A Cook's Year in a Welsh Farmhouse


by Elisabeth Luard
Bloomsbury, 2011

The tone is set, in a sense, by the first picture, before you come to any text at all. It’s of a tall Camelia, basking in Spring sunshine as it starts to surrender its petals, an upset galvanised bucket lying on its side in the foreground. Nothing has been primped or styled or made ready for the camera; there’s even a nascent sow thistle in the shade there.

We move on to images of wild strawberries on a hand-painted plate and a handful of meadowsweet. There’s a picture of a rambling Georgian farmhouse, slightly rubbed at the edges, so to speak, and one of a child’s bare and mud-spattered feet standing on a tiled kitchen floor. Then comes the dedication:

For Jessie, Bonnie and Harper
whose childhood illuminates these pages,
and in memory of their aunt Francesca
who dearly loved this place.

You can see that this no ordinary book, certainly no ordinary cookbook; it’s deeply personal and Elisabeth Luard’s seven grandchildren are very much at the centre of the culinary journey through the seasons in this very specific and clearly much loved place, Brynmerherhyn.

There’s just enough memoir and reflection throughout the month-by-month recipes (growing up in Spanish-speaking parts of the world as a diplomat’s daughter, living in Andalusia and the Languedoc with husband, the late Nicholas, and the children, the garden, the hedgerows, the need for a well stocked larder in winter if you love in a remote place, water voles, the rhythm of the farming year and, much, much more).

The most arresting recipe title has to “Pot-roast squirrel with cream and lemon”, which I hasten to add uses that pesky invader the grey squirrel, mortal enemy to our native red. I keep this recipe to hand against the day someone offers me a brace or two of the pests as it sounds quite delicious and, in a certain way, virtuous.

Baked beans with parsley, garlic and lemon are like no other baked beans (blond and tangy), the Welsh pot-au-feu called cawl is a gloriously earthy Springtime feast in a bowl, Carribean pepperpot is a vegetable symphony with a sweet, tangy, spicy difference, cheesey tomato-rice croquettes are a seductive take on arancini, ceps with potatoes and bacon are even more delicious than they sound and steamed chocolate cake is a revelation.

That is the merest amuse bouche. What connects all of the recipes in this beautiful volume, apart from the fact that they all work perfectly (at least the ones I’ve tried) is that they a real, born of need, of what’s to hand, what’s in the garden, what a neighbour has dropped in. And of the need to feed people, to nurture them around the table.

Food can express a lot of things but when it is used properly to express love it’s raised to a higher level, however humble the dish may be. And there’s a lot of love in this book.