Here at The Elms kitchen garden, it’s important that we grow what the kitchen wants to cook with – we work to ensure that as much of our fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs are freshly picked right here at The Elms. In fact, Chef has just asked me to look at growing some globe fennel for the first time next season.
Our beautiful fruit orchard is securing a bumper harvest of pears at the moment. Whilst the kitchens are currently enjoying a plentiful supply of conference and comice pears (divine when poached in Chef’s own, particular way), we are looking forward to the ripening of our Worcester Black pears. Now, you won’t find these on a supermarket shelf and they are only grown in Worcestershire as far as I am aware. I pick them before they are ripe and then carefully store them – carefully selected for perfection and not touching each other – in fruit boxes on shelves in my shed. I have to remember to keep a close eye on these special pears, which will be ripe and the focus of the kitchen from November onwards.
Worcester Black pears are known as a culinary pear; you want to use them in desserts such as Tarte Tatin or simply poached to bring out their remarkable flavour. I just need to hold Chef back until they’re ready.
I’m waiting for a cold spell so that I can lift our Javelin parsnips. They will be pride of place for our Christmas lunch in addition to many Brookes restaurant dishes across the winter season at The Elms. They are ready now but the soil must cool down before lifting them so that the starches can turn to sugars and ensure that they have a delicious sweet note to them. Meanwhile, the Scotch and curly kale keeps us in good supply, as does the chard and the brussel sprouts are coming on nicely for Christmas time.
In addition to double digging and manuring, there’s much to plant at this time of year too, ensuring early crops and a busy season. I’ve recently planted our elephant garlic. It looks more like an onion in size and has huge cloves which, when roasted whole are one of the most mouth-watering things I know. The Chinese onions are also planted in the autumn to extend the onion season and I like to use three varieties: Electric, Radar and Shenshu Yellow.
Peas and broad beans are also a focus to plant now for overwintering. The kitchen will want a plentiful supply – the fresher the better. And you cannot get more fresh than stepping out of the kitchen and picking them in the morning, to be eaten in the dining room later that day.
Managing the kitchen gardens at The Elms is a busy, year-round job and I’m continually given fresh challenges as the creativity of the menu develops further. My gardens and the quality of the food we serve at The Elms go hand in hand – it’s part of what makes The Elms such a special place to be.