Savour the Flavours in our garden
Northcote’s biodynamic gardening scheme now includes a selection of lesser known herbs that the hotel’s innovative chefs are using to add extra zest to exceptional recipes.
It is now two years since Northcote launched its ground-breaking biodynamic garden project and as well as receiving high praise from the experts in its annual inspection, the scheme is reaping rewards in the Northcote kitchens as bumper crop after bumper crop is plucked straight from nature’s larder for use in the hotel’s award-winning cuisine.
Pioneered by head gardener Phill Dewhurst, the revolutionary biodynamic garden in the grounds of Northcote combines ecological, social and economic sustainability to produce an organic, balanced ecosystem, which not only generates fertility from within the land itself, but also produces the healthiest, tastiest harvests imaginable.
Ensuring the successful pollination of the crops are Northcote’s three honey bee colonies which play a critical role in the biodynamic land husbandry project. Boasting a soft fruit vineyard bursting with delicious blackberries and loganberries, a poly-tunnel full of beans, greenhouses teeming with juicy tomatoes and a myriad of beds brimming with varieties of freshly grown leeks, courgettes and cauliflowers, the Northcote garden is now firmly established as a biodynamic produce paradise.
But that’s not to say that the path to success has been an easy one. The winter storms of 2017 and the heatwave of 2018 both presented challenges for the green-fingered team, as did the compacted soil that resulted from construction work on the hotel’s lodge. However, thanks to their patience, perseverance and persistence, Phill and his team have taken an all-but empty garden and transformed it into a veritable Eden that has delivered more than £25,000 of fruit and vegetables to the kitchen since its inception.
With his crops flourishing and the kitchen’s collection baskets overflowing with goodness, Phill has recently turned his attention to the introduction of a series of unusual herbs, which will be utilised in both the kitchen and the bar to add extra zest to dishes and drinks.
“Northcote has always been known for its stimulating menus and these less common herbs and plants allow our inventive chefs to experiment with their creations. The plants may be small in stature, but they’re huge on flavour. They certainly pack a punch whether used in a gin and tonic cocktail or alongside Lancashire’s finest ingredients in one of Northcote’s famous dishes,” explained Phill.
These delicate herbs, each grown with care and neatly labelled on slate boards in tidy, attractive planting beds, present Northcote’s team with a world of opportunity and innovation: “Many of the unusual varieties that we’re growing, as far as we’re aware, have not previously been developed for use in British restaurant kitchens, so the recipes currently being established are using exclusive and exceptional ingredients.
It’s definitely an exciting time to visit Northcote,” said Phill. “The majority of these plants are perennial, which means that once the kitchen has established demand, we can set aside a plot of land to grow the necessary amount of each herb all year round.”
With the biodynamic herb experiment underway, guests at Northcote can expect to sample some of the following in the bar and restaurant over the coming months:
Giant Purple Hyssop
This unsurpassed pollinator attractant features radiant purple flowers, which offer the perfect palate cleansing zing for use in salads, butters, oils – and floral G&Ts! Described as tasting like a combination of mint and aniseed, its leaves may also be used to create a refreshing cordial or tea.
Rose of Attar
Also known as the rose geranium, this delicate-looking plant has pretty pink flowers and a stunning rose scent that conjures images of bustling street markets lined with Turkish delight. Traditionally used to flavour oils and water, this small but commanding herb will bloom in jams, jellies and ice creams.
These small blackberry-sized, deep red berries are described by Phill as the most delicious fruit he’s ever tasted – and he’s in good company since it is also said to have been Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit! Tantalising in salads, desserts, cakes and jams, their flavour has been likened to kiwi, strawberry, sherbet and bubble-gum.
Developed from the blueberry by American horticulturalists, pinkberries are bright fuchsia pink in colour and offer a fragrant candyfloss taste that would sweeten up any mixed drink or dessert. They’re as delicious as they are beautiful.
Recognised for its vivid golden colour and its valuableness, the pollen of the saffron crocus is a highly sought-after ingredient which can be used in everything from hearty Moroccan tagines and spicy curries to classic rice dishes such as paella and risotto.
This Japanese herb may look like the humble nettle, but its pungent gingery flavour is far from simple. Combining spicy notes with a burst of citrus, the leaves can be used in mojitos, pickles and almost any East Asian-influenced dish. Agretti Otherwise known as saltwort or friar’s beard, this fleshy green plant bears a resemblance to samphire, both in shape and in its salty taste. Exceptionally popular in Italy, the Mediterranean native is best when sautéed with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic and served alongside fish or pasta.
Orach Scarlet Emperor
Also known as mountain spinach, these heart-shaped leaves provide a fantastically flavourful alternative to spinach either when cooked or used in salad dishes. Its attractive purple colour adds extra panache.
Having direct access to such refined ingredients is a triumph for Northcote’s pioneering chefs and being in charge of their development is also a coup for Phill: “Every square metre of land is being made beautiful and bountiful and it’s a pleasure when you see the fruits of your labour succeed. It’s always great to see our produce picked and prepared, but when it comes to the less recognisable crops, it’s even more rewarding to see the passion we have for growing them translate to the plate. The garden team have one more trick up their sleeve to ensure the kitchen is provided with the very best produce possible. It’s reasonable to assume that food growing stops at the kitchen door.
However, Northcote is not a conventional establishment. In keeping with the restaurant and hotel’s ‘can do’ approach to innovative experimentation, they are now growing inside too. Lisa Goodwin-Allen instigated Northcote’s investment in an urban cultivator. This remarkable state-of-the-art growing cabinet allows year round micro salad and herb leaf production of a vast range of crops.
To date the garden team have successfully provided enormous quantities of over 20 different varieties of salad and herbs. They began cropping from the cultivator in June 2018 and don’t ever anticipate stopping – it’s a 24/7 365 day a year bonanza. The on board computer provides all the data and alerts about crop development to ensure that harvest occurs at the optimum flavour point. “Hearing the excitement of the chefs as they develop new dishes and seeing guests savouring the flavours makes the planning, the sourcing of the seeds and the nurturing of these wonderful plants incredibly worthwhile.” said Phill.