Someone put out the bunting. It seems we are finally allowed to wave goodbye to winter.
I am sitting in the garden writing this. In the time it takes me to lift a teacup to my lips, leaves unfurl, buds fatten, ferns slowly straighten and bees dart in and out of the rosemary flowers. Apple- and cherry blossom froth about. Greenfly descend on soft, new rose leaves like OAPs with vouchers for the earlybird special.
Magnolia stellata and grape hyacinths, growing cheerfully together in a big pot.
At this point, I feel I have to say a small thank you to salad burnet, which stood by me through the cold, dark months, appearing regularly in salads and sandwiches or scattered on soups and casseroles when other, more robust-looking herbs, gave up the ghost.
Pretty salad burnet, cucumber’s happy companion.
Salad burnet is delicate, with prettily serrated leaves and at first glance you think it might be a bit of a prima donna. It’s not. It’ll grow in pots or in any reasonably well-drained soil. It will tolerate full sun and put up with a bit of shade. You can dig up established plants in early spring or autumn and divide them to create new plants, or simply leave a few flowers to self seed at the end of the season. Just keep snipping at it to encourage tasty young growth - and given its versatility in the kitchen, that won’t be a hardship.
When Lola and Jane came to tea, we had to have cucumber sandwiches. That’s the Number One byelaw of afternoon tea: cucumber sandwiches must be served. Whenever I make them for my friends, I always wonder why I never make them to enjoy by myself, when polishing off the whole plate wouldn’t be such an embarrassment.
I’m not one for messing things about much. To me there’s no more chilling phrase on a menu or in a recipe introduction than ‘With a twist’. Just stop it. But here I am, breaking my own rules. To the glorious triumvirate of white bread, unsalted butter and cucumbers I add some salad burnet. In my defence, I will say that salad burnet tastes of cucumber, so it makes it taste more of itself.
If you’re not in the market for a cucumber sandwich (who are you and what are you doing here?), salad burnet is very good in potato salads, with boiled eggs or steamed carrots. In summer, it’s delicious with tomatoes or in lemonade. You don’t really want to cook it. Use it in cold things or fling it on hot dishes at the last minute so you can enjoy its colour, shape and flavour at its fullest.
And an invitation…
If I haven’t put you off too much with my love letter to a herb,
and you live in or near Crystal Palace,
and you are free this Saturday, May 4…
Between 11.30-12.30, I’ll be demonstrating some projects from my book, Gifts from the Garden, at Westow Park Edible Garden. The park is opposite The Secret Garden Centre, Coxwell Road, off Westow Street, Upper Norwood, London, SE19 3AF
And between 1-2pm, I’ll be at Bookseller Crow, 50 Westow Street, London SE19 3AF, signing copies of Gifts from the Garden.
Do come and say hello. It’d be lovely to see you and I might give you a biscuit.