As a chef, I try to treat different ingredients without favouritism, a bit like how you should treat your own children. Each one has its own individual character, but not one of them is better than the other. Tom, being the Head Gardener, as far as food is concerned, doesn’t have to be as impartial, and if you ask Tom about his most adored fruit you will find that gooseberries are at the top of his (very long) list. Good choice! They are very British, a bit like the similarly acidic rhubarb, and made even more so as they don’t seem to be eaten in comparable quantities on the continent.
The gardeners are ‘thinning’ the bushes out at the moment, with the end result of producing less numbers of fruit, but fruit of a far better size and quality. The under ripe gooseberries that have been thinned out are perfect for poaching as they stay whole, but at the moment we are slicing them thinly and adding them raw to a flamed mackerel dish on the lunch menu to give a lovely sour sharpness that cuts through the oily fish. Gooseberries and mackerel are a classic combination, highlighting its quality as a savoury ingredient just as much as a sweet. Its natural acidity works outstandingly well in desserts just as well though, and it will be replacing rhubarb as the Soufflé on our main menu.
Strawberries are another early summer delight, and a light and fragrant dessert paired with lemon, elderflower and verbena will be appearing soon. There are various components of the dish made up of strawberries. We form some thin ‘crisps’ by blending the strawberries, mixing with an anti-humidity sugar, spreading thinly on a mat and drying out. We serve the more beautiful strawberries unadulterated as nicely cut pieces and the less beautiful fruit is turned into a bright ruby coloured layer of jelly. We do this by adding the fruit to 25% of its own weight in sugar to a deep tray, wrapping it in cling film, then baking it in the oven at 80 degrees C for an hour. This low temperature speeds up the normal room temperature maceration process and the heat and sugar draws the juice from the strawberries. Drain the contents of the tray in a fine sieve and this results in a crystal clear, intense and pure strawberry flavoured liquid that can be used as a delicious base for a sorbet, sauce, cocktail or jelly.
There is one challenge to the early summer berries being grown here at Gravetye. It is the huge amount of time and effort that Tom and myself have to selflessly endure monitoring the quality of the produce, at every available opportunity, to make sure that our gooseberries and strawberries are good enough for our guests. Such a burden!
George and his team look forward to welcoming you to the restaurant very soon, to book please call 01342 810567.
In the Garden News
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