It seems a long time ago, but at midterm we went to England. The weather was much better than one is justified to hope for at the end of October and the skies were a brilliant blue most of the time. Since I planned the journey, it meant visiting a lot of gardens. Since we took the kids, it meant we had to find balance between my horticultural interests and their “not another garden” attitude. So, besides visiting gardens, we went to the Colchester Zoo, swam in the sea (not as cold as it sounds) and went punting in Oxford, at which my husband fortunately proved a natural.
However, there was one destination that managed to please everyone: Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, London. It is that kind of place, you know. A place where plant-obsessed ladies can take their husbands and parents can bring their garden-opposed offspring. Because there is something for everyone: beautiful plants, Italian pots, high quality tools, vintage garden furniture, vegetable seeds and flower bulbs… Everywhere there are benches and garden chairs where you can sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy your newspaper. Our kids spent a happy hour taking turns in an old rocking chair. Also, there’s great food: a tea house and a restaurant awarded with the Michelin star serving boldly flavoured seasonal dishes .
The genius behind the stove is the Australian born chef Skye Gyngell, a cook passionately committed to using the best of seasonal ingredients. And the freshest: herbs, edible flowers and some of the vegetables are picked just a couple of meters from the kitchen, in the little vegetable garden of Petersham House.
I’m sorry to say that we didn’t get to eat at the restaurant. You have to make a reservation well in advance, which we didn’t. But we ate at the teahouse and even that was the best meal we had in England. And I bought Skye Gyngell’s cookbook “A year in my kitchen” so I could taste a bit of her cooking at home.
The book is organized around a clever concept of creating a “toolbox” of bold flavours (roasted red onions, slow-roasted tomatoes, flavoured yoghurt, vinaigrettes etc.) which you then use to create all kinds of dishes. The first recipe out if the toolbox I made was pickled pear relish, which you can use with cheese, cold meats (for you meat eaters) etc. It tastes great on a grilled sourdough bread toast with Gorgonzola or you can use it to flavour a ….. (cliff hanger – come back next time!)
Pickled pear relish
from Skye Gyngell: A year in my garden
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp currants
2 firm, ripe Conference pears
1 Golden Delicious apple
25 g unsalted butter
75 ml cider or red wine vinegar
2 tbsp cane sugar
3 thyme sprigs
1 cinnamon stick
sea salt ans freshly ground black pepper
Soak the dried cranberries and currants in a little bowl of warm water for 10 minutes or so – to soften them slightly. Core and chop the pears and apple into small dice (Skye recommends to leave the skins on – I would do that if they are organic but peel them if they’re not).
Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. When it begins to foam, add the diced fruit and cook for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add the other ingredients (except salt and pepper) and cook for further 8 – 10 minutes. Taste and season, if necessary. Remove the cinnamon and thyme. The relish will have a shinyjewel-like lustre. Serve warm.
You can keep the relish in a covered bowl in the fridge for a week or so, or in a sterilised in the fridge for up to a month.