Once harvest celebrations and Halloween are out of the way, the Wisley kitchens get down to the serious business of using all those decorative pumpkins that have adorned the garden in recent weeks. We make pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin and feta salad with pumpkin seeds and, of course, pumpkin soup.
This year we're flavouring the soup with orange – not the fresh fruit, its juice or zest, but with bitter orange oil. This is a great ingredient to have in the larder and, like truffle oil, a little goes a long way. Just a few drops of bitter orange oil makes a pot of soup aromatic and mellow, whereas adding fresh juice would make it seem thin and watery.
People naturally think of dried fruit in the run-up to Christmas but orange and other citrus flavours are key festive ingredients too. The bakery at RHS Garden Wisley will be making orange meringues and clementine drizzle loaf cake this year as well as traditional Christmas cake and mince pies. We haven’t forgotten the cranberries either – though they are not at all local! They'll feature in polenta cake and cookies as well as our famous cranberry gin brownies.
At this time of year we're also inevitably making the most of Wisley-grown root vegetables. In the Restaurant we serve a mix of carrots, parsnips and turnips tossed with hardy homegrown herbs like sage, thyme or rosemary and roasted in olive oil or goose fat. This dish is ideal for the Christmas table and very easy to make…
Cut the vegetables into similar sized chunks, keeping them separate, and blanch each variety in boiling salted water before roasting. Root vegetables all have different densities so they cook at different speeds: if you don’t blanch them first, when your carrots are done nicely your turnips will be burnt and your parsnips will be too crunchy!
For perfect roast potatoes you also need to blanch, and make sure you cut the potatoes into similar-sized chunks. I like to tip the par-boiled potatoes back into the hot dry pan to steam dry, which makes them fluffier and, if you knock them about a bit, will produce a crunchy exterior. Alternatively, you could toss them in a little semolina or polenta to create a crust.
Remember to get the oil or goose fat nice and hot in the roasting tin and add the potatoes carefully so you don’t burn yourself. My other top tip for great roasties is to use rock salt or sea salt flakes for seasoning rather than granulated salt and ground pepper. Why? Fine salt and pepper burn readily, which in turn makes the potatoes catch and burn. Flaky or chunky salt gives a more appealing texture and a fresher flavour. The devil is in the detail you might say!
Growing pumpkins and squashes
Eating at RHS Garden Wisley