I love spring. It’s one of the most vibrant times of year for local food. Here at my restaurant, La Bécasse, in Ludlow, we are inundated with great produce.
One of my favourite ingredients is peas. I love fresh, sweet, bright green peas. And I love the small pea shoots that chefs also harvest at this time of year: they make a brilliant garnish and are packed with delicious flavour.
As a chef, I get to visit a lot of local producers and one of my favourites is Debbie Bakewell, at Charlton Farm, near Kidderminster.
They produce duck in a traditional way, focusing on rearing the birds naturally. At a few days old, the ducks are kept in a warm barn, but are allowed to wander outside once they are used to cooler temperatures. The ducks are fed on a wholesome, natural, cereal based, additive-free diet which includes their own, homeproduced wheat. The birds are processed on their farm using time honoured methods. They are dry plucked and hung before being dressed which all helps with the quality and flavour.
One of the delights of meeting people like Debbie is that I find out what else they do.
One year, they started grow peas, broad beans and courgettes, to help support their duck farm. The local pigeons found out about this and would gorge themselves silly on the plump green peas. So the farm started to cull some of the pigeons to protect their crops. The pigeons, incidentally, tasted delicious.
Not everybody has the opportunity to buy fresh peas and I’m not afraid to say I’m a huge fan of the frozen variety too. If peas are picked and frozen within 20 minutes or so, then when you defrost them you have effectively got a completely fresh pea, which is packed with natural flavour.
As a commis chef, 15 years ago, I worked in kitchens where we got boxes and boxes of fresh peas and broad beans. We’d have to pop the peas and broad beans out of their pods, but then we’d have to take the small husk from the peas and broad beans, which would take hours. Our head chef wouldn’t let us go home until they were done.
If you have an allotment, or a garden, I’d strongly recommend growing peas and broad beans. Make sure you eat the shoots and fronts and flowers too – they are all edible and will make your food looking stunning, as well as tasting great.