For those shivering under the grey weight of a northern winter, with all the storm-tossed drama that now seems to imply, May feels rightly like a new beginning; a time to throw off those thermals for good, unfold the garden furniture and perhaps even dare to slap on some suncream.
May Day was marked by our Celtic forebears on these islands as Beltane, a fire festival celebrating the fertility of the land and the harvest to come that still burns bright in some parts. In the kitchen too, it's an exciting time. Despite the signs of new life springing all around us from February onwards – the snowdrops and daffodils, new lambs and fledgelings – the seasons can be frustratingly slow to turn for the impatient cook.
March and April are traditionally known as 'the hungry gap' for good reason; their main crop is chocolate. The first shoots of hope are, appropriately enough, asparagus spears, which traditionally start to push their way on to our shelves on St George's Day – if you've already had your fill of them simply dipped in melted butter and salt, then they're also delicious paired with creamy cheeses, smoked fish or meat, or stirred into softly scrambled eggs; anything that allows their grassy flavour to shine.
The other harbingers of warmer weather to come, of course, are new potatoes; startlingly creamy compared to the fluffy flour bombs that have kept us warm all winter, and all the more welcome now that salads are finally back on the menu. Pair with lightly steamed asparagus, a piece of poached trout and a dollop of tangy hollandaise and feel the sunshine seep back into your soul.
May is the month, however, when after this restrained start, Mother Nature goes truly wild, throwing out new ingredients with merry abundance. Salads such as rocket, radish and beetroot can't help but suggest big colourful crunchy platters to serve with nothing more complicated than a hunk of bread and a drizzle of oil, though this is also the perfect time to enjoy the delicate flavour of the brown crabs which scuttle quietly around our coastlines growing plump and sweet. Simply dressed with mayonnaise, they turn such a meal into a feast.
They also pair well with the first, fingernail-sized broad beans, small enough to eat raw and whole before they develop their tough outer skins; patiently popping them from their fleecy sacks, or tackling a bowl of bulging pea pods is one of the chief joys of early summer for me. A glass of homemade elderflower cordial (gather the lacy flowers while you still can!) makes the task even sweeter, especially diluted with a splash of crémant.
Once you've finished, raise a toast to what's to come in the weeks ahead; cherries, currants and berries, artichokes, wet garlic and fennel, French and runner beans as well as tomatoes, courgettes and all manner of more Mediterranean treats, the soft, perfumed pleasures of peaches and apricots included. Summer may have taken its time coming, but such treasures are well worth waiting for.