Must keep the cook happy

My wife is spending most evenings watching the re-run of Downton Abbey on the television.

Whilst she is avidly following the ups and downs of the Earl of Grantham and his family and staff, I can’t help being intrigued by the extravagant supper parties they seem to indulge themselves in most evenings.

Almost every day Lady Grantham will say “Carson can you tell Mrs Patmore there will be an extra six for supper this evening”. Poor old Mrs Patmore the head cook will suddenly produce an amazing banquet for at least a dozen people.

I can understand her going to the cold store and getting out joints of meat or game, but I can’t help wondering how the head gardener produces so many vegetables all year round.

Swiss chard SUS-200907-152422001

I remember watching a wonderful series a few years ago called “The Victorian Kitchen Garden.” Jennifer Davies of the BBC discovered the walled garden at Chilton Foliat and brought back its retired head gardener Harry Dodson with the help of a young team to recreate the kitchen garden as it was in the Victorian days.

Harry said the hardest job of the head gardener was to take up several baskets of vegetables 365 days of the year and present them to the head cook.

Of course, this time of year the gardener’s job is fairly easy, when so many summer vegetables are growing in the kitchen garden. The runner beans, peas, marrow and courgettes should go on until the first frost comes knocking.

However, for the gardener, this is the most important time of year to plan for the cold winter months.

The onions, shallots and garlic should now have been dried off and hung in the shed. Within a few weeks the potatoes will need digging and stored in hessian sacks to be used right round until the new potatoes come in again in late May.

The brassica cage should be fully planted out with Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and winter cabbage. Now some of the summer crops are coming to an end the ground should be planted with vegetables for the winter.

My sweet peas have now finished and I have used the ground to plant a couple of rows of Autumn King carrots. Now I have lifted all the onions, garlic and shallots, I have filled the ground with leeks.

Another good crop to plant now for use in the winter months is spinach and in particular its close relation Swiss chard. I grow the rainbow chard (bright lights) which always makes an attractive addition to the dinner plate.

I also planted some celeriac a few months ago which I find is lovely mashed in with the potatoes in the winter months. If you haven’t grown any you can still sow a row of swedes and turnips which are also a good companion with the mashed potato.

Of course the big advantage we have over the Victorians is the invention of the freezer. Hopefully your runner beans will crop well and you will be able to freeze the surplus.

All beans and peas freeze well and are a very welcome addition to the winter supper table.