Tips for Getting Past the Hunger Gap

Birgitta's Tagliatelle, Burren smokehouse, Co. Clare

Between January and May, when winter crops run out and early summer crops have not yet begun, we suffer every year from what’s called The Hunger Gap or the Hungry Gap. It’s a term for when there is very little fresh produce available from the fields or vegetable garden. Winter cabbages and brussel sprouts have long gone. Kale survives because of the advent of tunnels. There’s hardly a salad leaf to be seen. 

Main crop potatoes like Roosters and Kerr Pinks are coming to an end, certainly not at their best now as the last of them are last year’s crops, preserved in cold storage. You’ll notice in Ireland that when the first new potatoes appear, everyone gives a huge psychological sigh of relief, as this heralds the start of the growing season proper. New potatoes are a significant crop in Ireland, providing a big mental signal that there will be food on the table again for another few months. 

Potatoes

The new potato represents a historical symbol which dates back to the times of the Great Hunger of the Irish famine, when potato crops failed and many died as a result. 

In the modern day, we are lucky to have a plentiful harvest of diverse crops each summer. Traditional farmers provide us with field crops like carrots, leeks and new spuds. 

Smallholders and market gardeners experiment with all sorts of beans, peas, tomatoes, salad crops, courgettes, peppers, chilli and even aubergines and other exotics

Home grown soft berries and stone fruit will be coming on stream at the height of summer. Lots to look forward to! A walk around any farmer’s market in the summer months will yield a basket of beautiful home grown produce of all shapes and sizes. But that’s a way off yet, so what do we do in between?

Farmers Markets, Ireland

FILLING THE HUNGER GAP

We are crossing the bridge between seasons in growing terms, and also in weather terms. A few warm days are beginning to kick in, but you’ll still get the nip in the air as the sun goes down. Our taste for food changes as soon as we see the sun. Our brains kick into summer mode and we crave lighter tastes. But we still need sustenance to go with it. 

By May, we should be seeing the first of the early crops from tunnels and greenhouses. From then on, it’s all systems go in the garden as our time of plenty arrives!  In the meantime, some summer flavours in filling dishes and salads make the transition between seasons a pleasant experience. 

Here are a few dishes from our recipe listings that will certainly help make the Hunger Gap go quicker. 

There is a lot of fish around right now, in great condition from the cold Irish waters. Fresh fish certainly makes a huge contribution to adding the feeling of bounty to the Hunger Gap. 

Try the delicious Italian Spaghetti Vongole from Toscana Restaurant in Dublin – made with clams but you can use mussels if you find clams hard to get. 

 

Also dig into Birgitta’s Tagliatelle with Burren Smoked Salmon – a light tasting dish but very filling when you need a nourishing meal inside you! 

Spaghetti Vongole - Toscana Restaurant

Introduce some exotic flavours to this time of year with Moroccan Spiced Lamb Meatballs. Lamb is the meat of the season and plentiful now. 

 

For some ‘get up and go’ in a bowl, try Tara Walker’s Superfood Smoked Chicken, Quinoa and Bulgar Salad – straight from the East Coast Cookery School repertoire! 

Superfood Smoked Chicken, Quinoa and Bulgar Salad, East Coast Cookery School

Chicken is a great meat for this time of year too. Always try to buy the best free range chicken you can get your hands on. Then set about making the wonderful subtly spiced Middle Eastern Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds for some seriously sunny flavours, or take yourself into magical South Asia with Old Delhi Style Butter Chicken from Ananda Restaurant. 

Old Delhi Style Butter Chicken, Ananda Restaurant

The secret with the Hunger Gap is to eat food which nourishes and makes you feel good, using pulses and beans to fill the lack of fresh vegetables. This is real seasonal eating, being mindful of using what's available. Pretty soon, we will be reaping a delicious harvest from our dedicated growers, as the sun hits a high point in the sky. Roll on summer! 

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