Sunday, 26 June 2011
Eating botanic gardens
Last night, for the second time, I ate a botanic garden. Not all of it – that would be greedy, reckless and irresponsible – but scavenged weeds and stray plants on the verges of our carefully curated collection of plants.
Along with about 50 other adventurous eaters Lynda and I supped at the Orangery in the Kew Gardens, as the first Pop Up Restaurant held there. I won’t explain what a Pop Up Restaurant is because I don’t know, other than this dinner only became public 14 days before the event and that seems to be part of the definition.
But I will discuss the menu. Most of the ingredients were sourced from weedy corners and wild meadows in and around Kew Gardens. Some of the more traditional ingredients came from a small vegetable garden on site. This is how it all went…
Day lily (Hemerocallis fulva) flowers which we poked into a creamy dip [image at top] and then tried to fit delicately into our mouth - crunchy and quite pleasant. Crumbed elder (Sambucus nigra) flowers were on the trays, along with dried lamb. Now don’t have any sheep at Kew Gardens but we do run a flock at Wakehurst Place. I don’t think this lamb came from our collection.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) soup with nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) – green and a little grassy in taste.
Mock mushroom veloute – apparently made from one of the plantains (Plantago lanceolata) and a little like mushroom, I guess. But nice and distinctively flavoured.
Textures of lawn with smoked pigeon – various ephemerals scattered around the small boned bodies of a pigeon, and smoky and gamey. The pigeons weren’t from the botanic gardens.
Rabbit loin roll and herb crusted rack with sweet vernal grass sauce – nope, rabbits also not from the botanic gardens. All very nice and pastural.
It included nettle again. Here are a few among the deer, which weren't served, at Richmond Park this morning.
Alternately served and either hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium, and definitely not the Giant kind, Heracleum mantegazzianum, which is highly toxic!) or meadow sweet (Filipendula ulmaria). Mine was certainly sweet but who knows which herb.
Yellow cherry plum (Prunus ceracifera) sphere – as it sounds; pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea) jelly and cream – sweet and gorgeously textured; milk skin with lavender (Lavandula) syrup – as it sounds; yarrow (Achillea millefolium) flower shortbread – very nice flavour and texture, going particularly well with the Calvados (Malus) served with this course.
As a final botanical treat, although just before the Calvados, we all got to taste some of Greg Redwood's home-made Beech Leaf Noyau, a gin flavoured with the young leaves of Fagus sylvatica 'Pendula' from Kew Gardens.
All up a fun experience. Great company on our table. Hearty discussion from food and restaurants, to social media and why the English are so proud of their sporting almost-winners. We didn’t meet the chefs, Nigel Smith and Australian born Simon Duff, but Oliver Peyton (from Peyton and Byrne; Byrne, owner and organiser of the event) joined us at the very end, clearly happy with the occasion and the chance to work with the plants of the botanic garden. Miles Irving, key forager, and helper Greg Redwood, Head of the Great Glasshouses and Training at Kew Gardens, were on hand to talk about their collecting exploits on the fringes of the garden. All in all, a lovely night and only a short walk home…
Oh, and the other time I ate a botanic garden was in Korea, at the Hantaek Botanical Garden just out of Seoul. A beautiful garden and a lunch of flowers and other bits and pieces grown in the botanic gardens. This is a picture from that dining experience. And for more on eating flowers, see my earlier post.