GAR­DEN VA­RI­ETY Recipes from The Great Dix­ter Cook­book by Aaron Ber­telsen

AN EX­TRACT FROM THE GREAT DIX­TER COOK­BOOK BY KIWI CHEF-GAR­DENER AARON BER­TELSEN.

Cuisine - - CONTENTS - Wine matches John Saker

MINT & PEA SOUP recipe page 114

For me, soup is not just a win­ter dish – I love to eat it all year round, and I par­tic­u­larly en­joy cold soup. Mint gives this soup a won­der­fully fresh taste, and it makes a per­fect lunch with some bread and cheese on the side. Perry, the es­tate man­ager at Great Dix­ter, once ac­cused me of be­ing lazy for adding whole peas, pods and all, to the pot, but I feel they give the soup more body and in­ten­sify the flavour. For the best re­sult, chill the soup thor­oughly. If I am mak­ing it for a crowd, I will put a large bowl of it in a sink­ful of iced wa­ter. Note that this soup does not freeze well.

AARON BER­TELSEN IS MUS­ING about pre­serves, some­thing his grand­mother was well known for.

“There was al­ways a glut of fruit in sum­mer, and you need some­thing to eat on your toast in the win­ter. If you don’t pre­serve, you don’t have that won­der­ful mem­ory of sum­mer. It does re­mind one that there is hope af­ter win­ter.”

The ab­sence of a Kiwi drawl leaves no hint of Aaron Ber­telsen’s up­bring­ing in Muri­wai, West Auck­land, sur­rounded by his grand­fa­ther’s veg­eta­bles and grand­mother’s beau­ti­ful flow­ers. Bri­tish elo­quence has taken over thanks to the past 20 years he has spent liv­ing and work­ing as a gar­dener 18,000 kilo­me­tres away.

Most of that time has been spent at Great Dix­ter in south­ern Eng­land, on the bor­der of Kent and Sus­sex, the home of the late Christopher Lloyd, an ac­claimed gar­dener, tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity and writer.

Ber­telsen vol­un­teered at the manor, which is a mecca for green-thumbed pil­grims around the world, in 1996, when he was fresh out of the Uni­ver­sity of Otago, where he stud­ied clas­sics and so­cial an­thro­pol­ogy.

A three-week stint ex­tended to three months, and a ca­reer of gar­den­ing fol­lowed: Is­rael’s botanic gar­dens in Jerusalem, and var­i­ous other gar­dens around Europe and the United States. He re­turned in 2005 as Great Dix­ter’s veg­etable gar­dener. Fol­low­ing Lloyd’s death in 2006, Ber­telsen en­tered Dix­ter’s kitchen and has not looked back.

“I’m not a pro­fes­sional cook by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion. I’m a trained gar­dener and I cook out of joy, re­ally, and ne­ces­sity,” he says.

As a sea­soned gar­dener, he has a strong ap­pre­ci­a­tion of all an in­gre­di­ent’s qual­i­ties, from root to flower.

“There’s no point wast­ing some­thing you’ve grown. It’s like peo­ple don’t seem to eat ox tongue any more, but it’s a byprod­uct of a cow that you’ve slaugh­tered, so you might as well eat it.”

That ap­pre­ci­a­tion goes fur­ther, with the tran­sience of the sea­sons. “I’m very much against eat­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles that aren’t in sea­son. They’re hugely over­priced and un­der-flavoured.

“It’s three weeks of glut­tony, which is pure joy, rather than 52 weeks of medi­ocre. It may be only for a short time, but God it’s worth it.”

In his al­most 10 years of cook­ing, Ber­telsen has leafed through plenty of Lloyd’s kitchen note­books as well as cre­at­ing his his own recipes in­spired by his trav­els.

The Great Dix­ter Cook­book fea­tures gar­den­ing tips and recipes for Bri­tish clas­sics, some con­tem­po­rised – the likes of leek and Stil­ton tart, short­bread, Dam­son jelly and ap­ple crum­ble. To­mato salad with su­mac dress­ing salutes his time in Is­rael, mean­while, while his grand­mother’s fruit­cake and a pump­kin and ku­mara salad nod to New Zealand.

The one thing Ber­telsen wants to achieve from this book is to have peo­ple cook, mod­ify and build upon the recipes within its pages.

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