The Lia and Juliet Supper Club

Lia Leendertz is one of Britain’s most affable gardening writers, blogging the results of the trials and successes of her Bristol townhouse garden on her Blog “Midnight Ramblings” and sharing her views with gardeners on Twitter. She recently teamed up with the Editor of Gardens Illustrated magazine, Juliet Roberts, and together they created the “Lia and Juliet Supper Club”, with its debut soiree at Lia’s home.

Celebrating and linking the season with the kitchen garden, the larder and the menu, the plan was to bring together a small group of diners who would be treated to an evening of gardening tips, homegrown produce, spring recipes and seasonal ideas.

It was already dark when John-Paul, my husband, and I arrived at Lia’s terraced house, and standing outside the front door we could already see the tell-tale touches of green-fingered attention to detail. Small tea lights in jam jars lit our way through a very pretty garden to the main entrance.

One of Lia’s areas of expertise is the preparation and enjoyment of the garden just after dusk, and she wrote a book entitled “Twilight Garden” {published by Anova Books in 2011} to show people just what a special place the garden can be after the sun has set. After studying horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, she carved a career as a garden writer for The Guardian, The Telegraph and all the major gardening magazines, which is where she met Juliet.

They both chatted to the guests about the different fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers they had used in that evening’s menu as the guests stood on the decking of Lia’s porch, a glass of bubbly Prosecco with fresh primroses in hand, dipping freshly made beetroot crisps into a delicious, spicy Middle Eastern beetroot puree.

We were shown how very easy it is to grow pea shoots in glasses, tomatoes and potatoes in sacks and buckets, mini leaves in guttering, broad beans in the allotment and heritage tomatoes against a sunny wall.Lia has a small greenhouse-frame which allows her to start the season early. March-April are still the hunger gap months, but it is quite remarkable how much can be achieved with dedication and thought. Anyone with a small town garden would do very well to come to the next Summer Supper Club, when, hopefully, you will be able to walk round the garden in the evening light. Every available inch of this garden is put to good use.

In an open plan kitchen-dining room we all sat down at a table beautifully laid with flowery table cloth, pom-pom napkins, twinkly candles and seasonal flowers – every detail had been taken care of. A warming, aromatic green garlic soup with nettle and walnut pesto and herby rolls from the oven started the feast off, and we were encouraged to pinch the tops of our pea shoots planted in little shot glasses to add to the soup for crunch and flavour.

A grilled asparagus salad accompanied the main course of soft, braised radicchio di Chioggia, potatoes in Sorrel sauce, buttered spring cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli with a baked ricotta slice. It was the pudding that carried the night away: a fragrant upside down rhubarb cake with the most delicious bay ice-cream, so soft and delicate. To round the evening off a wooden board lined with small squares of Old Demdike cheese topped with a homemade damson plum conserve slice was passed round to much acclaim.

Juliet’s colleague Sorrel was busy tidying and washing up behind us, and Lia served the food from an ironing-board assembled in the hallway next door. Juliet cleared plates away and told us about her plans for her new garden, as she has just moved house in Bristol. The ladies are keen allotmenteers, and we heard gossip of competitive baking and gardening rivalry – who could imagine such goings on?

The great advantage of going to these sorts of supper clubs is, of course, the people, as everyone sits next to complete strangers. We met some very interesting parents who lived just minutes away from there, some of them at the local school, some of them fellow allotment gardeners, whilst others had heard about the event from Twitter. Stories, laughter, hints, tips and recipe suggestions flowed round the table. Each couple had brought their own wine and at the end there was a suggested £25 charge for the meal.

My husband had been quite worried beforehand, as he is hugely carnivorous, and for him vegetables are those quaint, green things which one might use sparingly to adorn the margins of a rare, grilled steak. Yet he ate prodigious quantities, did not complain once and was more than satisfied: a historical moment in our long and eventful marriage.

An important lesson was learned by us all: you do not need a huge garden or a state of the art kitchen to produce food that is so tasty, layered and colourful. It can all be done with thriftiness using imagination and thought. The Lia and Juliet Supper Club is living proof of this. In a compact space the three ladies managed to deliver an outstanding dinner, wearing homemade aprons and vintage, flowery dresses to go with the horticultural theme of the occasion. If you want to join the foodie-gardening party, make sure you follow the ladies on Twitter or on Lia’s Blog for schedules of the next instalments.

Further Information

Lia Leendertz’s blog:

Follow Lia on Twitter: @lialeendertz

Follow Juliet Robert’s Blog:

Follow the Lia and Juliet Supper Club on Twitter: @liaandjuliet

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