Hugh searches for nuts

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
3.23 PM

Celebrity chef and ‘real food’ campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been scaling Bicton College’s monkey puzzle trees in his search for the perfect nut.

In his new series, River Cottage Veg, Hugh spent the summer living on a vegetarian diet, and shows viewers how to create the perfect meat-free dish.

While on his hunt for some meat-free protein, Hugh pushed the boundaries of the edible, climbing what ought to be the un-climbable monkey puzzle trees to reach their precious nuts.

Monkey puzzle trees are prehistoric and can be 30 – 40 metres high and 48 of them were planted in Britain for the first time at Bicton College around 1843/1844, for the family of the late Lord John Rolle.

The trees were originally given their common name by botanist Charles Austin, who said that the task of climbing the tree, with its sharp branches tightly clothed with spiny leaves, ‘would puzzle a monkey!’ – so harvesting their valuable bounty is a perilous feat.

But Hugh was brave enough to have a go with the help of Nobby Clarke, arboriculture lecturer at Bicton College.

Hugh and his production team spent a whole day filming in the famous monkey puzzle avenue at Bicton College in August.

Nobby helped him in his attempt to climb the trees with a rope and harness, but the seed could not be reached, so they had to resort to other methods.

Hugh said: “I had the most brilliant day at Bicton, among the monkey puzzle trees. “Nobby was an extremely generous and knowledgeable host, who had a number of amusing and challenging ideas about how we might actually acquire some nuts from the tops of these stunning and ancient trees. Suffice it to say that we got there in the end – and it was worth all the trouble – they were delicious.

“So much so that I’ve now planted five monkey puzzles at River Cottage HQ – for future generations to enjoy.”