My Top Ten Cookery Writers

One of my greatest inspirations in the kitchen is the Greens Cook Book.

I’ve just made a kale, potato and chilli soup from it for lunch.

My sister, Deb, gave it to me many years ago and I think she came across it when she was living in San Francisco where the Greens Restaurant is to be found.

I was so inspired I went there for lunch when I travelled to the West coast 20 years ago and I was not disappointed.

I remember the crisp white table linen, the sparkling wine glasses,  the view across the bay to Sausalito and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge nearby.

The food was pretty good too!

Black bean and fresh corn chilli followed by a delightfully wobbly pannacotta, I seem to remember.

After the trip the book enabled me to recreate dishes like that back at home.

It was only on closer inspection that I realised one of the authors, Ed Espe Brown had written another of my cookery bibles, The Tassajara Cook Book.

It’s more of a manual than a conventional cook book.

It described the alchemy of cooking and taught me how to trust my taste and intuition and to use what was to hand.

Ed also showed me there was more than one way to chop a carrot!

Other books that have inspired me are those passed down by my mother.

Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David’s slightly academic, scholarly tomes adorn our bookshelves alongside newcomers like Yotam Ottolenghi, Dennis Cotter (owner of Cork’s Paradiso restaurant) and Rebecca Wood who wrote The Splendid Grain recommended to me by my late friend, John Mixer VII.

I also treasure my copy of Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, given to me by fellow Sacred Harp Singer Lin James.

Marcella Hazan’s Italian cook books and Fuschia Dunlop’s books about Szechuan cookery also rate highly in my pantheon of cookbook writer greats.

And I can’t leave out Madhur Jaffrey and Stephanie Alexander.

They’ve become like old friends and during this pandemic are even more important windows to other worlds.

Who’s inspired you in the kitchen?

I’d love to know more about your influences.




Repair and reuse

I hate throwing things away.

I was using our old spade to dig out some huge, entrenched clumps of day lilies and the handle snapped off.

It was riddled with woodworm!

I thought I might be able to repair it but didn’t have a vice to hold it while I tried to change the shaft and handle.

Then I remembered that Mum knows a man from her gardening club, Alan Drake, who sharpens our tools and I thought he might be able to do it.

Alan’s come up trumps and has done a wonderful job.

It’s so much better than the cheap plastic handle and rotten shaft.

He did point out before he took it away that I should look after my tools better!

To his horror there was dirt on the steel spade.

Well it’s back now and being “no dig” I won’t be using it too much!

But I will look and admire it as a thing of great simplicity, beauty and effectiveness.

And I will clean it and rub linseed oil into it every time I do use it!

It’ll join my lovely antique  pitchfork I bought at Strumpshaw Tree Fair two years ago and make a very nice pair.







Thugs in the garden

Acanthus mollis, daylilies and Japanese anemones are the main culprits.

Acanthus (left) have large serrated  leaves and tall spikes of flowers but invade and take over if you let them

This week, with my friend Alex doing most of the work, we’ve been pulling out the Acanthus or Bear’s Breeches which have smothered other plants.

The day lilies have similar thuggish tendencies.

We still have work to do to uncover this ornamental grass which has struggled to survive the daylily onslaught

Both plants have overwhelmed some lovely airy stands of miscanthus sinensis zebrinus or zebra grass.

Another stand of some relatively well developed zebra grass – in the foreground on the left you can see the the shiny green leaves of some acanthus we’ve spared

I’m hoping the grass will recover to provide an extra dimension of colour, texture and height in the garden.

While we were doing this we also uncovered a tropical plant called a Ginger lily or hedychium densiflorum Assam Orange which should put up an exotic flower in late summer. It needs a lot of water and warmth to do well.

The ginger lily should put on loads of new growth now it’s got some space

Elsewhere we’ve removed a clump of hemerocallis or daylilies to allow these hostas to shine even more.

There are gaps left by my seek and destroy mission which I hope I can plug with some ready grown dahlias.

The area on the right will be filled with some colourful dahlias

Then in the autumn and winter I plan to revamp the borders completely and already have ideas which I am jotting down and discussing with Mum, Sarah, our lovely gardener, and Ros who’s been volunteering in the garden.

I’m going to continue to eradicate the day lilies and divide the dark red persecaria into three and dot it throughout this border.

I will also do the same with the hosta and some sedum and plant them at the front elsewhere.

The area in the photo below is all coming out and will become a wide grass path leading through the gap between the hornbeam hedge down some steps to the veg garden.

It’ll make life easier, improving access to the compost heaps and taps.













Black Lives Matter

Remember the story about my Dad and how I’d bought an orange tree in memory of him.

What I omitted to tell you was his work and consequently our lives were very much bound up with colonialism and the exploitation of people – black people.

Dad was working class grammar school boy – the first of his family to go to university.

His first proper job was as a research scientist for the CSIRO in Australia – a country with a brutal genocidal past.

A country where indigenous people were killed by British settlers who stole their land and set up farms like the ones my Dad helped in his work as an agronomist.

There he met my Mum – the great granddaughter of British and Irish convicts and immigrants to Australia in the nineteenth century.

They then moved with me and my sister to Kenya where he worked for the Empire Cotton Association advising them on how to get maximum yields.

All the cotton was grown and picked by black workers and exported back to the UK.

After two years we returned to England where Dad got a similar position with Outspan, the South African company importing citrus fruit to Europe.

He made regular trips to South Africa to advise white farmers on growing citrus fruit – an industry that depended entirely on black people’s labour – cheap labour that was an inherent part of a society based on racial segregation and exploitation.

During our teenage years arguments for and against the boycott of firms like Outspan and Barclays filtered through to discussions at the dinner table at our house in leafy suburban Buckinghamshire.

My sister and I were horrified that we were, in effect, living off the proceeds of other people’s misery.

It all came to a head when Dad invited to supper some white South African farmers who were on a European tour.

We children boycotted the event and refused to eat with them – a huge embarrassment for my parents.

I’d “forgotten” about this and the shame I felt for our family’s part in the global system that still perpetuates racism and the dreadful inequalities that arise from it.

Quite often we not only “airbrush” events from our nation’s history, but we also, conveniently, forget our own part, willing or not, in these shameful episodes.