Jersey Royals on sale at the Moor Market

I once went to Jersey on a Press trip in the early spring and as I left they gave me a present: a small box of Jersey Royals early potatoes. That’s how much spuds mean to the island, which exports up to 40,000 tonnes a year to the UK.

In this country we have lost the thrill of seasonality. When you can buy asparagus all year round getting the first home-grown from Lincolnshire or Norfolk loses a little of its sparkle. It still tastes far better than the stalks which travel thousands of miles from Peru. And it’s the same with strawberries.

But so far no one has managed to equal the early crop Jersey new potatoes. Majorcan or Cornish run them close but there’s something about a Jersey that sets it apart. So much so that I’m prepared to pay sometimes ridiculous prices for the first of the first. It’s a treat. And then you see the prices tumble in succeeding weeks!

They are special because of the soil, enriched by fertiliser from the seaweed on the island’s beaches. I reckons I can taste the faint briny tang. And because some of the 7,300 acres of potato fields are on steep slopes, many are picked by hand.

They were £2.50 a pound on the only stall selling them in Sheffield’s Moor Market so I bought a pound, and ten minutes later was miffed to find them on sale at Sharp’s around the corner  at £1.99. The more expensive spuds were OK, the Sharp’s, which I bought a couple of days later, were  better.

Never scrape a Jersey. They just need a wash. And don’t worry about cooking too many, they make excellent potato salad or sauté potatoes.

It’s this same desire for seasonality which sends me out to the woods at this time of year to collect wild garlic. The taste from this year’s pesto (made with cashew nuts not pine nuts) was terrific. And I have also cooked the leaves like spinach with butter and salt but do take the stalks off first.

Pickled rhubarb


Rhubarb pickles very easily

When I was a kid we had a stick of rhubarb and a bowl of sugar for a treat. It was dab, bite, wince, smile as the sourness of the rhubarb invaded your mouth, relieved by the sweetness of the sugar. I’ve tried this on following generations and they’re not having it. Perhaps pleasures were simpler then. My parents might also have been ensuring we were ‘regular’ on our bulky Fifties diet as rhubarb is a laxative.

I can dimly remember fragments of a playground chant about being hitting on the head with a rhubarb stick while rhubarb and custard was a teatime staple.

Since then I’ve always had a love for rhubarb, for culinary and medical reasons. Not just in crumbles: I love it cold with yoghurt or with my granola. It can be a bugger to cook. Take your eye off the ball and it becomes a puree although that’s not a disaster. Stir it into your yoghurt. I find the best way is to do it gently on the stove in a single layer in a pan, sprinkled with sugar and a little orange juice and sliced fresh ginger, with a greaseproof paper ‘cap’ pressed down to help it steam.

It’s only lately that I’ve started pickling it. You can pickle almost everything, and I have done over the years, but had never thought of pickling rhubarb (although I once made a rhubarb chutney which took years to become edible) until I saw a picture on Twitter. It’s recommended to pair with oily fish but I’ve found it works equally well with cheese and meat.

What’s even better is that there is no ‘cooking’ involved, apart from heating up the pickling solution. It can be done in minutes.

The rhubarb is crisp while the chilli and ginger gives it zing. Strange as it may seem, the phrase ‘palate cleanser’ comes to mind when I eat it. My recipe promised results after two days but I reckon two to three weeks is needed to get the right amount of crunch and pickle. I expect it will soften over time but it’s the crunch you want.

I’ve nicked this recipe from Valeria (www.mylifelovefood.com) found on the Daily Telegraph. Note: I did not have any dried chilli so used a bit of fresh. The quantity given might make the pickle too hot for some (and me) so cut it down if you like.

500g rhubarb (4 large stalks)
2 tsp peppercorns
½ tsp cloves
1 tbsp sliced fresh ginger
3 bay leaves
2 dry red chillies
250ml cider vinegar
250ml water
200g caster sugar
½ tsp fine grain salt

Sterilise two one pint jars. Rinse rhubarb and cut into 2cm long pieces. Pack them into the two jars. Divide the spices between the two jars.

In a saucepan, combine the cider vinegar, water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil to dissolve. As soon as the pickling liquid is boiling pour it into the jars until the liquid covers the rhubarb pieces. Close immediately with the sterilised lids. Cool.

The recipe advises storing in the fridge but we’re pickling so it’s not needed. Best to do so when you open the jar, though.

COOK’S TIP: Make sure your stalks are all of similar width.