Every project Raymond Blanc has been involved in during the 36 years he has spent turning Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons into one of the UK’s leading hotel and restaurants has been imbued with creativity and passion.
The creation of an orchard has been no different. Like everything Blanc has done at the Oxfordshire hotel, this latest venture has had a dual focus, combining the two cultures of his French birthplace and his adopted British home.
As a result, he has created not just one but two orchards: the English one brings back long-lost heritage varieties of apples and pears that once grew so freely across the country, while the French one is focused on rediscovering the fruits and flavours of his childhood in Franche-Comté in eastern France.
As a result, Le Manoir’s team of gardeners, led by Anne Marie Owens, has, over the past seven years, planted more than 3,000 trees, yielding some 30 tonnes of fruit each year. The project, which involved a great deal of research, hard work and money, has been, Blanc admits, his biggest and most complex one to date.
The Lost Orchard has very few recipes – the handful that feature, though, include the wonderful Tarte Maman Blanc from Blanc’s mother, which he describes as “the best apple tart in the world”. The focus of the book is instead what Blanc describes as “a love letter” to the plethora of fruits he has sought out through his extensive travels across England and France.
Separate chapters on apples, pears, figs, apricots, cherries and other fruit varieties are interspersed with stories from Blanc and essays on their horticultural and culinary history. The chapters outline the variety of trees to be found in Le Manoir’s orchards together with tasting, cooking and growing notes. The result is a comprehensive insight and understanding into which will provide the best culinary results in the kitchen. Anyone interested in seeking out some unusual and truly delicious varieties to transform into jams, compotes and desserts will find The Lost Orchard to be a true delight.
The Lost Orchard by Raymond Blanc (Headline Home, £20)
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