Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Poussin but adolescent...






Can't really call them poussins any more! Yuzu (my white angel) is jumping on all the girls and the girls seem to enjoy it! Billy the black and first born was swooped up to heaven by our local marsh harrier and Honeybee is started laying eggs again but still attacks my bare feet with her knife-like beak...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Nasturtium



In this period of waste-not-want-not, a packet of Nasturtium seeds goes a long way. I once planted out a single seed packet of 5 years ago and I no longer need to do anything but wait for the plants to find their place in the early spring. Sow once and they stick with you for life with no effort or expense.
The seeds are huge but manage to travel around the garden through the compost and aided by the scratching of the chickens who seems to help the seeds self-sprout in the most out of the way places. I then just uproot them and move them around according to whim or plan....
Ranging from almost black to pale lemon, they not only attract the bees but also the black fly adore them and recently I noticed that their leaves sacrifice themselves to the  bloody cabbage fly who have taken a shine to their pepperiness. They are therefore the perfect mulch plant between young cabbages but also help retain moisture between other fragile and needy plants and they are so beautiful. 




Not only can you relish the flowers in a salad or fried in tempura batter and dipped in homemade mayonnaise, the young leaves can replace rocket in any recipe and make a fine pesto in the place of basil leaves and the seeds transformed into a 'poor mans caper' by brining them and then storing them in vinegar... As the flowers start to fade, the knobbly seed appears in a tricorne and need to be harvested green and fresh. The tasted spicy and peppery but once pickled, develop a taste similar to true capers.


When I run out of my Pantelleria salted capers that I picked up in Sicily in early spring, these will be just perfect in a tartare sauce with grilled fish, young steamed vegtables or added to a salad to give a little punch to any dressing..... but apparently they also help prevent the common cold as soon as you experience the first sniffle... and all for the price of a single seed packet!



Nasturtium Capers

100g fresh and green Nasturtium seed pods
300ml water
15g sea salt
A few sprigs of dill or tarragon
5 black peppercorns
200ml white wine vinegar

Dissolve the salt in the water. Place the seed pods in a bowl and pour over the cold brining water. Leave for 24 hours.
Drain the pods and dry well. Pack them into a small sterilised jar with the herb of your choice and the peppercorns. Pour over the vinegar, covering the seeds with 1cm to spare. Seal the jars with vinegar-proofed lids and leave for 3 weeks before trying. Eat within the year.





Friday, 23 September 2011

Fig


I remember arriving for the first time in Mailhos in 2005 and being enthralled by the size of the huge fig tree ripening its fruit to the north of the house; as an irish girl, a fig was exotic, an aphrodisiac and the south! This sprawling tree was one of the unsaid reasons why I wanted Mailhos. 
I love fresh figs and I hate dried figs. 
The first summer my sister, Valerie, came to stay with her five children, the figs were ripening early and within an hour of setting out laden with baskets, four of those children had survived half of the fig tree breaking in half under their weight and falling on the head of Jean Francois - a common accident in these parts. Since then through storms and other harvesting accidents involving myself, other brittle branches have broken off and the poor tree looks more like an aged amputated, invalid than the thriving tree I saw on my arrival. The figs are delicious though and plentiful despite its lack of members but I had heard that their were better varieties and within a year we had three more fig trees planted in our courtyard.


The original and now battered tree must be a the almost common Violette de Solliès which is found nearly anywhere in France but the new trees hail from this region and are straw-yellow coloured when ripe with orange flesh and syrupy juice.


Slow to mature despite their southern exposition, they still make the most wonderful snack when crossing to collect eggs from my volatiles in their nests.
I've made jam and pickled them whole. I've roasted them with almonds, butter and sugar, sliced them thinly in a salad of herbs and even made fig ice cream but nothing can beat a fresh ripe fig straight from the tree with all its natural sugars intact. If they make it to the table they will be cut into quarters with a holy reverence and served with Anita's fresh goats cheese, a dribble of acacia honey and a sprig of fresh thyme.

