Growing vegetables at The Small Holding

Growing vegetables at The Small Holding

by Will Devlin 11 June 2020

Chef Will Devlin shares an insight to the farming operation at his Kent restaurant The Small Holding, sharing three recipes that make the most of summer's glut ingredients: tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes. Images by Food Story Media.

Will is the chef and owner of The Small Holding in Kildown, Kent.

Will is the chef and owner of The Small Holding in Kildown, Kent.

When we took ownership of The Small Holding in 2018, it was a rundown and neglected pub, albeit one with a large decked terrace and beer garden with views over the Weald of Kent. Since then we’ve transformed it into an open kitchen and bar and the garden into a one-acre productive plot with two large polytunnels, fifteen raised beds, soft fruit and herb beds, plus space for pigs, chickens and ducks, beehives and a patch of wildflowers. We now grow over 200 varieties of vegetables and fruit during the year.

During the peak growing months, the raised beds and polytunnels are full of lettuces, chard, beans, tomatoes, courgettes, raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants. Growing our own produce on the farm brings an understanding and honesty to the kitchen and vital freshness that, for me, is really important. Making the most of our harvests when the ingredients are at their prime (whilst also preserving and conserving them to use throughout the year) keeps us concentrated on the natural cycle of the land and helps us to create full-flavoured and imaginative dishes. It’s a fun process as we choose and refine each year’s seed take, considering both flavour and yield.

High summer is a cook’s dream. We’re dealing with gluts on a daily basis and it’s a race from ground to kitchen to plate. The last few months of lockdown have been tough, but we quickly pivoted to vegetable and barbecue boxes, hampers full of our own homemade charcuterie and cheeses and wines to support our local friends and suppliers.

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Three favourites to grow every year at The Small Holding are tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes, which are also easy to grow at home. It’s been fantastic to see so many people growing their own food; there’s something so satisfying seeing plants grow from a seed to something you’re then eating for dinner. It’s brilliant for children too to see where their food comes from.

Below are some tips on growing and enjoying these three ingredients at home, plus some simple recipes we create at The Small Holding to make the most of them.

Tomatoes

If you’ve ever grown your own tomatoes in a sunny spot at home, you’ll recognise the green, floral and aromatic fragrance that comes from the vines. For me, it’s the scent of summer and apparently the act of pinching out the side shoots is where the phrase ‘green-fingered’ comes from. We’re growing eight varieties this year, including Tigerella, Shirley and Sungold and are staggering the growing season so we can use the fruits throughout the summer. Try using the first of the early season tomatoes with the last of the wild garlic to make into a delicious pesto, or combine with ricotta and herbs like in our restaurant dish with fennel salami. Raw tomatoes are a treat, but we like to preserve as much as we can throughout the year; have a go at pickling or fermenting them. Fried green tomatoes are amazing, with a great texture and acidity, and green tomato chutney is always on the prep list, so you can use tomatoes even before they’re ripe and not waste any that haven’t ripened by the end of the season.

Courgettes

We’re growing two courgette varieties this year; one is a classic dark green called Midnight and the other is glorious golden yellow with striking white stripes called Sunstripe. The key to courgettes is to give them space as they can spread to a metre across, but you can grow them in a large pot too. Also remember to keep harvesting as this simulates more growth and more fruit. You can of course eat the flowers too – my wife is Turkish-Cypriot and her granny taught me how to make courgette flower dolma with chopped tomato, rice and mint. So good!

Cucumbers

We love cucumbers at The Small Holding and grow a favourite variety called Passandra, which is mid-sized, juicy and isn’t bitter or seedy. Cucumber is such a versatile ingredient and deserves much more care than a few sad slices in a salad. Its mild but distinctive flavour is refreshing and herbal and is at home in soothing dishes as it is paired with fiery chilli, ginger, herbs and fish sauce. We grill, roast, steam and barbecue cucumbers and preserve the gluts as pickles, ketchups and chutneys. They’re also fantastic juiced with herbs such as lovage or mint or infused in vodka or gin for a summery cocktail.