Beetroot 'Chioggia', Cinead McTernan, colourful carrots, Jason Ingram, Kitchen Garden Experts, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Raymond Blanc, sea kale
My computer bit the dust the other day. It didn’t come as a great surprise, it hasn’t sounded healthy for a while now. The noise it was generating had become so loud I couldn’t concentrate, it was like I had an old diesel car under the desk. I had hoped it might limp on for a few more months and Wellyman had replaced a few parts. Then it took to shutting down without being asked to, but the final straw was the chequerboard screen of pinks and yellows which looked like a punk Harris Tweed – I knew then that the game was up.
I’m not a complete technophobe but getting a new computer is such a faff, why you would do it voluntarily I don’t know. We’d had this one for ten years and it’s incredible how much stuff ended up on it. All I can say is that thanks to Wellyman I’m up and running again but if it had been left to me, well I wouldn’t have known where to start. I’m embarrassed and frustrated by this. I’m generally a practical, can-do type of woman but when it comes to IT I can get by but if anything out of the ordinary happens, well I’m stuck. It’s rather worrying that so much of life is becoming ever dependent on technology that requires the brain and dexterity of a teenager to get through all the setting up stages and glitches that inevitably appear. And don’t get me started on the thought process behind the creation of Windows 8.1. It took 20 minutes and a phone call to Wellyman to find out what they’d done with spell check. Still at least the new computer is quiet – I barely know it’s on as it purrs gently like the most contented of cats. The Welly household must be a bit of a technology black spot at the moment as my ‘not so smart’ smartphone keeps having a hissy fits too. This particular problem has left even Wellyman, who spends his working days fixing IT problems, perplexed.
At times like this I crave a simpler life. The closest I’m going to get to getting away from it all, for the moment anyway, is escaping to the allotment. There can’t be many better antidotes to the frustrations of modern life than a few hours weeding, tying in sweet peas and picking flowers. There’s a simplicity to growing which is good for the spirit which might explain why I have got a bit carried away this year with my growing. When I took on the allotment the plan was to keep all the veg growing there. It’s funny though how there is no longer enough space there for my ambitions and veg crops are now creeping into the garden again. Part of this is can be attributed to the idea that we may not have a plot or garden at all next year if we move so I’m going all out this year for a bountiful summer.
Inspiration has also come in the form of a book I bought a few weeks ago called Kitchen Garden Experts. It’s the creation of Jason Ingram, who took the photographs for my own book, and his wife, garden writer and editor, Cinead McTernan. They travelled the length and breadth of the country last year photographing the kitchen gardens of some of our top restaurants and picking the brains of the chefs and the gardeners who provide them with top-notch produce. I’ve found it a fabulous read. A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet one of the growers included in the book, Jo Campbell, who at the time was growing fruit and vegetables for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Talking to her about how they work with the chefs to decide what to grow, how they can make the most of the produce when it’s brought to the kitchen and how they’re always looking for new crops, whether that’s seeking out inspiration from other countries or rediscovering forgotten native foodstuffs, was fascinating. It’s this relationship between the chef and grower which is the basis for this book.
Kitchen Garden Experts cleverly combines two topics close to many of our hearts – food and growing. It’s a combination of restaurant guide and gardening and recipe book. You could easily use this book as the basis for a foodie pilgrimage to top eateries but it’s not short on horticultural information. Cinead has packed it full of tips and techniques gleaned from experienced growers. I liked, grower for The River Cafe, Simon Hewitt’s policy of growing tomatoes originating from northern Italy as they are more adapted to our own cooler growing conditions. Dan Cox of L’Enclume in Cumbria recommends placing your veg crops into a bucket of cold water as you harvest, it helps to preserve their freshness, especially on a hot day, and makes cleaning easier once you get them to the kitchen. I will certainly be consulting the book when I make future seed orders, seeking out the recommended varieties, and growing home-grown sea kale sounds an intriguing prospect. But for now it has inspired a few last-minute pots of colourful carrots – purples and yellows, some yellow heritage tomatoes, which I might just squeeze into the greenhouse, and a sowing of stripey beetroot ‘Chioggia’.
The recipes range from the simple but delicious sounding rocket pesto, squash soup and plum and almond flan to the dinner party type wet garlic barigoule and leeks vinaigrette. There are some recipes I probably wouldn’t attempt, but even these recipes provide inspiration in the form of flavour combinations and crops I’d like to try to grow in the future.
What I really loved about Kitchen Garden Experts is how it encapsulates how far British food has come in the last 10 to 15 years. Once derided by our European neighbours for our poor quality produce and indifferent restaurants we now have world-class eateries, chefs and artisan food. We’re learning to care about seasonality and appreciate the effort which goes into quality food production. Jason’s photographs are incredibly beautiful, not just capturing the stunning food but also a sense of place for each of the kitchen gardens. If his photographs don’t have you drooling your way to the kitchen, reaching for the seed catalogue or picking up the phone to book a table at one of the restaurants I don’t know what will.