The foods of May mean we’re firmly in spring and en route to summer… with bright, bold, fragrant and foraged finds joyfully taking over our larders and our menus. Find our list of favourite May ingredients and recipe suggestions below for inspired seasonal cooking.
With a bold, bright-orange yolk, encased in a pretty, turquoise-green speckled shell, gull’s eggs are really something. Extremely precious, gull’s eggs are available in the UK for only 3-6 weeks, ending in May, with only one egg being allowed to harvest per nest, in their homes around England’s coasts and wetlands.
Boasting a creamy, rich taste that packs more punch than a hen’s egg, they are a favourite among seasonally inspired chefs. Try them traditionally soft boiled so you can enjoy the rich, yellow yolks, dipped into homemade mayonnaise or celery salt (partners well with asparagus too), or with Jersey Royals, poached pink and flaked wild salmon for a luxurious elegant spring first course or light lunch, or try devilled softly boiled gull’s eggs: remove the yolks, retaining the white halves, then sieve the yolks into a food processor and blend with good proprietary mayonnaise and creme fraîche. Then season with Dijon mustard, sea salt and a pinch of cayenne, and add some freshly snipped chives and chervil and pipe back into the gull’s egg white halves.
A fragrant symbol of summer, elderflower is in plentiful supply throughout British hedgerows, where it grows feverishly. With flat heads bursting with clusters of small white flowers, it’s easy to spot, and is a favourite foraging find throughout the UK.
Floral and fragrant, try deep frying in iced sparkling water and flour batter, dust with caster sugar and serve with an elderflower champagne cocktail, or churn elderflower cordial into Jersey cream and milk ice cream, and scoop into sundae glasses, then top with warm poached gooseberries and a flourish of elderflower fritters, or use to add spring floral notes to rhubarb, strawberries, in jellies, fools and panna cottas.
Tall and dark green with long blades of leaves not dissimilar to those on celery, lovage is a plant that has been quietly loved for centuries, and is often used much like parsley. With a flavour reminiscent of celery and parsley, lovage also gives a hint of savoury, anise-like flavour that can thrillingly bring to life meats, stocks and sauces – though use with a light hand, as the lovage hit can be intense.
With chicken stock, potatoes and parsley it makes a fine soup, topped with crunchy croutons and a swirl of Jersey cream, or try chopped into a salsa verde with, parsley, rocket, tarragon, capers, anchovy, crushed garlic, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and extra virgin olive oil, or to anoint a piece of grilled fish, perk up a grilled pork or spring lamb cutlets, or use as a perfect pairing with blue cheese: blitz with sour cream and gorgonzola and serve with sea-salt baked tiny new potatoes to dip.
St George’s Mushrooms
These curious wild mushrooms come into season on St. George’s Day, which is where they got their name. Small but rather heavy, and with a thick white-cream stem and top, these mushrooms are exclusive to April and May in the UK.
Giving a pure and powerful mushroom flavour, these little beauties are great pickled with olive oil, sherry vinegar, black peppercorns, garlic and salt, and served with a lush chicken liver parfait and toast, or with grilled white and green asparagus with a pickled St George’s mushroom vinaigrette. Or, for a pot roast that’s brimming with spring, slow braise with rabbit, cider and cream and serve with buttered Jersey Royals.
With a look like a cross between a seaweed and a cabbage, sea kale is a stunning vegetable – with flower buds and leaves a deep green and crimson-purple. Traditionally valued for its high Vitamin-C content, the whole plant can be eaten: roots, shoots, flower buds, leaves and all.
With a taste similar to asparagus, it can be treated much the same. Best known for its tender, blanched ivory shoots, serve with melted butter to highlight the slight nutty, subtle, sweet and salty back notes. Alternatively, pan fry pancetta lardons until crisp, adding a splash of white wine and clams, then cover until clams open and cook, then tumble with blanched shoots, or try steamed with wild garlic hollandaise and poached egg for an uplifting springtime brunch.
With firm and crisp pods and kidney-shaped pale green beans, broad beans are a sweet, springtime marvel, and when they are young and in their pods they can be enjoyed whole: perfect with a wedge of pecorino and a chilled glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
Further into the season, as they get bigger there is something therapeutic about double podding, popping the emerald green bean from its jacket after it has been blanched. I love adding broad beans to one of my favourite spring dishes: Roman vignole with slow-braised artichokes, asparagus and peas. Also try crushing double-podded broad beans with olive oil, and seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and finely chopped mint, then piling onto bruschetta and top with stracciatella – perfetto.
A most beguiling shellfish, razor clams can be gathered from beaches across the UK – if you ever get the chance to go razor-clamming and catch these creatures as they squirm out of their sand beds, do – there is nothing quite like it!
Long and thin and wedged between two rectangular shells, spring and summer is their time to shine. To cook, serve simply by steaming and pairing with wild-garlic butter, or dress up by sautéeing with garlic, parma ham, shallots, double-podded broad beans and a splash of sherry vinegar – finishing with finely chopped parsley and plenty of bread to mop up the juices. Or for a Thai take, sautée with sunflower oil, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and chillies in a covered pan for 2-3 minutes until opened and cooked, then add a shake of fish sauce, chopped coriander and a squeeze of lime to finish.
Treasured for their thin, delicate skins and firm texture, Jersey Royals are a springtime favourite for pairing with roasts and championing in seasonal salads. Hailing from the beaches of Jersey, earlier in the season the potatoes tend to be smaller and give a more delicate flavour, while later on they are bigger and give a more robust taste.
Try baking wrapped in parchment with wet garlic cloves, butter and vermouth, or boil until cooked, then cool, crush slightly and roast in olive oil, sage and rosemary until crisp, and season with smoked sea salt and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar. Or serve warm in a salad with smoked eel, crisp streaky bacon, watercress and horseradish.
Any allotment enthusiast will know, courgettes are the crop that just keep giving. In plentiful supply in Britain during the spring and summer time, they are at their finest when slim, as they are lovely and crisp and give a subtly sweet, slightly nutty taste. Packed with vitamins, potassium and fibres, courgettes are good for you too, and with their high water content they make sure you stay refreshed and hydrated as the weather gets warmer.
Slice young courgettes into ribbons with a potato peeler into a bowl add finely chopped marjoram and mint, then season with sea salt and dress with sherry vinegar, fresh orange juice and extra virgin olive oil. Or braise whole courgettes with St. George’s mushrooms and cream, and when cooked through tumble with wild garlic leaves, or slow cook small courgettes whole in a heavy bottomed covered casserole with water, plenty of olive oil and whole garlic cloves until soft, then dress warm with fresh lemon juice, more olive oil, plenty of chopped mint and crumbled feta, and eat with warm grilled flatbread.