The main problem is that they tend to come in a glut and they are all ripe or rotting within a week or ten days. Luckily I have my old invalid facing north who ripens its fruits on a more leisurely basis and keeps my supply steady beyond this time.... I'll still have time to make a nice duck sauce.



Monday, 19 September 2011

Quince


My mother grows a quince tree in our garden in Ireland. As a child, the tree flowered and produced fruit every year and my mother fretted and fussed that she had no clue how to cook this curious fruit and what a shame and waste it was to let a fruit die rotting on the ground when "thousands of black babies were dying in Africa" when she did at last find a recipe, not one of her seven children appreciated the result. That quince tree still produces fruit that falls flat on its face every autumn with nobody to harvest or acknowledge it.
So why have I planted both a "Wranja" and "Portuguese" quince tree in my orchard? The simple answer is that dining at the Baratin in Paris one evening, I was served a most delicious roast, buttered quince for dessert and since then I  knew that its charms were well concealed under its tough flesh and bulgy disguise.




Each spring their pale pink blossoms exude the most heady and charming perfume. The fruit follows at a lazy snail pace until (in our case) they turn suddenly from green and downy to yellow in less than a week and just fall off the trees in September. Of course this is unfortunate as they bruise easily and once bruised its just a matter of time before the whole fruit is rotten brown and ready for the compost heap  (in late August a massive quince fell on Yaya, our rooster's, head and since then he is a little bit more bewildered and impotent than before).   And now I have 10 kilos of bruised quinces in the kitchen meaning quince for dessert every evening and a lot of brain power working to discover alternative recipes that might last a little longer than the two weeks of bruising and chicken bashing.
Surprisingly the trees grow well in my garden considering their aversion to alcaline soils but then again if I had followed some of the initial advice given to me by a local farmer on what varieties to grow in my soil, I'd be eating onions, leeks and green peppers all year round. I've had no attacks of blight, no rot, the trees are growing in the line of our ferocious west sea winds but they don't seem to mind and apart from a mulching of nettles in the spring, get no other favours.


Its still easy to find quinces for sale on the market around here as every old lady still has a quince tree somewhere in her garden. In Paris its another story. Apart from my local organic store, quinces are as rare as hens teeth but considering their perfume, taste and versatility, they should be more popular.
Cooked slowly in the oven with butter and sugar, the hard flesh turns a reddy-pink - succulent and sweet. Make a crumble with the baked fruit mixed with fresh blackberries. This year I've made slabs or Membrillo which marries wonderfully with the local, aged sheeps cheese. I've also pickled slices of their fruit in cider vinegar to serve with cold meats in the winter.... but I still can understand my mothers frustration...




Roast Buttered Quince

6 people

60g Melted Butter
6 ripe Quince
60g Acacia Honey
15cl Sweet White Wine (Jurançon for me)

Preheat the oven to 150°c.
Butter a large oven dish (big enough to fit 12 quince halves in one layer).
Peel, core and cut the quince in two (pop them in acidulated water until needed, to stop them going brown).
Place the quince halves cut side down in the dish and pour over the rest of the butter and the honey. Add the wine to the dish without covering the fruit.
Cover the dish with some grease-proof paper and put into the oven. After 2 hours, turn the quince and cover again with the paper. Bake again for another 2 hours. Serve warm when they are tender and reddish and the juice is perfectly caramalised with some whipped cream or ice-cream.



Membrillo or Quince Cheese

Makes about 1kg

1kg Quince
600g Cane Sugar

Roughly chop the quince without peeling or coring them. Place in a large pan and cover with just enough water. Simmer and cook until soft then leave to stand for 12 hours.
Pass the fruit and water through a mouli  or a sieve. Weigh the pulp and return it to the pan with the same weight in sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Simmer gently for an hour or until the mixture is thick and glossy.
Whatever, you are using jars to store the membrillo, you need to rub the sides with a little oil beforehand so you will have less trouble turning out the mixture when its ready.
Pour the mixture into pots or shallow trays and cover.
Use after a month and keep it for a year.



