Richard Allen, executive head chef at Rockcliffe Hall, talks about his childhood memories …
When I think of my childhood it’s often centred around memories of food, either eating in different places with my family, working in the family bakery or experimenting with different sandwich fillings that I tested on my sister, much to her disgust!
Every now and then we would go to my grandparents’ house for lunch. We got there by way of my dad’s Cortina, which had extremely slippery leather seats and my brother, being bigger than me, would squash me against the side of the car as we went round corners. I was always relieved to see the huge rhododendrons that loomed over the pavement from my granddad’s front garden – just to be able to breathe again.
After lunch, and while everyone else washed up, granddad would take me out into the garden to look for insects and to tell me about his garden pond. I had to look almost straight up at him when he spoke as he was so tall and I remember my neck aching like mad.
Although I loved hearing about all the different names of the fish and how many robins had visited him to date, the things that really fascinated me about grandad’s garden were his cabbages. They were huge, and I used to love the way the water used to form in pearls on the tips of the leaves and run down to form a puddle in the centre of them. They were always a lot crisper in the morning than they were in the afternoon – I guess from the heat of the sun.
One lunch, during an extended session of hide and seek, I hid in the cabbages and was in there so long everybody gave up and went inside. I missed pudding. I didn’t miss the drying up though, mum saved that little treat just for me.
If we were lucky and got the timing just right, Granddad would of harvested one of these green giants and would cook a ham knuckle and place it on the cabbage, which had been cooked in water and salt and given a generous lump of butter that he kept in a porcelain cow on the table. Now I can’t say that I ate all of my vegetables as a kid, far from it, but I would gladly finish off a bowl of buttery spring cabbage and not utter a word.
It was my earliest memory of farm-to-fork eating. There’s something very special about eating produce that’s been plucked out of the ground only a few hours ago, from only a few feet away. Although it’s been some time since my granddad was alive, I still cook cabbages with the same fond memories and have included a recipe inspired by him.
I know it’s not quite as simple as the dish I have told you about from all those years ago, but it is delicious and well worth the effort – and part of me thinks he would have loved it too.
A kitchen garden for me is the ultimate inspiration for any budding chef and at Rockliffe Hall, we are now busy planning our very own garden that will begin its life in the late summer of this year. I cannot tell you how excited I am and we are all very much looking forward to getting in amongst it all. Dreaming of dishes to come is all part of the romance for me and I hope you will all get a chance to pay us a visit and experience it for yourselves. You never know, I may even be able to get the chefs to play hide and seek – but this time they can do the dishes!
Click here for the Richard Allen’s Cabbage, Jersey Royal and Speck Ham Bubble and Squeak recipe