I am writing this during the funeral of John Broookes, one of the most influential garden designers of the late 20th Century. I cannot be in Sussex today and so I am remembering a lot of fun that John and I had together - mainly on trains when our journeys to London coincided and we would gossip all the way from Barnham or Arundel to Victoria. Our conversations must have provided wonderful eavesdropping! We also worked together for a number of years for The Friends of The Aldingbourne Trust, a charity for adults with learning difficulties that is situated close to where we both lived. The Trust uses both cooking and gardening as activities for their clients - hence John and I got to know each other.
My most enduring memory of John is what he taught me of the synergy between creamy avocados and one of my all-time favourite foods, hard-boiled eggs. Well, not so hard-boiled, as I like my yolks for this to be still a little on the soft side.
John had invited Nick and I to supper at his home in The Clockhouse at Denman’s, the garden which he created and which was open to the public for many years, complete with award-winning tea-room and, of course, plant sales. We were planning a fund-raising evening for the Trust about chickens - keeping them and cooking them - with the owner of the near-by smallholders supply company doing the ‘live’ hints and tips while I cooked. To set the scene while we discussed details John produced a starter which has provided inspiration for my cooking many times. There was a lot of 60’s and 70’s avocado-ness about John’s home, the colour was part of his coming of age and formative era. Who reading this remembers the struggle to keep hard water marks from an avocado bathroom suite?! The fact that he chose to serve avocados was no surprise once we were at The Clockhouse.
You simply need a ripe avocado, some lemon juice if making this in advance (I think it is better without, but you need to keep the colour so make it fresh or add a little lemon), salt and pepper, a boiled egg (see above!) and lots of freshly chopped parsley. It is as simple as this: cut the avocado in half (the moment of truth), remove the stone and scoop out the flesh, reserving the shells. Mash the flesh in a bowl with some salt and pepper with a fork. Peel and roughly chop the egg, then add it to the bowl and mash it into the avocado with the fork. Add as much parsley as you dare, at least 2 tbsp per avocado, and check the seasoning. Avocado and eggs both benefit from a good seasoning of salt so be bold with it. Pile the mixture back into the avocado shells (in little avocado dishes if you still have them), scatter with more parsley and serve with warm brown toast.
Thanks John, for the recipe and for inspiring us to think of our gardens as rooms outside and a truly important part of our homes.