Friends, flowers and foolproof pastry

Friends, flowers and foolproof pastry: New book by revered chef Mary Jane Peterson and Chelsea Flower Show gold winner Jo Thompson shares expert tips on cooking and gardening

  • A fascinating new lifestyle book shares advice for cooking and gardening 
  • British garden designer Jo Thompson reveals how to create an ‘instant’ garden 
  • Elsewhere, Mary Jane Paterson shares a selection of delicious recipes  



by Mary Jane Paterson and Jo Thompson (Unbound £20, 160pp)

Cooking and gardening often go hand in hand — just think of Mary Berry, Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver, all dedicated gardeners as well as outstanding cooks.

Rhubarb Rhubarb is written by two women who prove the exception to that rule. Mary Jane Paterson is a cook who regards souffles as a complete doddle, but quails at the thought of planting bulbs.

Garden designer Jo Thompson has won a clutch of gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show yet is a duffer in the kitchen. ‘I crumble into a heap at the idea of more than three people for lunch,’ she wails.

British garden designer Jo Thompson and cook Mary Jane Paterson, have penned a new book filled with their expert advice for gardening and cooking (file image)

In this light-hearted correspondence about food and gardening, they egg each other on to be braver in the kitchen and the garden. Like all busy women, they love their lists.

Jo sets out her top ten bulbs, guaranteed to provide you with flowers from January (snowdrops, crocus and muscari) through to early June (tulips, camassias and alliums). Mary Jane offers up her salad greatest hits; I especially liked the sound of Snap-And-Crackle Tuna Salad.

Although she’s one of Britain’s most successful landscape architects, with clients including film star Cate Blanchett, Jo Thompson understands why many are intimidated by gardening.

In one of the best chapters of the book, she attempts to demystify design by giving an uncomplicated recipe for an ‘instant’ garden — a combination of roses, catmint, hardy geraniums, tulips and some frothy lady’s mantle to give an acid-green zing. ‘The trick is to keep it simple,’ she says. ‘Apart from the rose, which you need to deadhead… do little else apart from chop things back when they look untidy.’

Mary Jane reciprocates with the secret to her trademark pastry. She is constantly complimented on her baking but actually, she says, it’s all down to having a failproof pastry recipe (one which doesn’t require any tedious blind baking).

‘I use it for pear and almond tart, I use it for lemon tart, and for a savoury version I put parmesan in it… I think I have changed lives with this pastry,’ she brags.

RHUBARB RHUBARB by Mary Jane Paterson and Jo Thompson (Unbound £20, 160pp)

When Jo reveals her anxieties about getting her children to eat healthily, Mary Jane advises: ‘Don’t be scared of food. It’s just food. The more you pander to their likes and dislikes, the more you will find yourself on the road to kitchen hell. Let them decide what they like from what you have put out.’

They are united on their dislike of summer pudding — ‘wet bread and sour fruit… one of those dishes that gives British cookery a bad name’ — although Jo (who is divorced) confesses that she chose to serve it at her wedding. ‘Do you think that could have been an omen?’ she sighs.

There’s a handy explanation of why supermarket herbs often wilt so quickly. That pot of shop-bought herbs isn’t just one plant ‘it’s a dozen or so seeds that have been forced to grow quickly, and they simply haven’t had the right start to their lives to grow into big bushy plants’.

This book is as light and airy as one of Mary Jane’s souffles, which although smallish, is packed with an impressive amount of useful information.

There are lots of great recipes (the Foolproof Chicken Curry, which requires ‘no preparation or pretensions’, is particularly good) as well as a great deal of inspiring gardening advice.

Reading Rhubarb, with its emphasis on friendship and entertaining, makes you feel terribly nostalgic for the days before we had ever heard of social distancing.

It must be particularly poignant for Jo, who had designed one of the main show gardens for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which should have been held in May but has, of course, been cancelled apart from a digital-only event.

Until the day we can have friends round, and enjoy sharing food and drink and our gardens with them, this charmingly buoyant book will give you some good ideas, and may even give your spirits a much-needed boost.

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