Mark Diacono's A Year at Otter Farm features growing and eating ideas galore

Diacono has finally turned out the tome that explains what he's been up to down there in the West Country all this time

The first time I met Mark Diacono, he'd just taken delivery of a load of Italian olive trees. Which was surprising, because he lives in Devon. But there you go, he's just that kind of a guy. Oh yes, horticulturally speaking, he'll tell you all about climate change, and his ambitions to farm in a way that reflects our coming reality. But the truth is, scratch at the surface and you'll find someone who never accepts standard operating procedure and who does everything with an intriguing little twist. Including even the thorny issue of World Cup snacks.

Diacono was the very first person I ever wrote about for this paper, and at the time I didn't quite realise what an immense journey he was embarking on, that muddy day, unloading olive trees from a lorry. Eight years later, with exotic crops ranging from apricots to his own grapes via Szechuan pepper (pictured above), and after having written a number of acclaimed and indeed award-winning books, he's finally turned out the tome that explains what he's been up to down there in the West Country all this time. It's rather deceptively titled A Year at Otter Farm, when more accurately that should be "Almost a Decade"; but it reflects the seasonal nature of all his growing, cooking and eating. Also drinking. Where Mark's concerned, you do need to factor a bit of enjoyable drinking into the equation.

Not that I'm calling him a lush or anything. It is 99 per cent impossible to have a veg patch as immaculate as his, let alone run a posh pizza oven, on a hangover. But wherever he happens to be, there is a strange tendency for cocktails to just start, well, appearing. Two years ago at Chelsea Flower Show it was a sultry, unspecific little green number, using herbs grown by his Somerset neighbours, Pennard Plants. And this year it's a whole novel set of boozes: "You have to try my cucumber Martini," he tells me, with enthusiasm.

My favourite though, and the one that's just the ticket for this time of year, are the drinks involving mulberries. Mark's always had a thing about mulberries. "The finest fruit I'd ever tasted," he says, of his first one. Though they're not the easiest thing to get your hands on. I texted him once from Kew Gardens, where I'd tried to eat some off a tree, and discovered that they only come off the twig with a twist that breaks the skin, leaving you stained with the evidence of your gastronomical thieving. Caught red handed. Literally.

But once you've got your scarlet lobster paws on them, his secret suggestion? A sterilised glass jar. Fill it a quarter full with sugar, tip that out. Half fill it with mulberries; then pour the sugar back in; then "top it up", in his words, with vodka. I think I might have changed that wording myself; I hardly think that's "topping it up", Mark: it's an entire quarter of a Kilner jar of Absolut. But delicious it is, undeniably, and an unarguable taste of the summer.

And to follow? Perhaps his blackberry whisky: that's a recipe to save for next month's likely bumper crop. "Everyone loves it, but once it's matured you'd never know it has either blackberry or whisky in it," he writes, with a recognisable grin. In fact I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more charming cookbook than A Year at Otter Farm, because Diacono's humour flavours every page. It actually contains food recipes, too, though you'd never know from reading this article. Which brings us to the final question: what has he decided on that all-important issue of the perfect World Cup snack? "Oh," he says straight off, "The spiced almonds. So easy you can do them at half time. The exact sweet-spicy thing you want when you've got a cold beer next to you."

'A Year at Otter Farm' is published by Bloomsbury, priced £25

Four more: Mark Diacono's world cup snacks

Root crisps

It's not just about potatoes... Peel thin strips of parsnip, salsify and celeriac, then deep-fry, draining on kitchen paper, and season with salt and garam masala.

Salt and Pepper Padron Peppers

A very fine tapa: little chillis blistered in a slick of oil, with salt and pepper added as they cook. Serve with a cold beer.

Sprout Crisps

Convert the haters! Brussels sprouts, peeled and coated with olive oil, salt and pepper, baked until they are lightly crispy and gently golden. Delicious.

Broad-Bean hummus

Take 400g of freshly cooked broad beans, purée with three cloves of garlic, five tbsp olive oil and 12 mint leaves: serve with sourdough and goat's cheese.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food and drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Voices
A Siberian Tiger
voices
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried