How does your garden grow?

by Matthew Harris

13 March 2018

Matthew Harris talks to chefs and growers about how their garden dictates their menu, and how you can sow the seeds of success in your own garden...

We’re out of the doldrums and into March (bar some more freak snow). Time to celebrate? We’ll see. I’m suited, booted and laden in thermals heading to The Pig to see what’s growing (and cooking) down at the 29-bedroom, mellow, country house hotel situated between Bath and Bristol.

Last month, I caught Fran Chilet-Olmos, the head kitchen gardener, armed with his Wellington boots and heading to the walled garden. This time of year isn’t renowned for its bountiful produce and Fran is quick to point out that ‘almost all the production is gone’. He’s being modest, of course. Compared to the average back garden veg patch, laying empty at this time of year with a rusting fork prised into the ground, this place still has plenty to offer the hotel’s restaurant.

Cavolo nero, Jerusalem artichokes, baby red cabbage, leeks, coriander, salad leaves and various other brassicas, roots and herbs are still making their way to the kitchen each day. The menu changes daily depending on what the kitchen and garden team deem ripe for harvesting. The two-acre garden supplies super fresh, organically-grown produce to the restaurant brimming with all types of vegetable and varieties of herbs inspired from its location.

Today a trip to the garden maybe to pick for salt baked Jerusalem artichoke with pickled mushrooms and crispy chestnuts or garden sides of cheesy leeks, and walled garden salads are on the menu today courtesy of the Pig’s kitchen garden.

I feel it’s slightly unfair visiting Fran at this time of the year, when previous visits in the height of summer have revealed a walled garden that’s a shock of colour, smells and textures. But walking with Fran around the beautiful setting, it’s inspiring to hear about new varieties he plans to grow this year. Particular excitement surrounds the imminent arrival of some sweet potato slips (shoots), a Central and South American staple very fond of warm temperatures. Though Fran is not deterred by the colder British climate, “he’s got a plan” which is hush hush for now.

It's great to see fresh, home-grown produce making its way into the restaurant: leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac and salad leaves are washed and tidied, destined for the chef’s chopping board today.

Celeriac are a particularly successful winter crop and, although they take their time in reaching full maturity for harvesting, these hardy souls stand firm through the winter; ideal for warming recipes  such as scrumptious celeriac risotto with crushed Hazelnuts and pickled radish, popular at The Pig.

Sow your own Celeriac

  1. Early in March Fill pots or seed trays with good quality, multi-purpose compost and firm gently.

  2. Scatter the seed thinly on the surface and cover with a few millimetres of compost.

  3. Water and keep moist in a warm, 10-12 C (a propagator in the greenhouse or a sunny windowsill).

  4. Pot on seedlings when they reach around 2cm tall individually into small pots or several in a large pot.

  5. Water and keep warm until mid-spring when they will ready to plant outside.

  6. Transplant in late spring when they are 5-7 cm tall, spaced 25-30cm apart in rows 35-40 cm apart.

  7. Apply bulky, organic mulch straight after planting, and water well during dry periods.

Celeriac should be ready to harvest from late September onwards, but a more intense flavour develops if left in the ground longer.

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www.fernbrake.co .uk