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Caitlin Wall

Christmas Tree Custard by Josh Whitehead

 

Josh Whitehead, Executive Chef at Harewood Food and Drink Project, shares a recipe that can turn this years leftover Christmas tree in to a delicious dessert.

  • 1400ml whole milk
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 9 tbsp cornflour
  • 400g caster sugar
  • Two handfuls of Douglas Fir or other edible Christmas tree branches

Begin by removing the pine needles from the stem with scissors.

Combine the pine needles and sugar in a bowl and blend in a food processor to break down the pine, the sugar should turn a light green colour and give off a lovely resinous aroma. Tip this out on to a tray and leave to dry for 1 hour.

Place a heavy saucepan on the hob and heat the milk and cream with the pine sugar added.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolk with the flour until smooth and light in colour.

Once the milk mixture is hot, but not boiling, add one ladle at a time to the egg yolks, whisking whilst you do so, until you have used up half of the pan of milk.

Return the mixture to the pan and cook gently on the hob until thickened, strain the custard to remove the pine. Allow to cool or serve immediately over puddings, mince pies or, if you’re like me and inclined to do so, drink it by the pint!

 

Introduction to The Harewood Food & Drink Project

Since March 2020, our friends the Harewood Food and Drink Project have been running the Courtyard and Terrace Cafés, serving up delicious seasonal and local food. Food is synonymous with Harewood House, a place where a fully working Walled Garden has provided fresh produce to the local community and further afield for hundreds of years, including during two wartimes. In this first blog of a new series, Director Eddy Lascelles takes us through the ethos of HFDP, their work at Harewood House and what you can expect from future blogs from Eddy, Executive Chef Josh Whitehead, and other members of the HFDP team – look out for highlights of the season, foodie facts, cooking tips, recipes and more. 

 

Harewood’s Highland Cattle and Cyril the pig. Photo by Claire McClean

Harewood Food and Drink Project at Harewood House

Harewood Food and Drink Project works closely with Harewood House Trust’s Head Gardener, Trevor Nicholson, and his Walled Garden team, ensuring that we use as much of what’s grown on site as possible. By working closely together, we create circular economies where possible, ensuring that we’re minimising the environmental impact of what you eat when you’re on site. For example, composting raw food waste and repurposing other waste items to enrich the health of the soil, improve Harewood’s habitat and create better growing conditions.  Working with Trevor and his team is one of the great joys of our job. His knowledge and passion can’t help but inspire you. Knowing the thought, skill and work that goes in to growing our fruit and vegetables, is the greatest motivation our team of chefs could have to make sure we do these beautiful products justice when they reach your plates.

The Harewood Walled Garden

It is our commitment to use produce sourced from Harewood wherever possible, this means fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices from the Walled Garden, meat from Harewood’s livestock, wild foods that are foraged on the Estate, and wild game as well. What we can’t source internally, we work with select local independent artisan suppliers who share our ethos on how food & drink should be done.

We took over the running of the Courtyard Café and Terrace Tearoom on behalf of Harewood House Trust in March this year and we base our approach around ‘the Five S’s’, which underpin our approach to food and what you can expect during your visit to Harewood House:

  • Simple
  • Seasonal
  • Sustainable
  • Sourced Locally
  • Specials

 

One of our seasonal Walled Garden Soups of the day. Photo by Claire McClean.

 

Seasonal Eating & Preservation

In a time when people have a heightened awareness of the impact of what we eat, how it is produced and how it is transported, we’re on a mission to show people that great food and drink can be done with a clear conscience.

Seasonal eating” has become a much-overused phrase in the food and drink world, so why is it so important?

By eating what is in season means you’re having it when it’s at it’s very best, it’s freshest. There are a number of benefits to this; Fresher food has greater nutritional value, it tends to support local farmers and the local economy, it’s transported less distance so has an environmental benefit, and, possibly most important of all, it tastes better.

