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Filling ‘The Hungry Gap’

Seasonally they say March is the leanest month, let Maws keep your larder stocked in style. 

On the face of it March is a month full of optimism, daffodils blooms, the evenings lengthen and the sun, when it deigns to shine, has some actual heat in its rays once more. Until relatively recently however, March had a far less rosy reputation amongst farmers in temperate climates. 

It's the month that makes up the majority of the farming period known for centuries as ‘the hungry gap’ – the drawn-out weeks between late February and mid-April when winter stocks are running low but spring’s new season crops are yet to arrive. 

In this globalised, integrated and interconnected new millennium it’s easy to view this kind of food shortage as a quaint anomaly from a bygone age; one of the natural pitfalls of an insular, less-efficient agrarian economy. And of course, this once annual lean period now transpires entirely unnoticed, as the supermarket shelves brim early with Dutch radishes, spring onions from Mexico, asparagus from Peru and new potatoes grown in Israel. 

Currently more than two-thirds of the land now required to meet the UK’s food demands is located beyond its borders. We import about 85% of vegetables from the EU. The Netherlands provide the bulk of tomatoes and onions, while Spain the delivers the two fastest-growing commodities, cauliflower and celery. France is the leading supplier of potatoes. The majority of our imported fruit arrives from even further afield: 28% from Latin American countries and another 15% from Africa.* 

Dried and tested 

For the new wave of conscientious consumers who prefer exercising the patience to eat seasonally and source locally, ‘the hungry gap’ has become and issue once more (albeit one of ethics rather than risk of malnourishment). Traditionally this has always been the period when dried goods set aside in the larder come into their own. 

Pulses such as beans, and lentils preserved this way have always provided a healthy and flavourful solution to times when fresh vegetable are scarce. 

At Maws we stock flageolet, cannelli, haricots, borlotti and butter beans, all perfect for bulking out salads or transforming soups and stews into a hearty meal. Braised cannelli beans are a classic Italian accompaniment to slow-cooked pork shoulder. Amongst virtual all of the numerous regional French variations, haricot beans are always an essential component of a classic cassoulet (the rich stew of confit duck or goose with pork belly or sausage). Flageolet beans cooked with tomatoes and shallots in red wine are another staple Mediterranean accompaniment to lamb dishes, while borlotti beans can be commonly found stewed with pigeon and thickening rich fish soups. 

The gentle lentil 

As cousin to the pea, lentils (Lens Culinaris) originated in Asia and North Africa and are one of our oldest sources of food. Kind to the digestive system and perfect for bulking stews, salads and side dishes, they’re make a nourishing soup in their own right, as a rich provider of protein and carbohydrates, not to mention calcium, phosphorus, iron and B vitamins. All of which make the humble lentil an important dietary staple the world over. 

Maws stock green, red and Puy Lentils (the small slate-green lentil prized for their peppery flavour and specifically grown in the Le Puy region of central south-east France). Lentils make a hearty soup in their own right, traditionally only with the modest addition of a little chopped onion, carrot and celery and the addition of some good stock or broth (many older recipes favour ham hock for this, while vegetarians need only add a little vegetable bullion). 

There are also a wealth of African lentil recipes, most of which are variations of the theme of mixing them with tomatoes and a hot spice mix such as ‘berbere’, popular in the Maghreb region, and comprising cloves, fenugreek, cumin and coriander seeds, cayenne pepper, paprika and turmeric. 

For a more detailed inventory of preserved pulses to help you bridge the hungry gap while eating seasonally, visit the Dry Goods section of our website. 

 *statistics courtesy of PMA.com