It has been a rather unusual weather week. Most mornings started with frost, icy water buckets, and gloved windscreen scraping. Then fierce daytime sunshine took over and our winter coats were swiftly replaced with t-shirts and sunglasses. As night descended, so did the temperature, which meant lighting the log burners remained essential in our stone cottage with its broken boiler and draughty windows. We warmed ourselves in front of the flames while rubbing aftersun on our noses. Bizarre, stunningly beautiful weather, with the deeply worrying undertone that it could be attributed to climate change.
And so spring seems to have arrived early. The streamside daffodils have already begun to flower, along with the rest of the spring bulbs. The pair of wild mandarin ducks and trio of mallards have appeared on the stream (they return here every spring, and leave at the end of summer). Dozy bumblebees have emerged from hibernation and awkwardly negotiate the flowerbeds, butterflies dance amongst the trees, and even the odd bat has awoken and can be seen swooping through the orchard at dusk.
We are a little behind with our winter task list and there is much to do this weekend. There is one more hedgerow to cut and a few apple trees to finish pruning. The fruit cage needs mulching with chipped hedge trimmings. There is fencing to be ordered and installed, and wood to cut. There is almost always wood to cut. Or chop. Or stack. Another raised bed needs to be built and filled with the remainder of lasts year’s compost delivery before it disappears into the orchard floor and becomes overrun by the pesky creeping buttercups and hairy yellow nettle roots. Plus we need to finish the vegetable growing plan for the year and order some seeds.
But first, breakfast. As is always the case during the inbetweeny winter-spring period, we are heavily reliant on our store cupboard jars and freezer boxes of squirrelled harvests from seasons past. Thankfully the veg patch is helping to keep us ticking over with some fresh greenery: winter salad leaves, kale, the occasional handful of Brussels sprouts, and rainbow chard. If we could only grow one plant in the vegetable garden, chard would be a top contender – every year just a couple of colourful rows have provided a steady supply of cut and come again leaves right up until it is time to start sowing again the following spring. They are a joyful sight in the raised bed with their bright stems of ruby, pink, and gold.
We snip a big bunch of chard, stop off at the hen house to collect two warm, freshly laid eggs from the nest box, and pick a few of the delicate lavender-blue flowers from the rosemary bush by the garden path. The chard (both leaves and stems) is washed and finely shredded, then quickly fried until it is cooked, but still holding a little bite. Alongside it in the pan is a tiny pinch of last summer’s dried chilli flakes, and a few of the bronze fennel seeds that were shaken off the plant and jarred on a warm autumn day last year. Then, once off the heat, we stir in a spoonful of tangy, sweet and sour wild garlic flowers, pickled last April, and season with smoked salt. The eggs are gently fried, and everything is tumbled onto sourdough toast and scattered with the rosemary flowers. Four seasons coming together on a plate.
Rainbow Chard with Fennel, Chilli, Wild Garlic and Rosemary
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 chicken eggs
- A tiny pinch of fennel seeds
- A tiny pinch of dried chilli flakes
- A large bunch of rainbow chard, finely shredded
- 1/2 tbsp pickled wild garlic flowers
- A pinch of smoked sea salt
- 2-4 slices of good quality sourdough bread
- Black pepper
- A few fresh rosemary flowers
Heat a generous glug of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Crack each of the eggs into the pan and gently fry until the whites are set and but the yolks are still nice and runny. Lift out of the pan and set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile lightly toast and butter the sourdough bread.
Using the same pan, turn the heat up to high and add the fennel seeds and chilli to the remaining oil. Fry for a minute or two until their flavours have begun to infuse the oil. Throw in the shredded rainbow chard and use some tongs to toss it around the pan and ensure it is all thinly coated in the oil. Once the chard is tender but still holding a little bite, take it off the heat and stir in the pickled wild garlic flowers. Season to taste with the smoked salt.
To serve, put 1-2 slices of sourdough toast on each plate, use the tongs to arrange the rainbow chard on top, add an egg to each plate along with a crack of black pepper and perhaps a little more salt, then scatter over the rosemary flowers.