The Great Dixter Cookbook
By Aaron Bertelsen
There is nothing new about chefs planning their menus around the kitchen garden. The gardens at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, and Gravetye Manor near East Grinstead in West Sussex are stand-out examples, but there are more.
While the chefs in such establishments take a keen interest in what is produced in the garden, few are actively involved in creating and working in them.
Aaron Bertelsen, the author of The Great Dixter Cookbook, is slightly different in that he is both gardener and cook. He learned to grow vegetables with his grandfather in his native New Zealand, and taught himself to cook when living alone in his 20s. Having the ability to draw on both skills provides him with a valuable oversight into how the garden can truly enhance the food he cooks, while his understanding of the cooking process influences what he grows.
Bertelsen is the vegetable gardener and cook at Great Dixter, the renowned garden created by the late Christopher Lloyd in Rye, East Sussex. His book kicks off with a useful insight into the whys and wherefores of growing key crops and ends with a diary of tasks to be undertaken throughout the year. In between are a selection of recipes, inspired by a desire not to waste anything and influenced by his travels and excursions undertaken by friends.
Hence, there is a recipe for the Middle Eastern breakfast dish shakshuka, in which Bertelsen replaces onions with leeks. Borek rolls of filo pastry, filled with feta cheese and spinach or Swiss chard, originate from Turkey; while Bertelsen’s homeland inspired the pumpkin and kumara (Maori for sweet potato) salad.
A baking and puddings section highlights the fact that freshly picked ripe fruit requires minimal attention for maximum enjoyment, be it a dish of stewed plums with a baked cheesecake or pear and almond crumble.
There is nothing challenging about the dishes, but Bertelsen’s enthusiasm gives the book an edge that will inspire cooks to pick up a garden trowel and gardeners to get busy in the kitchen.
If you like this, you may enjoy these:
• In My Garden: The Garden Diaries of Great Dixterby Christopher Lloyd
• Gather by Gill Meller
• A Year at Otter Farm by Mark Diacono