With prices of staples likely to be affected by drought and disease, it's time to be creative with your menus. Madalene Bonvini-Hamel of the British Larder explains what to look out for this month
The warm start to spring and the lack of rain in certain parts of Britain means that farmers will have difficulty delivering their quotas this year. Expect the price of staples such as potatoes, onions and carrots to go up considerably. The drought is visible in the forests and consequently home-grown wild mushrooms will be scarce. The price of lamb will soar this year as the deadly Schmallenberg disease is hitting British sheep farms hard.
Nettles are plentiful, especially after a good downpour. Ensure you pick the tender young shoots. Sea beet and Jersey Royals are back in season. Look out for the first aparagus and, if you're lucky, strawberries (from polytunnels).
Fresh sea trout, salmon, crab and John Dory are all perfect for early spring menus.
Lamb is synonymous with Easter. Use the whole carcass, and speak to your butcher about different cuts that will suit your menu. Barnsley chops, lamb shanks and rumps of lamb deliver not only on taste, but can also be cost-effective on menus. Last season's lamb - now called hogget or mutton - is perfect right now.
Wild garlic, sorrel, chives, chickweed and wild mushrooms (spring varieties such as St George's mushrooms and morels) are available at a price.
Outdoor rhubarb is in abundance, with its gutsy and earthy flavour - perfect for crumble or a fool with freshly baked shortbread.
The British spring lamb season stretches from May to June. It's most tender during these months and as the season progresses the flavour develops and a richer, more flavoursome meat is produced. A British lamb becomes a hogget after a year, and once it gets two permanent incisor teeth it becomes mutton.
Jersey Royal potatoes mark the beginning of the new potato season. The kidney-shaped potato with its wafer-thin skin is grown only in Jersey, where the soil is light and well drained. The season usually runs from April to the end of June.
Stinging nettles are most nutritious once cooked - the cooking process removes the sting and makes the nettle palatable. Once they've flowered, avoid eating. They can also be used to make herbal tea or cordial and can be used as a vegetable instead of spinach or Swiss chard.
The earliest leaves are more tender and don't have the bitter tang that older leaves can have. If harvesting stinging nettles from fields, choose plants that grow above knee height to avoid possible contamination by urine of animals, but in any case wash them first. Also harvest from plants that are away from main walkways or bridleways or by busy roadsides, where they may be contaminated.
We think of radishes as a salad ingredient, but the fresh tops are good in soups. They come in different shapes and sizes; some varieties are sweet, others peppery. The French eat them as crudités with salted butter. If you are "carving" radishes to obtain pretty shapes, drop them into iced water. Large white radishes, or daikons, do grow in the UK but will probably be imported at this time of year.
Spring onions are mainly used raw in salads, but they can be cooked and have a much milder, more fragrant taste than that of standard onions. Look out for Welsh onions, which are slightly thicker.
Sea trout, even though it's the same species as brown trout, is significantly different. Brown trout remains a freshwater fish throughout its life; sea trout migrates to the ocean and returns to fresh water only to spawn. The time spent in the sea makes it look like salmon.
Sea beet grows wild along British shores. Prepare it as you would prepare spinach: shred and either blanch in salted water or sauté in a hot pan with a teaspoon of unsalted butter.
People either love or hate sorrel, with its sour flavour. The cultivated variety breaks down when cooked and is milder. The wild leaves keep their shape unless puréed.
This brassicaceae family member is closely related to Brussels sprouts and is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. The stems are as tender as the florets, hence the name. The taste is distinct and reminiscent of asparagus. It's more expensive than standard broccoli, but there is no waste as everything is used.
Seasonal best during April...
Bananas, broccoli, chickweed, chicory, chives and chive flowers, cockles, crab, dill, Jersey Royals, John Dory, lamb, mango, nettles, parsley, purple sprouting broccoli, radishes, rhubarb (outdoor), rocket, rosemary, salad onions, salmon, sea bass, sea beet, sea trout, sorrel, spinach, watercress, whitebait, wild garlic, wild mushrooms (spring), wood pigeon.
WHAT'S IN STORE NEXT MONTH
James Wellock of fresh and dried ingredients supplier Wellocks takes a look at what's coming into season in May
Amazing summer temperatures have accelerated spring produce - but be careful, as snow is forecast.
Asparagus is as early as it has ever been, and a fantastic crop lies ahead.
We'll soon be in wild mushroom heaven as morels will be coming down in price and will be affordable to all. They will be joined by girolles, mousseron, gorgeous St George - which is a short season so make sure your supplier is letting you know when these beauties arrive - plus the first ceps.
There will be plenty of choice of soft fruit: Spanish raspberries will have competition from my favourite, the French roseberry, a huge raspberry but normally around £1 a punnet more expensive; Dutch strawberries will be cheap (£2 for 500g), but will be competing against French gariguettes, which are normally twice as expensive. It's your choice - flavour and appearance always cost.
French cherries will be here again rivalling Spanish and Italian ones on price, size and quality. Later in the month, Spanish apricots (normally starting at around £2 per kg) will be competing against French ones. For me, this really starts the summer, as Provençe provides the cream of the fruit. As soon as we have the apricots you know these will be followed by white peaches and nectarines.
Italian summer truffles will be here at around £150 per kg - a real bargain - and if bought fresh still have great smell and flavour.
As far as the UK is concerned, it is time to celebrate cabbage. Long finished is the winter Savoy, but we welcome summer primo, a green, round, hard cabbage that packs loads of flavour, to sit alongside the very tender, leafy spring and the pointed hispi, a cross of both. These vegetables offer great value for money (costing no more than 60p each) so are excellent for your GP and a seasonal must for all menus.
Vegetables to avoid are cauliflower and broccoli, as these will be inferior in quality and expensive. Wait until June for the new crop to start.
At the other end of the scale there will be UK-grown baby vegetables, which are just magnificent and beat the French in every way - on flavour, appearance and price. These are also complemented by salads, with all the outdoor crops making a start: lettuce, lollo and oakleaf, plus wild rocket and spinach. Again, these are all cheaper than the European winter offer.
Jersey Royal new potatoes will be into the main crop in May and therefore accessible to all, but another option to consider is Cornish potatoes, which will be here, followed by potatoes from other southern regions. The more supply and choice, the lower the price becomes, so expect the price to fall below £1 per kg.
My favourite new potato of all is due in June, but you'll have to wait till next month's report to find out which one that is.