The fact that Britain has become a nation of garlic lovers is in no small part due to the Boswell family's The Garlic Farm, which in turn has helped to turn the spotlight on the uniquely advantageous growing conditions on the Isle of Wight and the rich bounty of produce they yield.
Having decamped to the Island from Notting Hill some 15 years ago, working as a freelance food and drink book editor and sometime writer, I soon discovered the extra bonus of living here, namely a larder chockfull of fabulous ingredients, crammed onto the top shelves in terms of quality, practically on my doorstep. Although the chubby, firm garlic bulbs from The Garlic Farm were a constant on my shopping list from the start, I was led by the nose, literally, to sample their aromatic smoked garlic, perfect for sounding a well-rounded, mellow garlic note, and to experiment further with the sweet caramelized black garlic, as championed by Yotam Ottolenghi, cloves of umami concentrate that add an intriguing depth of flavour. Then there were the seasonal garlic specials to grab while they were going the green or 'wet' garlic, juicy and zesty yet mild enough to use raw without the risk of being overpowering; the designer-looking and delicious-tasting garlic scapes, the flowering stems of hardneck varieties of garlic; and the outsized elephant garlic, in reality a member of the leek family, ultra mild and ideal for roasting.
The versatility of these ingredients provided me with fresh impetus in my quest to develop a range of recipes that were healthy yet high in flavour, particularly when used in conjunction with the other premium local produce, such as the finest tomatoes and asparagus, freshly landed fish and crustaceans, grass-fed lamb and beef, superlative milk and yogurt, watermill-powered stoneground flour and cold-pressed rapeseed oil. And so I hatched an idea to draw this whole artisanal food scene together in a book, The Isle of Wight Feast of Food and Drink, presenting nine seasonal scenarios staged in atmospheric settings around the Island, each featuring a menu of dishes specially devised for the occasion and to showcase the wealth of Wight produce. And all captured in stunning original photos taken over the course of a year by leading local photographer Ben Wood.
My culinary excursions in the process of putting the book together happily involved exploring The Garlic Farm's wide range of garlic-flavoured products, which work wonders in instantly boosting flavour. For example, the Peach and Mango Chutney contributed a touch of fragrant fruitiness to my smoked pollack kedgeree and Celebration Chutney a festive warm spicy edge to some stuffing balls to accompany roast goose, while Creamy Horseradish with Garlic gave a subtle oomph to a gooseberry sauce to serve with smoked trout and the Toasted Garlic Mayonnaise a laid-back licking of garlic to a potato salad with peas, radish and summer herbs. And I even used a couple of the products to make a cocktail with a difference a Wight take on a Bloody Mary featuring The Tomato Stall's Sunshine Juice made with golden tomatoes, vamped up with a dash of The Garlic Farm's Vampire Slayer Seriously Hot Sauce and seasoned with a pinch of Sea Salt with Garlic and Black Pepper, with more of the same used to rim the glass. One hell of a beverage for brunch!
Along with these and other recipes (including vegetarian and dairy- and gluten- free options), in the book you'll find background information about all the different categories of food and drink produced on the Island as well as foods that can be responsibly foraged, plus a directory of producers, retailers and foodie events. The Isle of Wight Feast of Food and Drink, priced £16.00, is available from The Garlic Farm shop, and at www.iowfeastoffood.co.uk, all good booksellers, many other retail outlets Islandwide and Island foodie events.
Contributed by Jo Richardson