One of the reasons behind getting an allotment and growing my own fruit and veg is that I love food. The term ‘foodie’ has sprung up in recent years to describe someone who seeks out good food, devotes quite a bit of time to sourcing great ingredients and loves cooking. So I guess I would describe myself as a foodie. If it’s seasonal, fresh and preferably organic then I’m in my element. Despite the vagaries of our weather we do have a great climate for producing exceptional food. We can rival any of the more famous gastronomic countries with great meat, cheeses, fish, fruit and veg. So I find it incredibly frustrating that we still can’t seem to shake off the reputation for bad food. The 1970s and 1980s and the desire during this period to produce food quickly and cheaply has had a lot to answer for.
The reality is that there has been a bit of a food revolution in Britain in the last 10 years or so. We now have a wealth of excellent, passionate food producers in this country but with the predominance of national and international food chains you still have to seek them out.
All of this is my rambling way of introducing Barley Wood Walled Garden which I discovered at the weekend. The Victorian walled garden is in a stunning location overlooking the Mendip Hills in north Somerset. Built in 1901 for Henry Herbert Wills, the director of Imperial Tobacco, it is now restored after years of neglect and lovingly tended by resident gardener Mark Cox, producing fruit and vegetables for a local box scheme. He specialises in growing heirloom and heritage varieties and grows an impressive selection of salad crops. He also works closely with the chefs of the cafe/restaurant based in the old Victorian glasshouse. The Ethicurean is a partnership of 4 chefs inspired by amazing local produce. The majority of the fruit and vegetables they use comes from the garden itself. It’s a great sight when you’re perusing the menu to see the chef wandering in with a bunch of herbs and salad leaves from the garden outside. Air miles aren’t a problem here.
The garden itself would create envy in the heart of all those growing their own. Perfectly sited on a gentle slope, facing south, protected from the hills behind, with the added warmth and shelter from the brick walls creating the perfect microclimate. The lettuce here weren’t sulking like mine are on my exposed and significantly colder allotment. The walls were clothed with trained fruit trees, currently covered in gorgeous candy pink blossom, giving a tantalising idea of the bountiful crops of apples and pears to come later in the year. With over 70 varieties of apples there are more than enough for them to produce their own juice, creating blends such as Ashmeads Kernel and Blenheim Orange.
Throughout the year there are various courses ranging from foraging delights in the countryside around the garden and cheese tasting and they have even have started a home brewing club, which might explain the demi-john of parsnip wine fermenting away on top of some shelves.
Well they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the food we had certainly didn’t disappoint. Goat meatballs with lovage and lemon sole served with new potatoes and spring greens. In fact, it was so tasty we came back later for some home-baked scones and blackberry jam.
The team behind Barley Wood must be doing something right with growing demands for their organically produced veg boxes and The Ethicurean winning The Observer Ethical Restaurant 2011 award and getting their first recipe book deal. Long may it continue.
For more details you can follow The Ethicurean team on their own blog.
For more information about the Barley Wood Walled Garden and to see some great photos of it’s restoration you can visit it’s website.
I’d love to hear if anyone else knows of any foodie gems like this.