It's magic in the veg patch at the moment. Actual magic. Every time you visit something new is sprouting. It's a time for firsts: first batch of green beans, first bowl of strawberries, first purple-podded peas, first courgette (though after last year's un-scalable courgette mountain I meet that one with a certain amount of trepidation).
At this time of year I'm reminded why I grow. It's not just the satisfaction of having grown your own dinner, though this isn't to be underestimated. What really gets me is the almost magical transformation from unassuming, lifeless, little seed to gargantuan, galumphing, great plant drooping under the weight of its harvest. It's a kind of alchemy. And I marvel at it every time.
For me, this sense of wonder never wains no matter how many years I grow. And I find it hugely restorative. Therapeutic, in fact. Life has been taking up a lot of time lately. You know, those months where you're mad busy but don't seem to be getting anywhere, when things go annoyingly awry all at once. When it's too hectic to think about supper and you live off cereal and omelettes all week (that's a bad week in our house). Nothing catastrophic, but just enough to make life feel a bit like wading through treacle.
My first line of defence against this feeling is vegetables. And I highly recommend it. I beetle up to the veg patch, as I did only the other day, for an hour's weeding, tidying, picking, tying in, digging up and I'm back on an even keel. Mr G&G calls it 'communing with the vegetables' and he's quite right, they're great listeners (metaphorically obviously, I haven't gone quite so cuckoo as to actually talk to them... yet). Seeing the veg, and even the weeds, come and go, grow and change with nature's constant, unwavering clock is perhaps the most calming and comforting thing I have ever experienced. (On a par, I think, with dogs.)
Similarly restorative is eating your harvest. Not just because it's healthy grub (can't not be, can it? Not with all that veg), but also because of the phenomenal sense of achievement: from a few seeds, I conjured up this meal. It's miraculous.
This week, having spent the afternoon in the patch getting my hands grubby (this part is important, you have to get down on your hands and knees with the soil, the bugs and seedlings to feel the allotment's full healing effects), I ambled back to the kitchen laden with a harvest of firsts - first broad beans, first peas, first cucumber, first green beans, nearly first mange tout, certainly not first herbs - and set about cooking supper.
This first proper summer harvest supper is a landmark in my year and it mostly arrives around the Summer Solstice. The first time you can make a whole meal using only your home-grown produce is akin to the moment you realised you could ride a bike or passed your driving test - you are free, self-sufficient, the master of your own destiny, un-shackled from the powers that be and making your own way. Vegetables, they're pretty revolutionary stuff.
Anyway, my point is that it is never just a bucket of muddy veg from the patch. It's nature's way of fishing you out of the treacle, giving you a good nutritious meal and setting you back on the right path.
Well, it's hungry work all this eulogising, so let's get on with it. Here's what I made last night for our first summer harvest supper:
Herby Bean, Broccoli And Spinach Salad With Baked Goats Cheese
2 small rind washed English goats cheeses
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
Handful broad beans, podded
Handful green beans, trimmed
Handful fresh peas, podded
2 spring onions
Handful herbs (mint, parsley, chives, basil)
Handful baby spinach leaves
Approx. 4 tbsp olive oil
½ lemon, juiced
½ tsp runny honey
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 180oC. Sit the goats cheeses on a tray and bake them in the oven for 10-15 minutes. The rind will stay the same, but the centre will go all goey.
Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and set a steamer on top. Steam the broccoli for 2 minutes then pop the broad beans, green beans, peas and mangetout into the water, set the steamer back on top and boil/steam the veg for a further 2 minutes. You want everything just cooked and still with a little bite. Drain everything and rinse under cold water to stop it cooking further. Pat dry and transfer to a large bowl.
Chop the spring onions and herbs and add them to the bowl together with the spinach leaves.
In a small jar, mix the olive oil, lemon juice and honey until combined and season to taste.
Pour this dressing over the beany mixture and toss it all together.
Remove the cheese from the oven and serve it in the middle of a plate with your home-grown greens around it. Best eaten in the garden.