How wonderful to see the delicate damson blossom coming to life – fingers crossed that the bees will do their work and the blossom set to form fruit without a nip of frost. I always long for a good damson crop and yet there is that little guilty secret that there are still damsons waiting to be processed in the freezer from last year. In honesty there are only so many damsons that can be used. My favourite recipes are damson gin, ice cream and jam. But more about those come autumn let’s focus on the spring…
Just as wonderful as the sight of the damson blossom are the first fresh light green leaves of lovage( levisticum officinale) as they emerge out of the soil. It’s a real sign of spring and one of the first perennial herbs to appear. It’s hard to believe that the cluster of fresh leaves will quickly turn into the more than 2m high giant that dominates the back of the herb bed.I have two lovage plants growing within 3m of each other- one that starts with bronze tinged leaves and the other a darker green. After a month or two it is almost as if they are competing to see who can dominateand by mid August they are towering above everything else even the neighbouring elecampane.
Lovage has a very distinctive celery like smell and flavour and is one of those ingredients that must be used with caution or it completely takes over. It is rarely grown and I wonder is that due to its size or to the power of its flavour as a little goes a long way. But as with most things in life it is wonderful in moderation and can be used in stocks, stews and soups instead of celery.
In my enthusiasm for using green produce as they appear at this time of year I always make lovage soup. My version is simply adding a few finely chopped leaves to a basic carrot, onion and potato soup made with a good (preferably chicken) stock whizzing it and adding a little swirl of cream on top as I serve it. I think it is the essence of spring capturing all that fresh green goodness that is bursting forth in the garden into your bowl. Unfortunately the rest of the house just roll their eyes and say ‘here she goes again – it will be nettle soup next.’ But I draw the line at making nettle soup – I do like it but find the smell of cooking nettles puts me off so my family are safe for another year!
Once again this year I vow to try and use more lovage as I make stocks, soups and stews. I should investigate its deodorizing and antiseptic properties by infusing a few leaves in my bath – it may well help with achy post gardening bones . Or maybe I will put the leaves in my shoes to revive my weary feet just like the travellers in the Middle Ages.