Everyone is eager to be outdoors in this lovely weather to feel the energising warmth of the sun. It is a joy to see the blossoms and ferns unfurl, like ourselves, with thanks to the heat and light. Young plants of runner beans and brassicas have moved out from their propagating nests to the open air ridges. Potatoes, carrots, broad beans and parsnip have also been sown out while seedlings of beetroot, cucumber, courgette and basil are still establishing themselves under cover. Carrots have been sown between rows of already established garlic to hopefully repel the dreaded carrot fly. Prepared beds are filling up nicely with these thriving but still vulnerable plants; attention is needed to defend them from slugs and snails (not to mention rogue donkeys or errant ducks!). Tomatoes, early potatoes, peas, asparagus and some promising strawberries are well on their way in the large tunnels.
The shift outdoors which comes with the change of weather brings a welcome change of routine as the days stretch. It is a good time to break old habits, shift gear and move the furniture. I am reminded of the childhood thrill of eating outside as soon as the forecast promised a few warm days. My mother had an early summer ritual of taking the pine kitchen table outside to be scrubbed down in the sun. When it was dried we ate around it and were animated by the simple novelty of dining en plein air. The same table was inevitably returned inside but to a new position; adjacent to the window instead of the range, with a refreshing new perspective. It probably sticks in my memory because it was a rare enough event. It is a delightful treat to bring the indoors out to enjoy the change of habit and habitat.
Last Sundays brunch of poached duck egg and asparagus tasted all the better for being eaten in the warmth of the morning sun with a soundtrack of birdsong instead of my droning radio. Asparagus is growing in a corner of the tunnel but you can also use asparagus kale or the flowering tips of brassicas just before the flowers open. This is a cheap asparagus substitute. The generous ducks who produce the delicious eggs are also basking in their new found release after a spell of restriction imposed by an avian flu scare. If they are let out too early in the morning, before they have laid (and they are very impatient) there is a danger they will lay ‘out’ under a tempting canopy of nettles or blackberry bushes.
Poached Duck Egg with Asparagus and Spelt Soda Bread
This is a super easy bread recipe. The addition of some seeds to the dough will provide extra texture and nutrition and you can vary the proportion of wholemeal/white flour according to your preference. Preheat the oven to 220 centigrade and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
225 g organic wholemeal spelt flour
225g organic white spelt flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp.baking powder
½ tsp. salt
500ml buttermilk (approx..)
Sieve and mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl (make sure there are no lumps in the baking soda) and make a well in the centre. Add the buttermilk gradually but briskly while stirring with a large spoon. This is quite a wet mixture so add a little more buttermilk if it is too dry. Ensure all the flour has been mixed in as you gently stir the dough. Tip the mix into the prepared tin and sprinkle with sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds. Bake at 220 centigrade for about 10 mins and reduce to 180 centigrade for a further 20 minutes or so. Ovens vary but you can test by tapping the base of the bread; a hollow sound denotes it is ready. Tip onto a cooling rack, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest.
Serve the bread toasted with a poached egg and asparagus which has been steamed or lightly sautéed in butter and oil with some garlic. The asparagus needs just enough cooking to retain its bite. When poaching the egg, crack it into swirling boiled water with a pinch of salt and a splash of vinegar. Reduce the heat and allow it to cook gently for a few minutes until the white has set.
So I won’t delay with too much rambling and share some of the glorious images of May flowers around the farm and the high hedged tracks flush with frilly ferns. If it gets too hot a stroll beneath the trees gives a cooling flash of bluebell and wild leek. Staying out is a pleasure when the flowers are out; demanding the attention of birds, bees and busy bodies.