Living with the seasons: March

There is a stirring underground. Sap rises, nature awakens and blossoms break forth. I pronounce winter over! Although the weather is still unpredictable, we will hopefully feel the days get warmer and longer. New life is emerging and we must celebrate the start of a new and fruitful year. 

Symbols of this time of year include the hare/rabbit and eggs, both now associated with the Christian festival of Easter. However, their origins go back to pre Christian times. Eggs are, as you can imagine, symbols of fertility and the rebirth of nature. The yolk and white is a symbol of balance, of male and female, of light and dark. This reflects the balance we see this month in an equinox, where day and night are equal lengths. This falls on the 20th March, when the sun will be directly over the earths equator. 

The hare, has always been a creature wrapped in folklore and myth. Did you know that is was commonly believed, in times gone, that witches could transform into hares. The hare is strongly associated with the moon and with the goddess Ostara (who is celebrated with the spring equinox). The image of a moon gazing hare goes back to ancient times and is a symbol of fertility, re-birth and abundance.

The full moon falls on the 9th this month and will be the second largest moon this year, with the largest super moon in April, so keep your eyes peeled for our furry friends gazing up at the moon. This months full moon is called the plough moon, perhaps because it allowed farmers to plough into night, lighting their way. Work outside begins in earnest this month. We must prepare the soil for sowing next month, put down compost and manure. Start sowing seeds undercover and, if you haven’t already, devise plans for this years garden. 

Let the foraging begin! This is an exciting time of year fo the keen forager! Ive been chomping at the bit for a month now, my nose on red alert of the smell of wild garlic in the woodland, I’ve been eyeing up birch trees to tap for sap – and now our moment is here! Let me say now, I love Garlic! Who doesn’t?… Well perhaps the people who have to smell it on my breath the next day. I say the best way to avoid awkward garlic breath is to make sure everyone around you is as garlicy as you – then no one can smell it, problem solved. Wild garlic, or ramsons, is a very exciting and abundant garlic friend. It’s a lover of shaded, damp places, among woodlands and near streams. You wont have any trouble finding or identifying it, as the strong smell of garlic proceeds it. The whole plant is edible, leaves, flowers and bulb! The best time to harvest is now, early on it its season when the leaves are small and delicate, but don’t worry if you don’t manage to grab some now, this plant has a long growing season and will be around for a few more months. My favourite thing to do with wild garlic is make pesto! God bless pesto! Take a couple of handfuls of wild garlic leaves and blend them with the juice of one lemon, some oily nuts (I like pine nuts or walnuts), a small handful of grated Parmesan, olive oil, salt and pepper. If you want to add other soft herbs like basil, parsley etc go for it! Wild garlic leaves can also be added to salad and stews and used much as you would spinach. The little white flowers made a pretty addition salads and have a mild garlic taste. 

Wild Garlic

Next on this months foraging menu is birch sap. Leave buying bottles of it, at extortionate prices from wholefood, to less savvy folks than you and I, as it is relative easy to harvest in large quantities. Around mid march the sap in birch trees begins to rise in preparation for the growing season. Find yourself a grove of birch trees, away from prying eyes. Don’t think about tapping any trees which trunks smaller than 30cm, as they are too young and you might damage the tree. Drill a small hole around 1.5 cm deep at waist height, if no sap flows, plug the hole (I’ll explain how in a moment) and try another tree. If after a couple of attempts and no luck, come back next week. If sap flows, fit a straw or tap into the hole. Strap a vessel (4 litres, would be a good size) to the trunk of the tree and feed the other end of the straw into it. Then you can leave it over night. In the morning your bucket should be full. Now for the most important bit – you must plug the hole you have made, otherwise the tree will continue to leak sap and this could kill the tree. To create a plug, I like to use a branch from the same tree. Using a pen knife whittle a plug just bigger than your hole and hammer in with a mallet. The sap you have collected will look and taste pretty much like water, with a hint of tree about it. Although the sap can be made into wine or syrup, I have never done either and simply have it as a refreshing and mineral rich drink. You can freeze the sap to drink all your round, however I see it as a symbol of spring and good health for the year ahead. 

This March, try and cook with seasonal veggies. In season are: Artichoke, Beetroot, Cabbage, Carrots, Chicory, Leeks, Parsnip, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Radishes, Rhubarb, Sorrel, Spring Greens, Spring Onions and Watercress. A special shout out to the purple sprouting broccoli! We were in the Farmers Market in Stroud on Saturday and the stalls were awash with this devious and beautiful broccoli. On the menus this week in our house is pasta with wild garlic pesto and purple sprouted broccoli.

Here in the UK last month was the wettest February on record and it felt like the rain and wind would never end. But as I’m writing this now the sun is shining outside, long may it continue! 

Happy march folks!  

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