The kitchen garden at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is a sight to behold in June, coming alive with delicious, fragrant berries. Here chef patron Raymond Blanc (and judge of the Great British Food Awards 2019) talks about his favourite varieties and how to eat them
My love of fresh berries started as a young boy. We used to pick fresh berries for Maman Blanc to cook – though a few too many went straight in my mouth rather than in the basket! For me, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are amongst the best. There’s nothing quite like that first British-grown strawberry of the year; sweet and fragrant, it marks the beginning of a fruitful few months for British produce. The season that begins with strawberries in June ends just a few months later when the last apples fall.
When cooking with berries, the variety of fruit that you choose – and how it is grown – can make a huge difference to the taste, colour and texture of your final dish. For example, the flavour of strawberries really varies. My favourite is the perfumed Gariguette, which is best eaten as it comes, while the more common supermarket variety Elsanta keeps well but isn’t as flavoursome, so is better suited to puréeing or using in desserts such as sorbets, summer pudding and trifle.
For raspberries, why not try some golden ones? The Allgold variety is sweeter than the standard raspberry and produces fruit later into the autumn. As for blackberries, thornless types are popular in the garden. They are very easy to keep as they don’t like being dug up and fussed over – just let them spread and do their thing. Once they are established, just let them go and actively cut back at their growth. All of these can be used in my lovely Red Fruit Soup (recipe available at raymondblanc.com). I originally created this dessert for my first ever restaurant but it’s simple enough that anyone can make it at home. It’s so refreshing, with the combination of red fruits, mint, pepper and citrus flavours.
HOW TO GROW YOUR OWN
The quality of the ingredients used is crucial. I grow an alpine wild strawberry in my garden at Belmond Le Manoir, which has an extraordinary flavour and perfume. For the raspberries, I find the later season varieties have more flavour, such as Autumn Bliss and Scottish Glen Doll. When it comes to growing your own, there are a handful of essentials that all berries need to thrive. Without exception, you need full sun conditions and good drainage in rich, fertile soil. In my experience the main enemy of the fruit patch is the birds! Cover the raspberries and strawberries to prevent losing out to them. It’s also important to keep your crop a good distance from any existing wild berry and bramble patches. This prevents diseases and infection from transferring from the wild plants to your domesticated ones.