"... She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs; But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears ..."

Monday, 25 April 2011

A Very Happy Easter

The garden is decked out in its finery for Easter.
I feel I should be wearing an Easter Bonnet!
The bunting stirs gently in the breeze and the sun has definitely come out to play. As have many from the surrounding villages.
Some people have travelled further and I overhear two families exchanging views of bringing children up in London - the pressure for schools, the pressure, it seems, on just about everything.
Oh, how much nicer to spend your time sitting in the garden.
Someone is very keen to see the Easter lambs. I don't enquire too closely whether Matt the chef has been to visit them yet.
I even spot the Easter Bunny.
In the shade of the apple tree there is face painting,
and in the distance I can see Keira has a customer for the Easter egg hunt.
A number of local businesses have set up stalls in the garden and the Potting Shed. A group of woodland artisans are promoting their baskets - they make everything from yurts to coffins and will also teach you, as they run basket making classes (I guess the coffin making comes later!).
Joanna, who helps waitress in the Potting Shed,
has a stall of her wonderfully wacky jewelery
and Joanna persuades fellow waitress Jenny to model for her.
Their are stalls selling, cushions and pictures and eco-friendly toys. Plus Olivia Boon's fascinators and hats. Very royal wedding.
I linger longest by the local wines from Fonthill Glebe Wines. John, who helps pick, bottle (and drink) the wine persuades me to try the light and fruity red
"A little like myself forty years ago!"
A natural step from the wine to the food.
Matt and Aggie are serving a barbecue with home grown salads and at the stall next to them is local ice cream. Perfect.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Hats & Herbs

I first meet Aggie when she is collecting herbs for today's lunch. Aggie has just joined Pythouse to cook alongside head chef, Matt. She tells me she is happy cooking most things but has a particular passion for Vegetarian cookery. "I just LOVE vegetables!"
Well, I would say she is in the right place.
In just a week I can see a huge difference in the garden.
The shades of green are richer and more limey and the budding espalier apple trees make the garden look like it has been dressed in apple blossom bunting.
The strawberry beds are beginning to fill out,
and the broad beans are flashing their black-eyed flowers.
In the borders nearby there are citrus coloured wall flowers and frilly plum tulips.
It is a day for hats, cold white wine,
and lunch in the orchard with friends
What to choose? Duck liver Parfait and Rhubarb and Ginger Chutney?
or Fennel Salami & Pesto Bruschetta?
Why not half each?
Followed by a walk around the garden.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Shy Chef

Is it any wonder on a day such as this, that I head over to Pythouse Garden at the earliest opportunity? I am planning on catching up with head chef, Matt, and it is not long before we are sat in the sun dwelling (it has to be said a bit smugly) on previous lives spent in air conditioned offices and stressful, strip-lit kitchens.
Matt isn't really a shy chef, but he is reluctant to have his photograph taken today. I think he appreciates that during my gardening year I will insist on capturing him for the blog. It is just a matter of time! What he is certainly not shy about, is sharing his enthusiasm for his plans for the kitchen, the menus and the shop's deli produce.
He is working closely with Heather (the shy gardener ... she doesn't stand a chance either) and he is passionate about following the seasons and bringing the garden produce to the table in fresh and interesting ways. They both feel the food will evolve as the garden evolves; an exciting year of experiment for them - and us.
Matt has a huge amount of experience for one so young (maybe it is me, but chefs and policeman are looking remarkably youthful these days). He has cooked in city restaurants with bars and delis, for prestigious caterers, in country hotels with walled gardens, and has built the reputation for food in rambling beamed pubs. But when he came to see Pythouse Kitchen Garden he could not resist the opportunity to create exceptional food in such wonderful surroundings .
Matt views the garden and potting shed as blank canvases on which he can paint his gastronomic mark. However, he is keen not to take himself our his creations too seriously. "That would be out of keeping with the garden and the people" he explains, "The food should be fun and exciting, but not pretentious."
Matt started his own box of recipes when he was 16 and has been adding to this ever since. Sometimes he comes to new ideas by mulling over old favourites and adding a twist, at times it is a new combination that strikes him. Or it may be that the cooking just develops; as it did today when he created his Beetroot, apple & honey soup. "I knew that apple would be a good compliment to the beetroot but wanted to soften the tang, which is where the honey came in." Luckily for us he has promised to share some of his recipes in the course of the year.
The garden is just starting to respond to the spring sunshine that is warming the sandy soil. The turnips have just come up, the potatoes are now planted and in the herb beds, chives are emerging from a carpet of pale blue germander speedwell. Soon there will be a multitude of ingredients for Matt to choose from.
As the garden settles into growth it is time for small feet to head for the daisies rather than to be pottering in the busy beds.
I reluctantly leave the garden for the day, passing the closed kitchen door behind which the shy chef is busy scheming.

Monday, 4 April 2011

To Mums with Love

It is Mothers' Day, and as this is the day I can have anything I want (or that's what I keep telling everyone) I have a table reserved for lunch at Pythouse.
My girls know me so well. Champagne and chocolates.
And cards that make me cry.
My florist friend Jennifer has been busy planting up vintage teacups with violas, pansies and scilla. These Mother's Day gifts are displayed for sale on the dresser amongst the china and the cakes.
Matt, the chef, has been busy too. I have already spotted the Parma Violet meringues on the menu which are to be served with Eton Mess.
But first a wander around the garden to see how things are progressing.
Like mother, like daughter.
The narcissi and daffodils are trumpeting a final cheerful blast, over the heads of lightly swaying muscari.
Inside the Potting Shed cafe Jennifer has captured a few to help decorate the tables.
In the garden the fresh lime of new leaves is now clearly visible.
The borders are beginning to fill up with plump herbs and the first of the wall flowers.
Even the rosemary thinks it is about time to start putting on some flowers.
Whilst inside the Potting Shed I am starting to think about my lunch.
Salmon Roulade, Roast Lamb and Apple Crumble with Earl Gray Ice-cream.
Around me I can hear a number of families murmuring ....'Are you enjoying that Mum?"
How could I fail to be enjoying myself? Good food, great setting ...
and what this mum wants most on Mothers' Day, my daughters by my side.
(Even if Alex has to hobble there!)