With the golden sunshine comes the greens . . .
It's a perfect time to start your food arc – eating veggies that are flourishing at this time of year, says Michael Kelly
All around us at the moment nature is in the process of a remarkable transition from brown to green. The potting shed is resplendent with emerging seedlings; the grass is finally starting to grow; green buds are emerging on trees in our garden; brown soil is bringing forth rapidly growing green weeds.
The decay and stasis of winter are finally being replaced by the renewal and growth of spring.
The sky seems to have expanded too – no longer just the relentlessly claustrophobic low-hanging clouds.
That strange, yellow disk that you see in the sky? That's called the sun! It's been a while. I reckon I even got a little sunburned in the garden last weekend – well, after the winter we've had, would you really put on sunscreen? (Yes, yes, I know you should).
Our souls are yearning for light and our bodies for some vitamin D.
Spring has been such a cruel temptress this year, using frigid weather to toy unmercifully with us, but it is hard not to love her still at times like this, particularly when she delivers her favourite colour – green – with such generous abundance.
Spring greens have arrived, bursting forward in to life. They are nature's great and wise spring tonic – the most seasonally appropriate of vegetables that one can eat at this time of the year.
After a long season of earthy, heavy root crops, we should eat as much of these revitalising vegetables as we can – nettles, spinach, chard, kale and lettuce.
I am reading Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful memoir 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' at the moment and she does a wonderful job of explaining how we should follow the arc of nature's plant growth if we want to eat the most seasonal, most nutritious food throughout the year.
The arc follows a very specific trajectory through the seasons – from shoot to leaf to fruit and finally to root.
In order to work out which foods are best for us at particular times of the year, we should simply look around us and consider what stage of development the plants around us are at. Around now plants are all about producing green leaves.
So now's a good time to eat lots and lots of leaves.
A little later in the year they move beyond the leaf stage and start to produce seed pods (peas and beans) and flower heads (like broccoli).
Then in the summer, plants start to set fruit. It starts with the small fruits such as tomatoes and cucumbers.
Then later in the summer the fruits get larger, with harder skins (to survive the oncoming cold) such as squashes and pumpkins.
And then finally, as summer gives way to autumn and winter, the plants go down in to the soil in search of nutrients and we get root crops.
It's not a perfect analogy, but it's a good rule of thumb for a new way of eating.
Society has become obsessed with forensically analysing nutrient levels in the human body and in the food we eat.
Nutrition is complex but, as usual, we've applied some half-baked ideas to the issue and gone nuts with them.
A $68bn (€52bn) vitamin supplement industry has emerged around the idea that you can create health by supplying vitamins to the body in supplement form.
In fact, there's an increasing body of evidence to suggest that it is only through nutritionally rich foods that our bodies can absorb vitamins and minerals correctly.
But even then, it's not simple. Most of the food that the food chain serves up is no longer nutrient rich, or at least not as nutrient rich as it should be.
This is because (as all GIYers know) when it comes to nutrients, it all starts with the soil.
If there are not enough nutrients in the soil (and there are not – the world's farmland is between 75-85pc less rich in minerals than it was 100 years ago), then there's not enough in the food grown in it either.
And then of course, we pick food when it's not ripe, and transport it half way (or all the way) around the world so that it loses even more of whatever nutrients it had to start with.
Home-grown food on the other hand gives you access to food that is nutrient rich because (a) it's grown in carefully maintained nutrient rich soil, (b) it's picked at the height of its freshness and usually consumed almost immediately and (c) by definition the food you are eating is seasonally appropriate.
That's an incredibly virtuous circle of fully nourished land, food and people.
We always tend to assume that our children will hate greens, of course, particularly the more robust ones like those mentioned. We tend to dumb it down for them, giving them greens that are easier to eat, like peas.
But give them a chance! The key with all greens is to try to retain that wonderful colour (and all that nutrition) in the cooking process.
Poor old Popeye, it turns out, wasn't such a great example after all – always eating gloopy, liquid spinach from cans! A very light touch is required to keep it fresh and retain its goodness – if you can at all, eat it raw and crisp, and whatever you do, don't boil the bejaysus out of it.
Try the recipe overleaf – our kids munched and slurped their way through commendably large bowlfuls.
Michael Kelly is author of 'Trading Paces and Tales from the Home Farm', and founder of GIY