Monday, March 27, 2017
Bread and cheese
Hawthorn leaves (Crataegus monogyna) are now sprouting liberally in the garden. Every year I think they are earlier than ever, but this may just be a delusion as I do not keep any proper phenological records. To be of any value I think the first record of anything in a particular year should be made under the same conditions as in previous years. One should return to the same hawthorn bush and be sure that local conditions round about it have not changed. Around our lane there is a 50 metre stretch of hawthorns that always seems to sprout before any others. I suspect this is because they are an early leafing clone that was bought in and planted, but roadside plants often behave rather differently from those elsewhere. The road and its traffic perhaps creates a microclimate or possibly more carbon dioxide and other exhaust gases accelerate growth.
As a child my friends and I used to eat young hawthorn sprouts and called them 'bread and cheese'. This seems to be a very widespread habit in the British Isles and the shoots are quite palatable, if not very exciting. How they came to be called 'bread and cheese' I have been unable to discover - they are certainly nothing like bread and cheese either in appearance, in shape, or in colour. A probable explanation is that they were eaten by the very hungry as a replacement for bread and cheese. The expression is also not confined to hawthorn - much wild leafy food has the bread and cheese accolade.