Here’s a look at the food that’s in season this March in Ireland, from whiting to nettles and everything inbetween!
This month we are just on the verge of the start of the growing season in earnest. We are in a period where there is much to look forward to in seasonal fresh produce, but it hasn’t happened quite yet. The anticipation is huge!
St Patrick’s Day on 17th March traditionally heralds the time when ground is prepared for planting potatoes. Depending on the weather, soil will be tilled and drills dug ready for the spuds to go in. The start of this year has been so wet the planting may be delayed. And if it suddenly turns frosty, ground will be too hard to till. For every farmer this time of year is about fine balance and being reliant on the weather!
In the beekeeper’s diary, St. Patrick’s Day is the day when bees are fed after the winter. They are given a special sugar based food to wake them up after the cold spell, in order that their breeding cycle can start and they have energy to leave the hive to look for their own food on early blossoming shrubs.
Seashores are plentiful with edible seaweeds like sea lettuce floating in on the tide. Beachside rocks and sandy soils yield edible plants like sea radish, scurvy grass and sea purslane. Check out our blog on the subject of seashore foraging with JP McMahon of Aniar. He tells us where to find what and how to treat it in the kitchen!
On dry land, the start of the wild nettle season is upon us also toward the end of this month. The minute there’s a bit of heat in the sun you’ll find young nettle shoots popping up all over the place. It’s best to let the growing season take hold before picking. And when you do pick, take just the young nettle tops which keeps the roots there and allows the patch to thrive for an extended growing season. Nettles make great soup, with a mineral and vitamin content like spinach and similar flavour, but a little more ‘green’. Nettle tea is also a very healthy drink, full of the minerals of these wild plants.
In the fields, you’ll find carrots and parsnips and perhaps Irish cauliflower in some regions. Young spring cabbage is excellent at this time of year. Find out how Paul Flynn of The Tannery treats young greens in his Trick of the Trade blog. Polytunnel growers do have some mixed salad leaves and oriental spicy leaf mixes, available in good food shops, farm shops and in the farmer’s markets.
Lamb is the meat of the season, with the new spring lamb coming through in time for Easter. It may be in shorter supply though as Easter falls so early this year on 27th March. Make sure you order yours from your butcher well in advance so you’re not disappointed on the day. Leg of lamb makes a great Easter Sunday Roast. But cheaper cuts like whole shoulder are also good for slow roasting.
Cold waters mean good quality fish. Whiting is the most economical in white fish right now, coming in at around €8.50 per kg in fish shops near the coast, and a little more expensive inland. Big whiting fillets are superb for pan frying, skin side down, with just a little butter and seasoning. You can also coat in batter and deep fry for brilliant fish and chips.