This weekend we were blessed with sunshine in London. Glorious, treasured, precious sunshine.
We gorged on roasted sausages, poussin, new potatoes with parsley, octopus and olive stew, baked pasta with courgette and wonderfully rich tomato sauce, and a delightful braised fennel. We washed it all down with homemade lemonade. Then we basked in the sunshine, nibbling on carrot and coconut cake. Idyllic.
Aeneas was particularly taken with the braised fennel. He liked the sausage, potatoes are always a hit, the sourdough bread – lightly buttered – also went down a treat, but the real winner? That was the fennel.
This time last year, Aeneas could barely sit up; we were excited when he tried a new flavour, and I was purée-ing fruit and veg by the pound.
We started him off on carrot, but before long he was delighting in other vegetables: fennel was a particular favourite then too, but also different varieties of squash, pumpkin, swede and sweet potato; asparagus, the moment it came into season, avocado, courgette (with just a touch of fresh mint), leeks, green beans, sweetcorn, cauliflower and spinach (he wasn’t too sure about the spinach to start, but soon took to it). And then more distinct flavours: artichoke – that we bought from Borough Market – radicchio and broccoli.
Once firmly established that he enjoyed vegetables, we moved on to fruits as well: apple, pear, peach, plum, cherry (although scooping out the pips were rather tedious), banana, raspberries, mango and greengages. Anything that grows in the ground or on a tree, we chopped, steamed and blended into a delicate purée.
His meals began to stretch to three courses. Lunch might look like cream of artichoke with fresh parsley to start, braised fennel purée to follow, and plum and apple compote for dessert. Each meal began with his least favourite dish (while he was still hungry) – a few mouthfuls and then on to the next course. Before long he was happily finishing a full pot of artichoke.
So as we sat basking in the sun at Petersham Nurseries on Sunday, munching pensively on a chunk of fennel, I thought about how far we have come in one year. How much has changed in our world. How different our family meals are now that Aeneas can chew and I’m no longer mashing everything up. And what a beautiful, sunny day it was.
PS To recreate Petersham’s braised fennel at home: preheat the oven to 180 degrees; slice the fennel into chunks; toss into a roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil and a scattering of fresh thyme; roast for 30 mins, then add half a cup of water to the tray and cook for another 30 mins. If you’re little one has only just started on solids, blend and serve as a purée; otherwise serve in chunks as finger food. A favourite with grown ups too.