Thursday, 15 September 2011

Tomatoes



I do realise its late in the season to be introducing my tomatoes but I've been too busy tasting them to even begin a conversation on their subject.  As they are the highlight of my gardening year, I needed to see every variety flower and fruit so I could taste and judge before reporting. So here I am in September after another bizarre season. Like all farmers I have noticed that nature is not kind and nature is not perfect and no season is as you would wish whether there's a glut of rain, a hail or stones or glare too much of sun so instead of complaining I will just say that the summer was strange.


I've already mentioned the July mildew attack which left me with 12 plants and varieties less than before but with minimal care and comfrey tea, I managed to get the remaining plants to bear fruit and forget about their pains. For weeks now I been potting and sun drying and aga drying and sauce making and sprinkling salt and pouring olive oil and relishing sweetness and acidity, firmness and juice. As with all my years tending this garden, these moments are just the most rewarding. I cannot help asking myself how a simple soil and sun can produce such magical range of diversity from one single fruit variety.


My Bearnaise friend Cathy went off on a weekend to Futuroscope in July and came back to 25 black rotten stalks. Marcel, the neighbour, woke one morning to find his prized tomatoes brown and stinking - I haven't done a local poll, but Bruno, our hay guy thinks I might be one of the few fortunate fellows around still harvesting the pomodoro this late in the season. If this is true, then its only due to vigilance and LUCK!


They were all seeded out in the greenhouse in late march, germinating 14 days later and shooting up into solid, healthy plants until they were all planted out in late May. Each plant root was laid at a 45° angle in a compost rich soil hole lined with nettle leaves and mulched with comfrey leaves. Left to themselves, as the evenings warmed, they grew steadily up their copper treated wooden poles until unwatered and uncosseted they either died or bloomed.  A pampered, spoilt tomato will taste like a sponge soaked in pink juice. The less watering you do the deeper the roots will go in search of moisture and in the meantime will pick up its true taste through the minerals and enzymes in the soil.


Rich in vitamins and minerals, and (when cooked) the antioxidant Lycopene, that can battle any heart attack, cholesterol and cancer so they should be required eating for just about everybody when they're in season, are fresh and are not soaked in pesticides.
A tomato picked straight from the vine  smells like nothing else. Squashed whole onto a thick slice of fresh campagne bread, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt is my idea of heaven... The taste is marvellous yet different whether its ripe, raw, roasted, stewed or green. 
It would be impossible or perhaps just boring to describe each and every one of the 48 plants left standing after the july mildew attack so I'll just show my pet favourites...


Orange Strawberry, Pineapple, Evergreen, Gardeners Delight, Brandywine Pink...


Orange Flamée, White Queen, Black Plum, Ananas, Ayotshka, Red Brandywine and a Russian Black



Panzanella

6 people

I kilo of skinned juicy, fleshy tomatoes
5 garlic cloves grated
1tsp sea salt
3tbsp red wine vinegar
2 fresh red chillies
I small loaf of 2 day old rustic white bread cut into large cubes
2 red pepper
2 yellow peppers
50g rinsed salted capers
10 fresh anchovy fillets
A small bunch of basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Grill the peppers whole until slightly blackened all over. Cover with a cloth and leave to cool. Remove the blackened skin and scrape out all the seeds and fibres. Cut into quarters.
Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze the juice into a sieve over a bowl. Discard the seeds.
Cut the chillies in half lengthways and take out the seeds before chopping finely.
Add the grated garlic, the vinegar, 4tbs of olive oil and chilli to the tomato juice. Season the tomato halves.
Put the bread into a large bowl and pour over the tomato juice. Soak the bread until all the liquid has disappeared.
In a large dish arrange a layer of bread pieces. Scatter over a few tomatoes, some peppers, capers, anchovies and basil. Drizzle with olive oil and arrange a second layer. Let the tastes infuse and serve.... with even more olive oil.
Four different views of Panzanella by (in order of appearance); Jean François, Ivan, Claire and Yveline.

.... and the production team.




Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Diversion ...


... nothing to do with plants and chickens and gardens and slugs...
Cyprien, Jean Francois's son is plastered all over the Centre Pompidou in Paris in anticipation of his forthcoming show; opening on the 21st September... 
I have tears in my eyes!