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In “The Great Dixter Cookbook: Recipes From An English Garden, ” vegetable gardener and cook Aaron Bertelsen writes: “I first taught myself to cook out of necessity; living alone in my twenties, I was always in need of a good meal at the end of a hard day’s gardening. Over the years I have come to develop my own style, which, if pushed, I would describe as fresh produce from the garden (home-grown fruit and vegetables taste so much better than shop brought) and I do hate to waste the crops I have grown.”
“The Great Dixter Cookbook” is a collection of more than 70 recipes from the English kitchen garden of Great Dixter. The book also includes growing guides for fruit and vegetables and gardener’s checklists.
Great Dixter is a 14th-century manor house that was home to the great gardener Christopher Lloyd who passed away six years ago. Since then, Great Dixter has become a center of learning for all students and lovers of horticulture.
Bertelsen, a Kew-trained horticulturist, is the house manager and lives at the manor house. He also is the chief cook and gardener for all the food served at Dixter during all the learning symposiums. One would think that a daunting task, but not for Bertelsen. He loves his work and has been there for more than 20 years. He has collected recipes from his grandfather in New Zealand, from Christopher Lloyd, and from his travels around the world.
There are two words to describe his extremely beautiful cookbook and they are “pure” and “simple.”
Bertelsen came to Spartanburg on March 23 and spoke to a sellout crowd at Spartanburg Community College. “After 10 years in the vegetable garden, you might think that I have all the answers,” he said. “I don’t - very far from it. But this is one of the beauties of my job. One lifetime is not enough to learn everything there is to know about growing vegetables, which makes me feel confident that I am never going to get bored.”
What makes “The Great Dixter Cookbook” so successful is the commonality of the recipes, all made with simple and fresh ingredients from the garden. The Wall Street Journal named it one of the five best cookbooks this year. In today’s fast-paced electronic world, simple and plain is a welcome ingredient.
The cookbook’s unique cover is a reproduction of the stenciled wallpaper that hangs in Great Dixter. The full two-page photos make you want to jump into those gorgeous pictures and take a walk around. The book begins with an introduction from Bertelsen and gets right into growing advice on vegetables. This is a person who has had a lot of experience and success, as well as having experienced failure with growing vegetables and fruits.
Bertelsen believes that cooking and gardening go hand in hand. “What happens in the kitchen is a celebration of what the garden gives us,” he said. He believes in cooking what is in season. The fruit and vegetable section is followed by a collection of recipes that are his favorites. One of the best sections is a collection of his favorite basic recipes for vegetable stock, tomato passata, basic pastries, salad dressings, and pestos.
The garden diary section is full of very valuable tips you need to know to be successful at vegetable gardening. Very few cookbooks are organized this way. His garden diary begins in autumn and walks you through his gardening year.
From personal experience, I can vouch for the shortbread recipe and the tarragon chicken dish. This cookbook is indeed an adventure in gardening and cooking. The two are tied together with love and bound with string to produce this delicious cookbook. It makes the reader want to sit in the kitchen at Great Dixter with a cup of tea to see what Bertelsen will cook up next.
Linda Cobb is a master gardener who lectures, teaches, and does garden design in South Carolina. She can be reached at 864-574-8493 or email her at email@example.com. Visit her website at www.mygardenersguide.com