||May is a difficult time for vegetables on my Scottish allotment. The winter hardy roots and brassicas are pretty well over and the summer vegetables have germinated but are nowhere near ready to harvest. However it is a different story for the perennial herbs, which are really getting going, and some of which already need regular picking just to keep them under control. Many herbs are a rich source of vitamin C and in the old days in Scotland and the north of England they would cook a savoury barley pudding at this time of year, made from barley liberally mixed with the edible herbs in season including sorrel, young nettles and wild polygonum from the hedgerow, bound with an egg and boiled in a cloth for several hours. It was meant ‘to clear the blood’, presumably a euphemism for curing the first symptoms of scurvy. Herbs can make simple dishes taste really special. One of my favourite quick and easy meals is an omelette with lots of chives and a little parsley mixed in with the egg, filled with grated cheese and served with crusty fresh bread.
Sorrel is a very popular herb in continental Europe, but less usual in the UK, which is strange because it grows very easily. It can be added raw (in small quantities) to a salad or is cooked rather like spinach – wash the leaves and put them in a saucepan, add no water but start cooking very slowly and the sorrel gives out water and rapidly reduces to a puree. The puree can be easily frozen in ice cube trays for later use. Sorrel has a sharp lemony flavour and so can lift an otherwise bland dish, for example try adding a couple of handfuls of sorrel to a standard leek and potato soup. In Germany they frequently add it to mashed potato. Sorrel makes a wonderful flavouring in sauces for fish (particularly grilled salmon) or grilled chicken breast. The recipe from Normandy given here is my absolute favourite, it is not at all slimming but just tell yourself that after all the work you’ve done growing the stuff – You’re Worth It!
Sauce a l’Oseille
Take a couple of handfuls of sorrel, cut off the course stems and reduce to a puree as described above. Bring 1/2 pt of single cream to the boil, and stir in the sorrel puree off the heat. Add a little salt to taste if you really have to.