Henderson’s celebrates 50 years with festival

Festival director Simon Preston and Henderson's staff member Rosalind Main look forward to the event. Picture: Julie Bull
Festival director Simon Preston and Henderson's staff member Rosalind Main look forward to the event. Picture: Julie Bull
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IT is an institution in Edinburgh that can trace its roots back almost a century to a pioneer of the health food movement. Now Henderson’s of Edinburgh is to mark a very special anniversary by inviting the Capital to join in a 50-day celebration of vegetarian food.

Running from May 26 to July 14, the festival programme is filled with fun, food events, including an ethical wine fair, a Hawaii Five-O themed pop-up restaurant and family friendly activities.

The Henderson’s 50/50 Food Festival captures the spirit of founder and healthy eating trailblazer Janet Henderson, who would have been 100 this year.

Born Janet Millar in Glasgow’s West End, the daughter of one of the city’s leading architects, the formative influences on her life came during the 1930s. She spent the pre-war years travelling through Germany, Austria and Switzerland where she encountered approaches to health and diet that were quite at odds with those then prevalent in this country, and she brought many of these ideas home with her.

In 1937, she married former Scottish rugby internationalist ‘Mac’ Henderson and went on to have seven children. The family settled down to farm at Spittalrig in East Lothian and started producing compost-grown vegetables, a precursor of organic farming. After seeing their popularity, Janet explored the idea of opening a farm shop, and in 1962 Henderson’s was born.

After the cafe below the restaurant proved a huge success, Janet quickly opened a restaurant in a derelict basement in Hanover Street, which in just a few short years became internationally renowned.

From the beginning Henderson’s was imbued with Janet’s personality: relaxed and informal, a place where the owners were not afraid to get their hands dirty alongside the staff.

Janet died in 1973 of an illness contracted while travelling in the East: her legacy is a restaurant that has become one of the city of Edinburgh’s best loved institutions.

Speaking at the launch of the festival, restaurant partners Catherine and Oliver Henderson said: “When she first threw open the door to Henderson’s Salad Table in spring 1963, our mother Janet could hardly have dreamed that millions of people would walk through it over the next five decades.

“Back then, Henderson’s were pioneers in championing healthy, local, seasonal food so in that respect we haven’t changed at all.

“This year also marks the centenary of her birth so we’ve plenty to celebrate. Our motto ‘Eat Better Live Better’ is about good food, spending time with the family and having fun so we’re proud to mark our half century with a 50-day festival that has something delicious and enjoyable for everyone.”

The festival highlights will include the Back to ‘63 launch party which will be a fun fancy dress feast of 60s food and drink.

There will be a touch of the exotic when Henderson’s Goes to Hawaii at a secret beach-front location featuring food with a tropical touch, live music, bonfires, bright colours and a whole lot of hula.

Diners can enjoy Vegetarian Speed Dining which involves a five-course menu where everyone changes seats for every course, getting to meet new people as well as discovering delicious dishes.

Members of the Henderson family will give cooking demonstrations when they take over the kitchen of the restaurant on Hanover Street.

Janet’s seven children and numerous grandchildren have grown up inspired by her love of cooking and, under the watchful eye of Barry Baker, the head chef for more than 30 years, they will be making tasty treats for people to try.

Keen on local produce, Fifty on First Thursday at Henderson’s Bistro will see 50 foods collected from a 50-mile radius around Edinburgh used to make an unforgettable feast.

To make sure people remember them all, local artist Ben Hymers has created a special souvenir menu showing the provenance of all those ingredient for diners to keep.

For those that like a swirl and a sniff of a good wine, there will be 25 five whites and 25 reds to taste, that are all vegetarian, many organic and vegan, plus a few rosés and sparklers thrown in for good measure.

These are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg lettuce however, with the full programme featuring guest chefs, barbecues, exhibitions, fun run frolics and much more.

• Full details of the festival and ticket information can be found at www.hendersons50.com.