Reading time 5 minutes
Aaron Bertelsen, current cook and horticulturist of Great Dixter, an idyllic English garden that boasts medieval appearance, has written a recipe book with which he wishes to demonstrate the presence and importance of fruits and vegetables in his dishes, but in which also It teaches us the natural cycles of plant growth and gives us tips to get the most out of our own gardens and gardens.
Published in English by the Phaidon publishing house, the recipe book is called The Great Dixter Cookbook: Recipes from an English Garden and draws attention, in addition to the delicious and simple preparations unveiled by Bertelsen, for the still lifes taken by photographer Andrew Montgomery, who has known how to portray the essence and idiosyncrasy of the garden both in the busiest and most depopulated months.
House and orchard of Great Dixter, which was the residence of Christopher Lloyd and one of the most famous gardens in England. © Andrew Montgomery
Although at first glance Great Dixer may seem like a completely medieval house, the truth is that in reality only one of its three buildings is, the other two were added a posteriori in the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.
However, it is not the constructions that every year thousands of people come to know until the border between Kent and Sussex, in England. What attracts visitors is the spectacular garden that, for years, was cared for and cultivated by the writer Christopher Lloyd, who was also a self-taught cook for the property.
Lloyd practiced an honest and simple cuisine based on the native seasonal products, simple and original recipes that for the first time come to light in this book and that accompany the current creations of Aaron Bertelsen, who perpetuates the legacy and history of the garden, the house and the large family of Lloyd.
Portrait of the horticulturist and chef Aaron Bertelsen in the Great Dixter orchard. © Andrew Montgomery
MUCH MORE THAN A RECIPES BOOK
The love for horticulture is not new to Aaron Bertelsen, who receives frequent invitations to talk about this profession in events celebrated all over the world. He practiced as a child with his grandfather in his native New Zealand and, after studying Social Anthropology at the University of Otago, he volunteered in the Great Dixer garden before working in the Botanical Gardens of Jerusalem, of which he is still an advisor .
He returned to Great Dixter in 2005 to, two years later, become a horticulturist and cook alongside horticultural chief Fergus Garrett, where he continues to work today.
A daily activity that he tells in The Great Dixter Cookbook: Recipes from an English Garden in the form of practical tips and tricks with which he intends to teach readers how to plant, grow, collect vegetables, herbs and fruits.
In the book there is a seasonal newspaper in the form of a guide to learn how to organize and cultivate a garden, rotate crops, select seeds, fertilize … all depending on the needs of each season.
Aaron Bertelsen tuna and potato salad recipe. © Andrew Montgomery
TALK WITH AARON BERTELSEN
Some say that "horticulture is the future", when in reality it is the (forgotten) past …
Yes, humanity has never had a population so far from the countryside, but city dwellers can still have fun with growing plants on a proportional scale, it can simply be a pot on the windowsill. We are also seeing great momentum in the cultivation of vegetables in urban spaces where neighbors work together.
You have been connecting the garden and the kitchen for more than ten years, just what many chefs, restaurants and exclusive hotels are now pursuing. Do you consider yourself a gastronomic visionary?
First of all I am a gardener and I get angry if at least part of my day does not go by with my hands sunk in the ground and since it is I who is responsible for growing the vegetables I want this to be the best possible to use it in the kitchen .
How would you define your cooking style?
My style is very simple and homely. I try to highlight the taste of the fresh fruits and vegetables I grow. My diet is based on plants.
Grandma's fruit cake, one of Aaron Bertelsen's favorite recipes. © Andrew Montgomery
I suspect that answering this question can be difficult, but what do you like most about horticulture or cooking?
I love to grow plants, and this will always be my priority. You will discover many more plants if you sow your own seeds and then cook with what has grown from them.
Which of the two is more satisfactory?
Gardening brings me many joys, but I also love food and cooking for myself and my friends. However, there is a great feeling of fullness at the end of the day when you have worked hard in the garden.
And which hook more?
I think they both get hooked and I'm glad I can do both at the same time.
In the book you ensure that autumn is the time when a garden season really begins. Could you give us some advice?
Learn from the mistakes of the previous growing season, but also clarify your ideas and continue preparing the next growing season. The soil is the most important part of gardening and, having it in the best conditions, you will create the ideal medium for fruits and vegetables to grow with a large amount of nutrients that feed your body.
Fried zucchini, a simple dish devised by Aaron Bertelsen. © Andrew Montgomery
Seasonal crops will define seasonal dishes … but are you in favor, for example, of planting a specimen that is not native to your geographic area, but that you know will grow perfectly in your farmland and under your climatic conditions?
If we only planted and grew the native species of England we would be very limited in the garden and the kitchen. I think you have to grow everything you can from anywhere in the world that suits your climate.
Why is tomato pie one of your favorite dishes?
Tomato pie represents summer on a plate. I also love seeing ripe tomatoes in the garden and I think this is a perfect way to use them.
You have dedicated a part of the book to preserves, why do you consider them so important?
In winter we like to remember summer, something you get thanks to canned food. They also bring other flavors to the winter kitchen.
Detail of the lush orchard of Great Dixter, attended by Aaron Bertelsen. © Andrew Montgomery
Cover of the book 'The Great Dixter Cookbook: Recipes from an English Garden' (Phaidon). © Cover of the book 'The Great Dixter Cookbook: Recipes from an English Garden' (Phaidon).