From Land to Table

Today’s guest blogger is Sybil Kapoor, award-winning author of The Great British Vegetable Cookbook, published by National Trust Books.  As well as being a chef and journalist, she is one of Britain’s most respected food writers and writes regularly for The Guardian, Financial Times Weekend Magazine and House and Garden. Her bestselling books include Simply British, Taste: A New Way to Cook and National Trust Simply Baking.

Sybil Kapoor © Karen Thomas

Sybil Kapoor © Karen Thomas

Autumn has arrived and with it comes one of the richest times for British cooks. Were you to slip into the kitchen garden at Greys Court in Oxfordshire you might find amidst the riotous growth of trailing borlotti beans and pumpkin vines, great clumps of rainbow chard, lovage and fennel. There are pungent new shallots and the first parsnips to cook, along with cauliflower and broccoli. There are wonderful preserves to make and favourite recipes to be rediscovered.

Presented with such a cornucopia of colourful autumn vegetables, every British cook has the luxury of being able to indulge in a wide variety of dishes that address the needs of the changing season. Light dishes that hint at the passing of summer, such as sour cream and onion tart, fennel, chicory and fig salad, and courgette chips are perfect for the last warm days of September.  Intensely flavoured, hearty dishes, such as slow-cooked garlic broccoli, beef and carrot pie and sticky blackcurrant shallots, are ideal for the frosty nights of November.

Meanwhile, gluts of certain vegetables, such as garden marrows, still weigh heavily on the cook’s conscience, since no one likes to waste good produce. Today, with the benefit of freezers, there is also much to be said in favour of freezing your autumnal vegetables as ready-made dishes. Soups, stews and tarts all freeze well, and time and money can be saved if you cook in bulk when vegetables are at their prime.

Another approach to autumnal gluts of vegetables is to create a wider range of vegetable-based dishes for everyday consumption – this is most obviously seen with the creation of sweet dishes. In the past, country cooks used pumpkin in sweet tarts and carrots in jam, but today’s cooks can turn parsnips, carrots or beetroot into cakes and puddings, and a wide variety of squash into soufflés, custards and ice creams.

 I want to encourage cooks to use more local produce within its natural season, which means selecting British grown vegetables. One of the best ways for urbanites to gain a true sense of our vegetable seasons is to wander around the kitchen gardens of their nearest National Trust properties or even become involved in one of their gardening groups. 

Through the seasonal introductions to the recipes in my book, I’ve worked closely with the National Trust to highlight some of the different ways in which you can access home grown produce, from farmers’ markets and sourcing heritage seeds, to school plots, family allotments and community supported agriculture schemes.  I’ve only scratched the surface by mentioning a few of the many exciting projects the National Trust is undertaking, but I hope that it will inspire you to investigate further in your local area. 

© Karen Thomas

© Karen Thomas

Find out more:
Clean hands: locally produced food offered by our farm shops here 

 Muddy boots:  If you don’t have access to your own outdoor space, take a look here for information on how to find a growing space, community project or allotment near you.   

 And when you get home, should you wish to curl up with a good book or enjoy some home cooking we recommend : The Great British Vegetable Cookbook available here for £15 plus p&p or at your local National Trust  or all good bookshops where prices may vary


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