Spring is the season when the first green vegetables from our garden appear on our table. We wait eagerly for spring asparagus and tiny dandelion and chicory greens to sprout in our orchard. We harvest the first lettuce, spinach and radishes from our green house. In late spring there are sweet baby green peas, the first of which are eaten raw while standing in the garden. A meal of baby lamb or fresh trout may be concluded with the first cherries and strawberries of the season.
After a winter break the first market stalls appear on the square. There are separate stalls for fresh vegetables and new garden plants and flowers. Small bare-root fruit trees line up along the edge of the fountain ready for planting. The venders sell bulbs, potted rhododendrons and bare-root roses. The first primroses appear on the square, each color separated in a plastic flat, making checker-board patterns on the ground. There is an air of anticipation as people buy their little transplants for their gardens. The vegetable stalls abound with local lettuce, asparagus, and fresh spinach, as well as potatoes, onions, garlic and apples that have been kept over winter.
In April the warble of the first song birds returning from Africa can be heard. “I heard a song bird this morning”, is a popular phrase as you pass someone on the street. The return of the birds signifies that winter is over. We begin to venture out of our houses to start work in our garden. April is the month to fertilize and aerate the lawn. We start turning the soil in the vegetable garden, deep spading the black loamy ground. It is time to plant peas. I plant my peas as soon as the earth has thawed from winter, poking a hole in the cold ground with a wooden stick then dropping a couple of peas in the holes. I go back along the row and press the soil down with the flat side of a hoe. We plant beets, broccoli, cauliflower and arucula around mid April and potatoes the first week of May. But the official beginning of gardening season doesn’t start until 15 May after the days of the three frozen kings have passed and the chance of frost is over. Three Frozen Kings, is a Czech legend that serves as a warning to protect tender plants against a possible late frost. The story says the three kings (Pankrac on May 12, Servac on May 13 and Bonifac on May 14) were frozen when the temperature dropped while they were fishing. On May 15, St. Zofie came along with a kettle of hot water to thaw out the three frozen kings. After the 15th , when it’s safe to plant tender vegetables, the garden quickly fills up with marked rows of cabbage, green beans, zucchini, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers and corn.
At our house it is the beginning of the season for outdoor eating. The lawn table and chairs are brought out of winter storage and the grill is cleaned and readied for an array of meats and vegetables. 29 April is the traditional day to start cooking outdoors, called Witches Night, the Czechs build bon fires around the countryside and burn a facsimile of a witch made of straw to simulate the end of winter. When the fires burn low, sausages are put on sticks and roasted over the coals, eaten with rye bread and mustard, and washed down with a cold beer or two.
When we hear the bleeping of baby goats we know that soon our neighbor will have fresh goat cheese. A wonderful fresh Chevre, a thick, smooth, creamy cheese made of fresh milk. I prefer to eat it plain with just a little salt and olive oil, to enhance its flavor, but she prepares it with fresh parsley or cumin or garlic or with freshly crushed pepper.
The Czechs do not have a special meal for Easter. Easter traditionally marked the end of Lent, a period of time when meat was not eaten, but today most people don’t observe the old ways and continue life as normal. However Easter Monday is a festive day here. Women and girls prepare color eggs and boys prepare switches, made of fresh willows. In the morning the boys go from house to house to switch the girls and in exchange for the gallantry the girls give the boys an egg, candy and a drink of hard liquor. There is a couple of dishes that are still served, a fresh sausage made of pork and season with white wine and an Easter cake in the shape of a lamb. We, on the other hand, always celebrate Easter by preparing a big meal. Normally, I buy a baby lamb from a farmer in the Spring. Lamb is not popular here. No one raises sheep for the market so only a few farmers have lambs for their personal use. This makes acquiring a lamb for Easter mysterious and a bit risky. Asking around the village, I consulted a friend, who might have a friend who might know someone who would sell me a butchered lamb. The first few years I bought a lamb, my friend made all the arrangements and delivered the meat to my house. This way keeping the identity of the farmer a secret. Today we are trusted members of our village and I have the honor of knowing my supplier of lamb, although I have to come at night, in the cover of darkness, so the villagers do not get jealous that I, a foreigner, is being allowed to buy a lamb from the farmer directly. I buy a lamb in early spring, bringing the carcass home, I lay it out on my kitchen counter, cut and portion it and put it in our freezer until Easter. I prepare roast leg of lamb seasoned with garlic and rosemary on Easter day and invite some of our good friends to dine with us. To go with the meal we open the first bottles of our young Sauvignon Blanc which we produced from our own vines.