1 April 2015

What's in season in April

April is one of my favourite months. In part this may be because it is the month of my birthday (although the thought of being a year older is much less attractive these days than when I was a child). But mostly because it is spring. Plants are covered in the first flush of new green leaves, bulbs are out, and the birds are singing. In the veg plot, April is more about sowing and planting than harvesting. Most of the veg that can be picked in April is either from plants that were sown the previous year, such as spring cabbages, or perennials, like asparagus. It is a great time of year to get out into the countryside, and there are various wild foodstuffs that are worth foraging.

In the veg garden

Swiss chard
The vegetable highlight of April for me has to be asparagus. Asparagus is shipped to the UK all year round, but nothing beats the taste of English asparagus. I have planted out an asparagus bed this year (of which more in a subsequent post), but will have to be patient for a couple of years before I can actually pick any. Asparagus is delicious steamed or poached with hollandaise or vinaigrette, but for something slightly different, try my recipe for asparagus fritto misto

Other vegetables in season are purple sprouting broccoli, which is one of my favourite brassicas, spring cabbage and Swiss chard, all of which will have been over-wintered. Sorrel, with its sharp citrus flavour, should also be ready to pick. It is lovely with fish or in salad. April is usually too early to harvest anything you have sown this year, unless you have a heated greenhouse, but in mild winters I have made a late-February sowing of radish seed, and have made my first harvest in late April. English rhubarb should be available in April, and is great in crumbles, pies and other desserts.

In the herb garden

Perennial soft herbs such as chives and mint start putting on new growth once the weather warms up, and you should be able to make your first pickings in April. The spring leaves are usually softer and less pungent than later in the year, and in moderation make a good addition to a salad. This is the case even with relatively punchy herbs like sage, marjoram and oregano. It is worth taking care not to over-pick herbs at this time of year. They need some new growth to recover from their dormancy over winter.

In the countryside

Wild garlic is perhaps the most glamorous of the foraged foods available in April. It can sometimes be found in abundance in woodlands during spring. Its pungent garlic smell gives it away, and you will often smell it before you see it. Much less glamorous, but even more profligate are stinging nettles. Nettles are best in spring, as their leaves become hairy and unpleasant by summer. Do pick them with gloves. The young leaves can be cooked like spinach or made into soup. I have recently been picking ground elder, which has a mild, celery-like flavour. Dandelion leaves, which have a bitter flavour, a bit like chicory, make a good salad leaf, or can be blanched. Like nettles, ground elder and dandelion leaves are also best in spring. As always with foraging, never eat anything that you haven’t identified with certainty, and avoid picking plants from the side of footpaths that are at the height at which a male dog can pee. Because if it can, you can bet one will have done...

Ground elder

For fungi lovers, there are two mushrooms worth looking out for in April: Morels and the St George’s mushroom. Morels look a bit like a spongy coral. They can be bought dried all year round from Italian delicatessens, but are in season in spring. Although really a woodland mushroom, they can sometimes be found growing in municipal flowerbeds that have been mulched with leaf mould or bark chips. The St George’s mushroom grows on chalk uplands, and has a pleasant mild flavour. It traditionally appears on or around St George’s day (23 April), hence its name.


Lots of people get excited about chocolate eggs at Easter. For me it is all about the hot-cross buns. For a Cornish twist, I like to add a little saffron to make saffron hot-cross buns.

saffron hot-cross buns

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