Recipes and reflections

I think I’ve managed to win back partial control of the polytunnel, for the time being at least. I know the melons should really be climbing up supports (next year?)  but there’s plenty of space for them to ramble and I’m supporting the developing fruits on blocks of wood. They are almost €3 each in the shops at the moment so fingers crossed we’ll have a few of our own to savour.

Melon ‘Canta Charentais’ sitting on its little wooden block.

 I’ve had to rig up guy ropes from the ridge bars to control the tomatoes as they’ve outgrown their canes, it’s not perfect but I can at least get to everything again.

The indoor tomatoes are under control…for now.

The tunnel is full of insects including these delicate little damsel flies which love sitting on the tips of  the aubergine leaves.

My patches of phacelia have finished flowering and I’ve started to collect seed as it ripens. I’d like to use it as a green manure, planting in early autumn as an over-winter ground cover. I’ve never done this before so would like to hear what more experienced bloggers think and advise.

Phacelia seeds ripening: is green manure a good idea?

 It’s incredible to think that when Sam and Adrienne were last here they were planting the ‘Charlotte’ potatoes in what could only be described as a mudbath. Now they’re digging the spuds out of dust – what a difference three months make. We love these new potatoes hot and buttery or cold in a mayo-and-herb salad but the recipe below for a Greek-style salad has also become a firm favourite. It’s fresh and zingy, much lighter than the more traditional style and perfect in hot weather.

Ingredients: new potatoes, onions, lemon, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper.

Scrub or scrape new potatoes according to your preference and cook in a pan of boiling salted water with a thick slice of lemon. Drain, discard the lemon and leave the spuds to cool. Finely chop a shallot, small red onion or a couple of spring onions (depending on what’s available in the garden) and stir into the cold potatoes with a large handful of chopped parsley and/or coriander leaves. Squeeze in the juice from the rest of the lemon and add some grated zest if you like it extra lemony. Add a good glug of olive oil, enough to coat everything and make it glossy rather than swimming. Season to taste with plenty of salt and freshly-ground pepper. Great with a barbie!

One of the greatest things about living here is the incredible generosity of our neighbours: in the last few days alone, we’ve been given several buckets of cherries, eight freshly-caught trout and a gift for our baby grandson, Ben. We stuffed the trout with shallots and herbs from the garden and cooked them over wood – mmm, utterly scrumptious. We have been stuffing ourselves with cherries, they are such a treat and were always a luxury in Wales. We have been making jam from a mix of varieties – red, red-and-yellow, yellow and black;  the French recipe below is without doubt the BEST  jam I’ve tasted in years. I found it on www.rustica.fr which is a brilliant gardening website and well worth a look, if only for the gorgeous photos they post. The seasonal recipes are great and if you don’t speak French then Google translate doesn’t do a bad job. Don’t worry about the vinegar in this recipe: it smells like chutney as it cooks but the final taste is 100% spicy cherry jam (honestly!). Haven’t tried this idea out yet but I think a spoonful would be bliss with a good vanilla ice cream.

 For 4 jars of 350 g approx. :
1 kg of cherries
800 g of granulated sugar
10 cl of apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom seeds
3 black peppercorns

Wash and hull cherries. Cut each into four, remove stone and place in a bowl. Add the sugar and cider vinegar and mix well.  Marinate for 12 hours, until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Pour contents of bowl into a preserving pan. Put spices (cinnamon, cloves, pepper and cardamom) in a  muslin bag and place in centre of cherries.

Bring to boil over medium heat and cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring often and skimming, until the cherries are cooked and the syrup is thick.
Remove the spices and immediately pour into jars.

 This week we’ve been celebrating our first ‘anniversary’: it’s twelve months since we arrived to start our new life in France. What a year it’s been for us in our new home and garden here. We’ve had some  – um  –  ‘interesting’ and hair-raising moments and experiences but the highs have definitely outweighed the lows and it’s been an amazing adventure so far. On the ferry last year it never occurred to me that I would have so much fun creating and caring for the veg garden and certainly never imagined I would be writing a blog about it! Our ‘patch’ has definitely changed and developed over the year and so have we, I think. We’ve had successes and failures but one thing is for sure: it’s NEVER been boring!

July 2012: a roughly dug patch with plants we threw into the ground during a spring visit.

The same view today.

July 2012: preparing for the polytunnel.

The same view today.

So… we popped a cork, poured the fizz and drank to our second year of French fun and (I hope) happy gardening. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Recipes and reflections

  1. You’ve done really well in a year.

    We’ve grown various green manures, including Phacelia. It’s lovely when in flower but a bit tough to dig in – we lift it and put in on the compost heap. Easier to dig in is mustard but remember it’s a brassica so shouldn’t be grown where cabbages etc are to be grown the next year.

    Buckets of cherries? You lucky blighters!

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    • Mmm, they are SUCH a treat and we’re really enjoying them. The hedgerows are full of trees literally dripping fruit into the road – it seems amazing when we used to have about six fruits on our cherry trees in Wales!

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