Anticipation . . . the ball of emotions. Pleasure, excitement, anxiety, longing for a good event. I’ve been thinking about spring since the moment I sent my last chipolata and sprout off the passé here in the hotel on December 25th.
My mind is encaptured with the seasons and how they have hold on me with what I cook and showcase on the menus. It really is a waiting game, but boy is it worth the wait when the produce starts to come through.
Every morning for the last week I’ve been eagerly watching the asparagus fields in Tuddenham to catch a glimpse of Gary Tilbrook spinning up there in his Range Rover. Gary and his family have grown asparagus here in Tuddenham for decades and still live here in the village running their own nursery. Covent Garden was once its destination and now I have the luxury and honour of offering it here in Tuddenham at the Mill. British is readily available now but for me true romance between cook and produce is when it is available on your doorstep, especially Gary’s. With some luck and a prayer it should be here within the next couple of weeks if these nights warm up.
Local Worlington duck or hen’s eggs, fried and seasoned with a swidge of white pepper, Gary’s asparagus, a splash of rapeseed oil and a St Peter’s Spelt beer from here in the county. That is a good lunch.
Garden rhubarb has forced its way in on the pastry section and we have said goodbye to ‘rhubarb triangle’ stems from Wakefield and Morley. Rhubarb is in abundance locally and my young pastry chef Max has celebrated it in a ‘mess’ form and paired it with toasted Italian meringue, grenadine and oats baked with wild honey. It almost swings between ‘mess’ and another favourite – the ‘Scottish cranachan’! I love the classic crumbles, puddings and thick custards but we really wanted to celebrate the rhubarb differently and lighten it up and challenge its robust nature.
When buying, always get the stalks that are firm and full of colour. The plumper the stalks the better. Rhubarb can be stored up to about a week in the fridge and it freezes fine, raw or cooked. I would always cook and eat it the same day and enjoy it at its optimum. Discard any leaves and wash the stalks thoroughly.
Rhubarb can be very tart but I like to incorporate sweet items to the plate rather than over sweetening the rhubarb. This can spoil the raw flavour I feel is great about the garden variety. It doesn’t have to be stringent, sour and cooked relentlessly. Use a good honey and some natural yogurt, or fresh cream and abandon your Sainsbury’s Spanish strawberries for some honest local rhubarb, while it’s bang in season and tasting its best.
-- Lee Bye is head chef at Tuddenham Mill, Follow Lee on Twitter via @leebyechef