GROW & COOK
This month: National Trust Trengwainton
A new series featuring recipes from celebrated kitchen gardens. This month: National Trust Trengwainton in Cornwall
fragrant, magenta-hued roses ramble around the arched doorway of Trengwainton Tearooms’ south-facing, sun-soaked walled garden in June. Inside, the scents of orange jasmine and honeysuckle, which climb the brickwork, mingle with that of scones warm from the oven. Parents sit on picnic rugs and devour cream teas, while their children play on the lawn among the apple trees, and sip on smoothies made with raspberries freshly picked from the National Trust estate and honey collected from its bees.
GARDEN OF PLENTY
Being based at the 25-acre Trengwainton gardens near Penzance has been a constant source of inspiration for proprietor and cook Nicola Osborne over the past ten years, while her contemporary take on traditional fare attracts a loyal following of locals and delights those from further afield. “At half past seven this morning, I was picking ‘Tigerella’ tomatoes in the glasshouse, while it was still cool,” she says, with a wide smile. “And there’s nothing like the sweet and creamy flavour of a Trengwainton-grown ‘Butterhead’ lettuce – customers often tell me they taste just like salad leaves used to.” Gathering produce from a vegetable bed open to the public comes with a condition, however. “The grounds need to look their best, so we take only from the back of rows and make sure that any symmetry and pattern is left intact, too,” Nicola says.
THE FRESHEST OF FLAVOURS
Unusually, the eatery isn’t a National Trust franchise, but an independent business, which means Nicola can adopt the flexible approach that cooking with a seasonal supply of food requires; as much as a quarter of the food on her summer menu is sown, grown and harvested at Trengwainton, quite a feat considering that she serves lunch to around 4,000 customers each season. The self-taught chef loves working ‘off the cuff ’ and has enjoyed putting different flavours together since the age of five, when she helped her mother in the family guesthouse near Helston in exchange for more time at the beach. Today she sometimes discovers a trug full of vegetables by the door first thing, left by a member of the gardening team, in which case she changes the menu that day: “If it’s broad beans, for example, they might be combined with feta cheese and mint in a tart or put into a salad.” New potatoes ‘Charlotte’ or ‘Nicola’ are baked with smoked bacon, eggs, cream and Cheddar in a pastryless dish inspired by quiche Lorraine.
Nothing goes to waste – any over-ripe tomatoes are cooked with oregano, marjoram, parsley and basil to make a Mediterranean sauce for lasagne. Later in the summer, the inevitable gluts of courgettes are met with enthusiasm, not exasperation, and made into a soup with ground and toasted almonds, ratatouille and a variety of side dishes, while Nicola’s sister Jillian Rich transforms the rest into her popular lemon and courgette cake.
SERVING THE COMMUNITY
As well as supplying the tearooms and attracting visitors from far and wide, the 200-year-old organically cultivated kitchen garden at Trengwainton offers members of the community a chance to learn and practise gardening skills; pupils from local schools regularly sow, tend and harvest their own produce here. Fascinating to children and adults alike is the fact that, in the early 1800s, the original owner Sir Rose Price had the plot built to the dimensions of Noah’s Ark as described in Genesis: 300 x 50 cubits (the length from the end of the middle finger to the elbow). The beds, many of which slope, lay fallow for 30 years until the team began restoring them in 2008. Alongside the 19th-century Messenger glasshouse where tender plants grow, the tall brick walls provide plenty of shelter. This, combined with the mild climate of west Cornwall, means there’s no ground frost, only a narrow hungry gap (when winter crops are harvested and spring ones are yet to yield) and the team can grow exotic fruits such as kumquats, avocados, goji berries and lemons. Gardener Matthew Nixon’s ‘Really Useful Border’, particularly appealing to school parties, includes elephant grass, sugar beet, sugar cane, coffee, cotton and lentils. It is heartening, though, that, as well as enjoying these successes, head gardener Phil Griffiths and his team, including five volunteers, share the frustrations of ordinary people trying to grow their own: “Asparagus and celeriac don’t do well here – we still haven’t worked out why and are determined to crack sweet potatoes, too,” says Phil, who also plans to start a vineyard, following in the footsteps of Rose Price.
After busy days working in the borders and the café, both the gardening team and cooks prize summer evenings on the plot when a sense of tranquillity descends upon Trengwainton as the crowds diminish. Phil sums up their simple pleasures: “The shadows are long, the brick walls radiate heat and nothing tastes sweeter than a pea eaten straight from the pod.” Turn the page for a selection of delicious recipes using seasonal produce.
Trengwainton Tearooms, Madron, Penzance, Cornwall. Open Sunday to Thursday, 10am-5pm, until 30 October 2017 (trengwaintontearooms.com). Recipes adapted from The National Trust Cookbook and The Great British Vegetable Cookbook published by Pavilion Books. Recipes by Sybil Kapoor and Clive Goudercourt.