I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth 1802
I have always loved this wonderful, timeless poem by William Wordsworth. Although it was written over two hundred years ago it still so perfectly describes the gleeful mood evoked by the arrival of the spring in England. The last months of the winter always feel like the longest of the year; an eternity of short days, grey skies and bone-chilling temperatures. Gradually, little by little and flower by flower, we inch our way towards spring. Each year, my anticipation of the appearance of the first Snowdrops becomes keener. They are so delicate and yet so bold as they force their way up through the snow-covered landscape, and this is the first sure sign that spring is, at last, on its way.
Next come the Crocuses in beautiful swathes of purple fading to lavender and then becoming blue. They are complemented and contrasted by others in vibrant orange which fades to yellow to cream and then to white, all with cheery, smiling yellow centres.
Final confirmation that the winter has been eclipsed by the spring, comes with the arrival of the Daffodils, which is why I love them so much! They come in many shapes and sizes, but are unmistakable with their trumpet centres, delicate scent and in colours ranging from bright canary yellow to a creamy golden hue and white as well. When I first came to live in England, I arrived in early April and I was spell-bound by the bold and joyous statement that they make on the landscape, as it awakes from the bleakness of the winter.
Having also lived in Africa, The Middle East and America, I can say with great certainty that nothing comes anywhere near to the beauty of the spring in England! Where I grew up in South Africa, the horizon was wide, the skies were often blue, the weather was mostly warm, the colours seemed to be muted by the brightness of the sun and the seasonal variation was not very marked. Similarly, in California, the climate is very kind, the sun shines year-round and there is not a season where the days are short and the gardens are lacking in colour. In the Middle East, with its desert landscape devoid of natural greenery, scorching temperatures and almost complete absence of rainfall there is no way to determine when one season ends and the next begins. Here in England, each season brings with it such distinct differences that as we move from one to the next our daily lifestyle changes.
The English summer, to me, means asparagus, strawberries and cream, punting on the river in Oxford and long days in the garden, with the sun not setting until 9:30 pm. In the autumn (the fall) the days start to draw in, children delight in scuffling through all the fallen leaves, we pick blackberries from the hedgerows and make wonderful warming puddings like blackberry and apple crumble, and we replenish our log piles ready for the winter. When the journey to school in the morning is in the dark and the journey home from school, in the latter part of the afternoon, is also in the dark, we know that winter is fully upon us. At the weekends we pull on our wellies for bracing walks in the soggy countryside and come home to hearty, warming casseroles and cosy log fires. What keeps us all going is the anticipation of the arrival of the spring with its myriad of gorgeously vibrant colours, new leaves on the trees and a gradual reappearance of the sun for a little longer each day. Wholesome winter fare gives way to lighter meals embracing the new season’s produce; baby new potatoes, watercress, spring onions, purple sprouting broccoli, and spring lamb are some of the first treats to look forward to, and they are a welcome contrast to all the winter root vegetables!
During my time as a royal chef, the highlight of my year was watching the spring arrive in the gardens at Highgrove. Not only were there stunningly beautiful formal and informal flower gardens but there was also the most amazing walled garden, tended by the most devoted and passionate gardener you could hope to meet. Dennis toiled from dawn to dusk and then went home to continue working in his own garden. His weekends were spent travelling to shows where he exhibited produce from his own vegetable patch, and no other gardener from miles around ever got a look in when it came to winning the ‘best in show’ prizes! I spent many a happy hour listening to wonderful tales from his six decades of gardening, as we picked berries, plums or runner beans together. For the most part he would deliver the fruit and vegetables to the kitchen by wheelbarrow. They would always be in an old willow basket and presented as if they were an exhibit for a show. I loved his baby carrots most of all – washed and glistening, with gorgeous feathery tops and tied in bunches with real old-fashioned gardener’s twine. Each and every basket of produce was worthy of being immortalised by an artist, as a beautiful still life – I wish now that someone had done just that.
I would love to share one of my favourite spring recipes with you. It comes from my cookbook, The Royal Touch, and was one of Princess Diana’s favourite dishes. I used to make it using spring lamb (reared on the Highgrove estate) and Dennis’s amazing home-grown tomatoes and baby salad leaves. There was a corner of the garden where mint, of several varieties, used to run riot, and I remember picking handfuls of it to use in this salad. I hope you enjoy it and, as always, it’s fine to make substitutions if there are ingredients that you don’t have at hand!
SPRING LAMB SALAD
Lamb was a great favourite of HRH The Princess of Wales, especially when it was served with plenty of mint. This salad is quick to prepare and the lime and mint vinaigrette is deliciously tangy.
For the Mint Vinaigrette
30ml / 2 Tbsp lime juice
15ml / 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2,5ml / 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 small shallot
90ml / 6 Tbsp mild olive oil or grape seed oil
Salt, pepper and brown sugar
30ml / 2 Tbsp finely chopped mint
15ml / 1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
For the Lamb Salad
1 fully boned and trimmed rack of lamb
A splash of olive oil
100g / 3 ½ oz mixed salad leaves
12 mini plum tomatoes
12 Kalamata olives
½ red onion
200g / 7oz crumbled Feta cheese (1 3/4 cup)
A handful of fresh mint leaves
- Make the vinaigrette. Chop the shallot finely and place it in a large bowl or jug with the lime juice, vinegar and mustard. Blend together using either a balloon whisk or a handheld stick blender. Add the oil in a slow stream, allowing the vinaigrette to emulsify and thicken. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of brown sugar.
- You can prepare the vinaigrette in advance to this stage. The mint and parsley should be added just before the dish is served as they very quickly lose their lovely bright green colour.
- Heat a heavy-based frying pan or skillet over a high heat then add the olive oil. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and add it to the pan. Sear well until it is browned on all sides and medium rare inside, about 8 – 10 minutes. Cover to keep it warm and leave to rest for 10 minutes before slicing it.
- Blend the herbs into the vinaigrette. Slice the cucumber and red onion very thinly.
- In a large bowl toss all the salad ingredients, with a little of the vinaigrette. Arrange the salad in a mound on a serving dish and top with the slices of lamb.
- Finish by drizzling some of the vinaigrette over the lamb. Serve immediately.