Tradition says spring starts on the vernal equinox, which is 20 March. Meteorologists insist it’s more practical to count in whole months and start spring on 1 March. In practice Nature usually has the last word and, after a few teasing false starts, lets spring creep up on us in her own good time. Usually some time in April.
But somehow on the 1 March I always wake up anticipating an overnight transformation. Balmier weather, blossoms on trees, crocuses bursting through the soil – all very Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. And on opening my curtains this morning, it does seem like the meteorologists might be right this year.
With the promise of things once more growing, my thoughts turn to another, more intermittent hobby of mine, that of foraging. Not a lot of that to be done in polluted London you might think. I would have agreed once but have changed my mind after a guided tour of Southwark Park last year. Wild salad leaves, nuts, apples, plums, mushrooms, berries, abound in green corners all over the capital.
Mostly my foraging bounty ends up in cordials and liqueurs to restock the liquor cabinet. Last year I managed elderflower cordial, sloe gin, crab apple vodka, wild plum liqueur, blackberry brandy and chestnut liqueur.
There are lots of plus points to making your own flavours in this way. The drinks themselves tend to taste and smell better than commercial varieties, you have a more unusual base to create from and it also saves money and space – no more shelves full of half-used bottles. Especially if you give away most of it as Christmas presents (I advise not doing this; it only leads to regrets).
The real harvest for drinks making won’t begin until the elderflower blooms in May but as my supply of liqueurs and cordials is getting low (see the note about regrets in the paragraph above), I’m planning an experimental batch from nettle tips (north London has a few disused railway lines that are a good, clean source) and will also be keeping an eye out for young dandelion leaves later in the month.
The lack of ingredients available in the wild over winter led me to try some infusions with cultivated ingredients and I’ve got both lemon thyme and rosemary infused vodka to test this week. Dreaming up recipes to use these in led me to think of other herbs I’d like to use and so I’ve decided to try to grow from seed one more time. I’ve failed miserably in the past at this but I’m a bit dubious about nursery plants being fit for consumption. I tried so hard with my sweet violets; weeks and weeks of coaxing but I couldn’t get the damn things to germinate and my dreams of producing the finest Aviation known to man faded…
I’ve found an online supplier of unusual plants and am thinking my window box will include: hyssop, English lavender, geranium, lemon verbena and burnet. But if my thumbs are really cursed with a lack of green, does anyone know where I can buy edible lavender flowers?