Signs of the weather warming up have been here for a few months now, and the glorious carpets of wild flowers in and around Gravetye have been stunning. Starting with the early daffodils and primroses and now with the rivers of English Bluebells flowing around the trunks of trees. As a chef these don't interest me very much. Yes, they are very beautiful to look at, but you can't eat them. Ok, so the primrose is edible, but it doesn't really taste of anything.
What floats my boat at the moment in the wild flower category are these three fantastic specimens. Each of them as beautiful to look at as they are to taste, and all possessing a very different flavour.
First up is the wood sorrel flower, or Oxalis. If you want to go wood sorrel hunting, now is the time to do it, as these little white flowers give the location away of these normally hard to spot areas of growth. The whole plant, like every member of the sorrel family, contains oxalic acid, and the flowers have a delicate sweetness to accompany the lovely lemony zing produced by this acid. We only use them on cold dishes as hot food wilts them too quickly, and at the moment they find themselves on a Dorset Crab starter with Bramley, citrus and wild sorrel leaves.
Next up are the wild garlic or Ramson flowers. Don’t be fooled by the pretty little white flowers, these pack a garlicky punch, and should only be used sparingly. Wild garlic when raw is strong, and once wilted loses its strength and becomes deliciously sweet. We add a few flowers to an Old Spot Pork main course with wilted wild garlic leaves, green asparagus and a cider gel, giving the dish an occasional hit of wild garlic as you work your way through it. After the flowers die down they leave behind the green seed pods, and these are excellent brined and pickled like capers.
The last of the three is another amazing flower. It has a couple of common names such as Cuckoo Flower and Maids Milk, presumably as this is what happens when they begin to appear. It is a Cardomine, a member of the brassica family, and is a light pink colour. There are huge numbers of them along the drive, and they seem to like mixing with the Bluebells that grow to a similar height. We have a starter on at the moment of local beef served as a tartar with variations of cow's milk and English wasabi and these flowers are a perfect match, with quite a strong mustardy in the back of your nose taste just like horseradish and wasabi.
For me it is important that every component of each dish tastes of something and makes a decent contribution to its balance of flavour. If that ingredient just so happens to be a beautiful flower, then that’s an added presentational bonus. And it's not just about looking pretty, it gives a sense of a time and a place; the food is a true reflection of Gravetye’s surroundings and a snapshot of the continually evolving seasons.
George and his team look forward to welcoming you to the restaurant very soon, to book please call 01342 810567.
In the Garden News
If our flower borders can be compared to a painting, then the lawns are their frame. Tom ensures these calm spaces get the attention they need…
At the Manor News
We look ahead to some exciting upcoming events including our annual William Robinson festival, this year with special guest Christine Walkden…