head gardener at The Pig at Combe, says: “For me, the best vegetable coming from the garden in spring has to be the cavolo nero shoots. This kale has done us wonders over winter, providing us with a good amount of delicious greens. Just as it comes to the end of its life, it tries to flower to go to seed. We will pick these small shoots in abundance, like you would a sprouting broccoli, although eaten straight off the plant while harvesting for the kitchen is the real treat.”

Rooty and earthy

Winter may feel root-heavy, but spring brings with it roots of a very welcome and diverse nature: tiny baby beetroots are super-sweet and crunchy (with extra leafy potential in the beet tops), while the first radishes bring early promise of crisp summer salads, and versatile spring onions can be crisp and mild or eye-wateringly punchy. For many, it’s the arrival of the first tender-skinned new potatoes (Jersey Royals among them) that’s a real cause for celebration – boiled, buttered and eaten simply, they’re a magical taste of spring. 

Floral and wholesome

Odd to think, but cauliflower really is a flower (of sorts) and the first white curds of the year are a welcome sight. Purple sprouting broccoli and calabrese (the ‘normal’ green broccoli we now consider purple sprouting’s slightly inferior brother) are excellent sources of dietary fibre and boast an array of vitamins from A and K to C, as well as calcium and antioxidants. But health-giving properties aside, they’re a versatile veg that can be boiled, baked, griddled and puréed in any number of recipes. The year’s first asparagus spears will be fine and tender, and packed with distinctive flavour.

Pod-popping

Looking forward to summer, the first pod vegetable to make its appearance in spring is the broad bean. “I like to cook the very first broad beans still in their pods, when they are still really small,” says Ashley. “Just blanched, then dressed with fresh garlic and oil is great.”

"After feasting on kale and root veg all winter, it’s a treat to taste the first radishes, spring onions, fresh garlic and the first baby beetroots."Ashley Wheeler, Trill Farm Garden

The best veg in the west

If you fancy tucking into the freshest spring produce, cooked by some of Devon’s finest chefs in glorious surroundings, look no further than some of the county’s best restaurants with kitchen gardens attached.

The Pig at Combe, Honiton 

With three walled gardens to harvest from (for vegetables, herbs and infusions), The Pig at Combe’s menu is all about the freshest of the fresh veg, combined with other local produce sourced from within a 25-mile radius. 

thepighotel.com

Trill Farm, Axminster

Visit the 300-acre Trill Farm for one of its regular Supper and Conversation evenings, combining thought-provoking speakers with delicious food inspired by the farm’s seasonal produce.

trillfarm.co.uk

Percy’s Country Hotel & Restaurant

With Tina Bricknell-Webb at the helm in the kitchen, Percy’s takes full advantage of its estate setting, using fresh produce from its organic kitchen garden to great effect. 

percys.co.uk

Lewtrenchard Manor, Okehampton

With head chef and head gardener working together to get the most from the kitchen garden, dishes at Lewtrenchard reflect the best the season has to offer. 

lewtrenchard.co.uk

The Deer Park Country House Hotel, Honiton

Loxton’s – the Deer Park’s well-regarded restaurant – takes full advantage of its setting in an 80-acre estate, with produce from the walled garden featuring throughout the menu. 

deerparkcountryhotel.co.uk

 

Clare Hunt

Published 27 February 2017

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