Nigel Slater likes to grow things but is just as happy seeing what’s looking good at the local fishmongers’, butchers’ or farmers’ market. He wants food at its best. But he isn’t a purist, and he doesn’t dictate, and he writes brilliantly readable cookbooks. He has recently celebrated 20 years of weekly Observer columns in the UK.
“We are only making something to eat,” he writes in the intro to his latest American publication, Notes from the Larder. “And yet, it can be so much more than that too. So very much more.”
Photographs by Jonathan Lovekin.
Above: Pear and hazelnut cake in November. The notes or ideas about food, equipment, and kitchens–with recipes attached–are chronological, following the seasons of the year.
Slater has fruit trees, vegetable beds, and flowers shoehorned into his town garden. “By growing something myself, from seed or a small plant,” he writes in an earlier volume, “I feel closer to understanding how and when a pear, a medlar, a broad bean or a raspberry is at its best.”
Above: January and April in Nigel’s garden. Early flowering witch hazel and a protective glass cloche.
Slater’s garden is at the back of a terraced house in north London, so it’s not huge, but does have a potager with six beds and a mini-orchard. In volume one of The Kitchen Diaries Nigel breaks down the contents of his “tiny urban space” thus:
Potager, beds 1 and 2: Roses, old-fashioned pinks, pot-herbs. Bed 3: Raspberries. Bed 4: Currants. Bed 5: Tomatoes and zucchini. Bed 6: Runner beans, broad beans, artichokes, rhubarb. Squeezed in wherever: sweet peas, dahlias, nasturtiums, opium poppies. The fruit trees are plum, damson, hazelnut, apple, and quince.
Above: April 29. Smoked haddock, mussel and leek chowder.
“A quick trip to Inverness, where we emerge, after a meal of haggis and neeps and a night of being rocked gently to sleep by the motion of the train, into brilliant Highland sunshine.” They spot freshwater mussels for sale, which form the backbone of this “thrown-together” chowder.
Above: May 7. The best sandwich. Ever.
“My friend Caroline has sent me a padded envelope of wild garlic leaves,” writes Nigel. They are whizzed with butter and black pepper and provide the foundation of this lamb sandwich (with Taleggio cheese and mayonnaise). There is no recipe as such, but “we decide later that it is probably the best sandwich we have ever eaten.”
Above: June 7. A sweet cherry salad.
“As a rule, I don’t mess with cherries, feeling that they are probably best from the bag,” writes Nigel, before evolving this very simple dessert of a bag of cherries (pitted), half a cup of elderflower syrup, and optional sugar. “I don’t always want to suck and spit.”
Above left: July 19. “A simple idea of matching a pork chop with a handful of gooseberries, the berries baking down into an impromptu sauce that slices like a knife edge through the quivering fat of the chop.”
Above right: October 30. Duck breasts with damson gin and duck-fat potatoes. “Duck fat is worth the occasional extravagance, and nowhere does it work better than with potatoes.” To punctuate this, the griddled duck breasts are first marinated with damson or sloe gin, sherry vinegar, brown sugar, and juniper berries.
Above: Cookery writer Nigel Slater. “I am not a chef and never have been.”
Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes; $40 from Ten Speed Press. Photograph by Kendra Wilson.
N.B.: for UK readers, Notes from the Larder is a US re-working of The Kitchen Diaries Vol. II.
Find out about Nigel Slater’s favorite growers with The Best Vegetables You’ll Ever Taste.