It must be spring, as there seems to be a glut (so to speak) of cookery books from the famous houses just at the moment. To mention but a few, the National Trust has a “Book of Scones, 50 Delicious Recipes and odd Crumbs of History”, by Sarah Clelland. There is “At Home at Highclere, The Real Downton Abbey”, by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon.
Locally, Aaron Bertelsen, Great Dixter’s kitchen gardener, house manager and cook extraordinaire has just published one himself, which I want to talk about now.
Called “The Great Dixter Cookbook, Recipes from an English Country Garden”, it is what it says on the cover, a comprehensive, delicious selection of some seventy recipes regularly cooked up in the kitchen in Great Dixter House, with the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden. It does include some for meat, as well.
The text is supported by the most evocative photographs of the house and garden, the food and the cooking, by Andrew Montgomery. There are pictures, too, illustrating planting, staking, watering and picking. These are all strictly copyright protected, so you need the book to see them, and it is well worth it.
To give it some context, the house and grounds at Northiam were purchased in the early part of the last century by Nathaniel and Daisy Lloyd and were home to their six children, of whom Christopher was the last to own the property, and who made the garden famous for its innovative plantings and exuberant style.
Christopher Lloyd learnt to cook later in his life, when he found himself without a cook for the first time. He is well known for the delicious things he produced for his guests from the kitchen garden and there is a quote from him in the book “. . . from the garden produce I have made artichoke and carrot soup. Leeks have accompanied boiled gammon, together with broad beans . . .” In this enterprise, he was helped by the notebooks and recipes kept by his mother, Daisy, which have been photographed in the text. Great Dixter is now a charitable trust, following Christopher Lloyd’s death in 2006.
The book starts with expert planting guides to more than thirty vegetable and fruit varieties, starting with beetroot and ending with tomatoes. There are the seventy recipes ranging from roast leg of lamb and broad beans, to parsnip soup, pear tart and shortbread biscuits and it finishes with a comprehensive garden diary, so you know exactly how to set about producing the vegetables and fruits for yourself. There is a comprehensive index and finally recipe notes and acknowledgements to the special people who helped Bertelsen, at the end of the book.
Have I cooked any? Not really, except pumpkin soup and apple crumble and some of the salads. However, I am lucky enough to work in the house at Dixter, so occasionally I get a taste of almond biscuits, or shortbread, or bread and cheese. I have tasted Nana’s fruit cake and roast vegetable and parsnip soups. Tasty! The delicious smells when I leave at lunchtime waft down the path after me.
I have found the recipes I have cooked easy to follow, and on canvassing my friends – beetroot and chocolate cake, tarragon chicken. baked cheesecake – they agree, so over to all of you!
Bertelsen often cooks for up to forty people on the regular study days run by the charitable trust and provides all the food for the symposia held regularly. After all, if you come on a gardening course at Dixter, you would hope to eat the produce, as you (hopefully) learn how to design and plant in the same way as the wonderful gardens.
The Great Dixter Cookbook by Aaron Bertelsen, photographs by Andrew Montgomery, is published in hardback by Phaidon and available from Great Dixter itself or The Rye Bookshop, priced at £24.95. All royalties to the support of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.
References: Book of Scones, 50 Delicious Recipes and odd Crumbs of History, by Sarah Clelland (Pavilion Books ISBN 9781909881938 13/04/2017).
At Home at Highclere, The Real Downton Abbey, by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon ( Cornerstone ISBN 9781848094987 09/03/2017).
Photo: Courtesy of Great Dixter