Seasonal eating is not only about eating what’s currently in season, it’s also about preserving the seasons.

When there’s a glut of something there’s a number of traditional techniques that can be used to prolong the usable season of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and meats as well as altering and enhancing their flavour profiles. These include drying, curing, smoking, pickling and fermenting, and some more expert techniques such as clamping, ageing in bees wax and dry ageing.

 

Wild Mushrooms from Harewood. Photo by Claire McClean.

 

 At this time of year preservation techniques are particularly valuable when there’s not much growing in the gardens, other than the odd hardy brassica and root vegetable. In the past, the ability to store and preserve food over the fallow, cold winter months was literally a matter of life and death. It ensured supplies of food with enough nutritional value to keep you going until the more productive Spring time came around.

These techniques have become synonymous with contemporary cuisine as they can change and enhance flavour profiles and help to bring dishes together. Scandinavian and Japanese cuisine are both pioneers of these techniques, we put them in to use here at Harewood. Next time you’re able to visit the inside of the Courtyard Café, see the shelf behind the coffee machine. This is “Josh’s Fermentation Station”, and whilst it looks like the experimentation of a mad scientist, it will all taste delicious and be used on our menus throughout the year.

 

 

 

 

Cleaning The Chippendale Chairs

The House may be closed, but there’s still plenty going on behind closed doors as our Collections Care team undertake their Winter Clean, ensuring all the items in the collection are properly cared for.
 
Because Covid has meant that the East side of the House has been closed for much of this year, the team have been able to spend some time on tasks that need undertaking less frequently, such as wet cleaning some of the sets of Chippendale chairs. Normally the loose dirt on the chairs would be gently swept into one of the vacuums or wiped over with a cloth, however, dirt will still build up on the surface over many years. So this year with a team of helpers they’ve undertaken the wet cleaning. Cotton wool swabs were gently rolled over the surfaces, dampened in either a solution of vulpex (a soap spirit used in conservation cleaning) and water for the painted surfaces, or rabbit skin glue and water for the gilded surfaces.

Before and After the Chippendale Chairs have been painted

Rabbit skin glue is used by the Collections Care team to clean and consolidate any gilded surfaces on objects, because this is the glue that would have originally been used in the gilding process. Water is heated, but not to boiling point, and then shards of dried rabbit skin are dissolved in the water, this mix is then strained and allowed to cool to a jelly consistency. The ‘jelly’ is then mixed with water in different ratios for the different tasks the team want to undertake. For example the stronger solution would be used to secure any loose areas of gilding, and a weak solution to lift any dirt from the surface.

Preparing for Winter and Beyond. Sustainability in Harewood’s Gardens.

Photo credit Trevor Nicholson

Harewood’s Head Gardener Trevor Nicholson takes us through new processes and methods being implemented across the Gardens, as Harewood looks to the future and more sustainable ways of caring for its Gardens and Grounds. 

As autumn gives way to winter, the Grounds and Gardens teams have been very busy, ably assisted by our loyal and enthusiastic band of volunteers. For the grounds team this means the removal of a huge quantity of fallen leaves from Harewood’s verdant lawns. The collected leaf litter is a valuable source of leaf mould for the gardens.

Having made the decision a few months earlier to change the way we grow our vegetables in the Walled Garden to something approaching the ‘no-dig’ system, every leaf – in fact, every scrap of green garden waste – has become significantly more precious to us as a renewable source of organic matter to be re-purposed as a growing medium.

Although we’ve been making compost for many years, the real difference is in the way we now apply it – and why. Call it what you will: ‘no dig’, ‘no till’, ‘reduced tillage’ etc, there are numerous labels; but they all mean pretty much the same thing: put away the spade and stop turning over and chopping up the garden soil year after year!

