Swapsy suppers

Swamped with courgettes, overwhelmed by kale? If only there were some way to make use of all that extra veg on the plot. Now a pub in Gloucestershire has come up with a very nifty idea. Donate your homegrown gluts and receive money off vouchers for supper. Neat.

Words: Genevieve Taylor

Pictures: Allan Pollok Morris

Like many modern restaurateurs, Dave and Tanya Kelly of The Priory Inn, Tetbury, Gloucestershire, are passionate about sourcing food as locally as possible and their kitchen has a strict food policy – around 90% of what it uses comes from within a 30 mile radius.

Three years ago, Dave took the idea of buying local even closer still after hearing a few of his regulars at the bar moaning about having to get through gluts of fruit and veg from their allotments. In a visionary step, the Priory’s ‘Barter at the Back Door’ scheme was born, whereby locals bring in their excess produce to the kitchen and exchange it for market-value vouchers to be used in the pub and hotel.

Gluttonous gluts

The idea is so simple, so neat, that it’s a wonder it has not spread far and wide across the land. As all edible gardeners know, gluts are inevitable and whilst that is partly the joy of growing your own, it can also become a little tiresome when you’re wondering what to do with your hundredth courgette.

With 59 regulars now dropping fruit and veg off during the growing season, Barter at the Back Door has come a very long way in 3 short years and its now very much an essential part of the way Dave’s kitchen is run.

Currant accounts

The cycle of abundance in summer and autumn to real scarcity in winter and early spring is makes demands on a commercial kitchen that is genuinely committed to cooking local.

Last year was particularly tough, with possibly the worst summer for growing in recent history, but this year is already turning out to be really rather good.

Recently, a woman turned up at the back door with a bounty of blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries and courgettes that netted her a whopping £23 of vouchers to spend at her leisure. You can easily see this rather quickly adding up to a lovely evening out.

Something for something

For many the scheme has been a much-needed lifeline to a bit of fun. A nearby smallholder who lives the good life, with precious little in the way of excess cash, uses her vouchers to treat her family to something they could never afford if bartering their own produce hadn’t played a part. As you might expect, a local manor house contributes on a slightly grander scale.

Once the family of the house have taken all they need, the head gardener brings the rest to The Priory and the vouchers it generates get stashed away for the staff Christmas party so everyone on his team gets something back for their hard work throughout the year.

Simple apple & raspberry compote, with Greek yogurt, honey & toasted walnuts

Serves 2

  • 25g walnut pieces
  • 2 eating apples – any variety
  • Couple of teaspoons of caster sugar, to taste
  • 125g raspberries
  • 200g Greek yoghurt, full or low fat
  • Drizzle of runny honey
  • Few mint leaves, to garnish (optional)

Add the walnuts to a small frying pan and toast over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure they toast evenly. This will wake the nuts up, making them more intensely nutty and is a step well worth doing. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Core the apples and chop them into wedges, (there is no need to peel as the texture adds a little interest,) dropping them into a small saucepan. Sprinkle over the sugar and add a tablespoon or two of water and set over a medium low heat. Stew gently until the apples are beginning to soften but don’t let them collapse completely and taste for sweetness, adding a little more sugar if necessary.

Stir through the raspberries and allow to cook for another minute or so before removing from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature, or serve warm if you prefer.

Harvest home

Luckily for Dave domestic gardeners tend to grow things for flavour rather than for commercial viability, so the kitchen gets the very best tasting produce around.

Homegrown carrots, often crooked and knobby, are infinitely more delicious than poker straight commercially grown ones. Interesting heritage fruits, such as quince and medlars, often turn up, as well as unusual types of chillies and fresh horseradish root. But what Dave loves the most are the mixed bags of interesting leaves and herbs, like chocolate mint or red veined sorrel, that you simply couldn’t buy for love nor money, and because they travel from plot to plate literally in a few hours he believes the salads they serve simply couldn’t be fresher or more tasty.

Only rarely does the Priory have to turn produce away. Around Halloween they can get so inundated with large, and really rather tasteless, orange fleshed pumpkins that they simply have to say no.

Eggs and meat too, due to traceability and health and safety issues, sadly get rejected, and occasionally they get gluts of so many windfall apples that they get turned away. But pretty much anything else goes, so long as its grown nearby.

Perfect seasoning

Dave and his chef, Ian Neald, relish the challenge of relieving the locals of what they either don’t need or simply can’t face eating any more of. Never knowing what’s going to turn up at the door each morning certainly keeps everyone on their toes as the team rapidly devise 4-5 specials for the day with what they have in front of them – it’s a bit like Ready Steady Cook on a professional scale.

But for Dave much of the pleasure comes from putting nature firmly at the heart of the kitchen. When you can’t just buy produce from all over the globe with the click of a mouse, Dave believes there simply has to be a little more respect for what goes in your mouth.

Warm salad of roast squash and curly kale with crispy bacon & hazelnuts

  • 1 small squash, deseeded & sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • a bunch of curly kale, washed & chopped
  • 100g hazelnuts
  • 200g smoked streaky bacon
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Spread the squash out on a roasting tray and drizzle over half the olive oil. Tuck in the garlic cloves and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in the oven until the squash is tender and starting to colour a little at the edges – about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the slices.

Meanwhile, blanch the kale by plunging into lightly salted boiling water for around 4-5 minutes. Drain well and set aside. Toast the hazelnuts in a small frying pan until golden all over, tip onto a board and chop roughly. Set the frying pan back over a high heat and fry the bacon until crisp, then roughly chop.

Once the squash is cooked, add the blanched kale and stir well to coat in the juices. Fish out the roast garlic and squeeze each clove out of its skin into a small bowl. Add the rest of the olive oil and lemon juice to taste.

To serve, arrange the squash and kale on plates and scatter over the bacon and hazelnuts. Drizzle with a little of the dressing and serve immediately while still warm.

Spread the word

The success of Barter at the Back Door has evolved mainly through word of mouth, although at the start of each growing season The Priory runs a small ad in the local paper, the Tetbury Advertiser, as a gentle reminder to locals that the pub really needs their excess produce.

In this tight knit community, local farmers are very supportive and are happy spread the word and busy events such as the Tetbury Food Festival also play their part in highlighting the scheme. Dave, a native New Yorker, is justifiably proud of his scheme which he has a fundamental role in supporting the local community of which now feels very much a part.