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Spring foods are like music to your mouth

Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis is the Food Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

Curling across the cutting board on my kitchen counter, the garlic scapes look like green scribbles, almost baroque in their flamboyant curlicues.

If you’ve never seen a scape, it’s the stalk that a garlic plant sends up as it’s forming a bulb below the ground. It’s skinny and green with a pointed, pale green head, but it curls as dramatically as the bamboo plants you see in Asian shops, so sculptural, it doesn’t look real.

Scapes make a brief appearance in the spring, just a couple of weeks when they’re tender enough to actually chop and toss into stir-fries or salads, but they pack a succulent, garlicky punch. Wait too late and they’ll straighten and harden, becoming too tough to eat.

I grabbed a handful at a farmers market a few weeks ago and made the most of them. I diced the tender tops and strewed them in a few salads. I pureed the stalks with pine nuts, olive oil and grated Parmesan to make garlic-scape pesto and tucked it into the freezer, to save for the 11 1/2 months of the year that is scape-less.

Spring’s flavors seem so vivid after the heavy food we eat in winter. It’s like high-pitched piccolo after the bass notes of all those root vegetables, with their deep flavors.

I’ve bought real English peas twice in two weeks, grabbing handfuls from Jennifer Mullis’ Laughing Owl farm stand. They won’t be around for nearly as long as sugar-snap peas that you eat shell and all.

You have to make the time on Saturday afternoon to shell English peas quickly, before their sugars turn to starch. But you won’t have them as soon as the real heat hits and pea plants wilt. Better to find a few minutes to sit with a bowl on your lap to catch the peas than spend the rest of the year regretting that you missed them.

I cooked them for just a few minutes in simmering salted water, then tossed them with fresh mint and a little butter. Leftovers got tossed in the next night’s salad, to make every sweet pea count.

When the strawberries were dwindling to the last of the season, I grabbed a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated magazine for a fresh strawberry mousse. It was as involved as all Cook’s Illustrated recipes and it was crime-scene messy, leaving drips of red strawberry juice all over the counter. But it was worth it.

Topped with lemon-flavored whipped cream, it was as vivid as a red dress at a wedding. Yes, I’ll put the recipe on my blog, even though the time for strawberries has almost passed.

There’s such a short time to make use of it all, and then it will be time to do the same for the real summer food. The peaches, corn, tomatoes and watermelon will all get their time, in July and August.

I still have recipes I discovered too late in the summer last year to have time to share them: Corn butter, an amazing discovery that involves pureeing corn and cooking it into a smooth, sweet paste. Watermelon gazpacho, torn out of a magazine and hanging around my desk for months now.

And there are the things I’ll make just because I only get to eat them for a short time every year: Blueberry pie with lemon zest grated into the crust, tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella and splashed with balsamic vinegar.

By the time I make them all, it will be time to return to the winter foods.

By that time, those bass notes will be welcome.

Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis’ blog I’ll Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
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