At Vale House Kitchen, we’re firm believers in eating locally & seasonally – not only is it better for the environment, but it fits in with the natural calendar that our country skills courses follow throughout the year, and, of course, it makes for much, much better flavour. We work with lots of brilliant local suppliers for our courses, but wherever we can, we also like to grow our own – you can’t get much more local than that!
Any visitor to Vale House will immediately notice that it’s not just the home of our business, but our family home too – and tucked away behind the house you’ll find our kitchen gardens, where we grow fresh fruit and vegetables to use in our courses and put on our own supper table. We’ve got a big garden, so this is no small operation, with a whole rainbow of different crops growing throughout the year – but now’s the time that we’re really busy harvesting the majority of our goodies.
Over the past few months, we’ve been enjoying lots of lovely fresh summer salad – tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce – as well as other summertime classics like runner beans, broad beans, and courgettes. Peas and potatoes have already been gathered for the year, and spinach is on its way out too, but coming in now we have beetroot and parsnips (perfect for an autumnal Sunday roast), broccoli, cabbage, kale and pumpkins, and we’ve got Brussels sprouts to look forward to as (whisper it) Christmas approaches too.
From the orchard, meanwhile, we’re picking apples by the bushel and turning them into chutney (using Grandma Molly’s recipe), as well as plenty of plums too – we’ve got four fabulous different varieties, perfect for everything from making jam to simply nibbling fresh. And we were very excited to see our almond tree starting to produce this year – not a huge crop, but we’ve had it for four years and thus far have only had one or two nuts a year, so we were delighted to harvest around 100 nuts this summer.
As the weather starts to get a little more damp and chilly, we’ll also be keeping an eye out for food to forage from the hedgerows – we’ve already noticed a bumper crop of sloes this year, which are almost ready to pick for sloe gin, and will be saving plenty of our cooking apples to pair with foraged blackberries in a good old-fashioned crumble. We’ve also been making some blackberry whisky with the first of this year’s berries – it takes 3-4 months to mature, so it’ll be just about ready for the perfect pick-me-up when the weather gets really cold.
There’s nothing quite so satisfying as setting a table with food you’ve grown yourself, or storing up home-grown goodies for the upcoming frosty months – supermarkets these days might claim to provide anything you fancy at any time of year, but anyone who’s tried a supermarket strawberry in December knows that that way only disappointment lies. If you fancy getting a little more old-fashioned with us, then check out our upcoming courses, including Autumn Preserves (23rd September) and our Introduction to Foraging (27th September), as well as a variety of butchery courses and our Smoking and Curing Masterclass with Steve Lamb of River Cottage, on the 28th October. Want to know more about daily life at Vale House and what we’re getting up to? Follow us on Instagram @valehousekitchen for more tales from the vegetable patch.