EXPAT chef-hotelier Helen Bartlett explains how she discovered her ready-made market garden in the second instalment from her debut cookbook, Fountainhead Food: Cooking in Andalucia…
Within a short while of being in Andalucia, I realised that I had planted myself in an enormous market garden.
On the morning that I took my first walk here on our site, I brushed past wild fennel, its intense smell leaving me perfumed for hours. I walked in the almond groves, the trees laden with nuts. I found wild thyme, rosemary and lavender. I walked to sit at the top of the hill, passing carob and plum trees.
Gazing across the valley, I could see white beehives dotted along its far contours. I sat on a stump that has since become a huge tree bearing some 200 purple figs.
As the year went on, the olives emerged, gathering weight on the trees – green ones, purple ones, black, oval, round, huge and small. The following spring I found hidden treasures, wild asparagus in thorny bushes and tiny crocuses guarding their jewels.
I took a walk down the winding track to the river, past the pomegranate and eucalyptus trees. The valley was lined with citrus groves – oranges, lemons and mandarins – and, further along, market gardens full of avocado and mango trees. Everyman’s plot standing proud with tomato vines, bamboo wigwams brimming with beans, cascading grapes and, always, that broken down old seat just to sit and enjoy his world.
Walking back up the road from the village I passed the sweeping pink peppercorn trees and picked some to bring home. Along the track I found a caper plant and, nearing our entrance, three plants that sneak their fruit into view – the wild quince, fig and blackberry – if you blink you miss them.
Welcoming gifts arrived – bags of oranges, lemons, home-brewed Malaga wine from the muscatel and, on our doorstep at Christmas, an enormous branch cut from a bay tree. A van honked its horn from the top of the far hill, drove down and sold us watermelons, onions and potatoes.
What more could you want?!
Whenever I cook I always try to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible.
For some of my favourite dishes www.fountainheadspain.com