Photo credit Trevor Nicholson

Regularly digging over and breaking up the soil impacts on the soil ecosystem by disturbing complex ‘food webs’ – interrelations between a multitude of soil organisms and mycorrhizal fungi, which live symbiotically with plants. Leaving the soil undisturbed and placing organic matter onto the surface not only prevents stored carbon from the soil being released into the atmosphere through digging, it also provides optimum conditions to enable the community of soil organisms to flourish.

The beneficial effect of these soil organisms includes increasing the fertility of the soil and improving its structure. One of the most important environmental benefits of adopting this method of surface ‘mulching’ is the retention of soil moisture, which not only saves water, but also reduces soil erosion and helps prevent the silting up of rivers and drainage systems.

Another added benefit to the gardener of applying organic matter to the soil as a surface ‘mulch’ is the control of weeds. This method need not be confined to the vegetable garden. We are experimenting in some areas of the Himalayan Garden with the use of waste cardboard re-purposed as a biodegradable ground cover, which is being placed between plants and topped off with sieved leaf mould.

The composting of our green garden waste and the recycling of biodegradable materials really underpins much of what we are doing in the gardens – now and in the future – as we set our focus on working in ever more sustainable ways and having environmentally considered methods at the forefront of our  thinking.

Object in Focus – Harewood’s Dining Room Chairs

 

This chair, part of a set of 20, was made by Thomas Chippendale for the State Dining Room at Harewood House, delivered in around 1771. Its design represents the height of fashion in mid-late 18th century English dining furniture, with a neo-Classical frame decorated with carved ornament such as acanthus leaves, fluting and bell flowers. The seat is upholstered in leather, often utilised on dining furniture for its durability and practical qualities. 

The frame of the chair is made of mahogany – a popular material used for furniture-making in England from the 1720s, highly prized for its naturally rich colouring, fine figuring (graining) and strength. Mahogany is particularly workable, allowing cabinet-makers to carve intricate designs into its surface, lending itself to the highly decorative cabinet-making tradition of the 18th century. 

But the procurement of this versatile and beautiful material came at a human cost, and its history is intertwined with that of the transatlantic slave trade. Following the arrival of the first European colonists in the West Indies and Central Americas in the early 17th century, huge swathes of native timber was felled across the region. Initially this took place to clear land for sugar plantations, but the inevitable recognition of the remarkable qualities of mahogany generated an export market for the raw material itself. 

The significant amount of labour needed to log mahogany trees came from enslaved Africans brought to the West Indies and Central America by European traders. It was dangerous and physically brutal work. Working in groups of between 10-50, enslaved woodcutters would embark upon forest expeditions to cut and log trees, clear roads and transport raw material back to coastal ports via rivers. A description of the logging process of Honduran mahogany written in 1873 by a British cabinet-maker paints a bleak picture of the working conditions for the individuals involved: 

The labour of loading and driving, on account of the intense heat of the sun during the day, must be performed in the night-time, and by torch light…[T]he great number of oxen—the half naked drivers, each bearing a torch—the wildness of the forest scenery—the rattling of the chains, and cracking of the whips—and all of this at the hour of midnight, present…the sober industrial pursuit which has fallen to the lot of the wood-cutters of Honduras. (1)

There were also devastating ecological consequences to the extensive deforestation of the Caribbean region. As a direct result of large-scale sugar production and the systematic exploitation of slave labour, numerous West Indian islands experienced the swift extinction of mahogany and other native trees. Diverse forests were replaced by agricultural monocultures and microclimates that would go on to cause severe problems with drought and erosion. 

When studying Harewood’s history and collection, it is important to consider and reflect upon the devastating socio-economic context that it was a product of. Despite their elegance, Harewood’s dining room chairs – as well as the many other pieces of mahogany furniture designed to sit alongside them – are inseparably linked to Britain’s merciless colonial past. To find out more about the building of Harewood House and its links to the slave trade, visit our Building Harewood digital guide. 

 

(1) Thomson, The Cabinet-maker’s Assistant: A Series of Original Designs for Modern Furniture (London: Blackie and Son, 1873), 28-29.