Thursday, 5 December 2013
I hope it is clear skies and no rain whilst there. Last trip it rained miserably and was very windy. Am hoping for good weather so I can stroll around, and to enjoy a chocolat chaud sitting outside a café people watching.
Lots of catching up and eating out will be done. Think I am going to need a holiday to get over my short break..... this little country mouse isn't used to the fast paced city mouse lifestyle anymore!
Back this time next week with an update on the big city life.
Thursday, 28 November 2013
When I arrived home I ran out the back and took this shot looking down towards the river.
The colours were extraordinary and it felt warm - even though it definately wasn't!
We have already had one snow fall, and a few frosts (some light, some hard), with the frost last night turning the fish ponds on my journey into patinoires. Lucky I have pretty much finished up in the garden for the year. Will put some extra straw around my rhubarb and strawberry plants tomorrow, then I am done till late january when it is time to prune the apple trees.
A few of the locals have said it is going to be a hard winter this year..... let's see what eventuates. In any case, I am ready with full store cupboards and freezers. Chimneys cleaned and emergency candles in place. Plenty of "projects" to keep me busy, and lots of lovely friends in walking distance to share a cup of tea and a walk in the brisk sunshine.
Life is good here.
Monday, 25 November 2013
Yes, I know, they are ugly and a bit weird. Hard as rocks and completely inedible raw..... but cooked they become the most incredible edible imaginable.
Applying heat to these ugly ducklings transforms them into aromatic jewel toned swans. It is a true culinary magic.
There is an old quince tree in the orchard, and it was laden with fruit. I gave away bags of it to friends and acquaintances. The rest I cooked into jelly and paste.
For days the kitchen - whole house in fact - smelt heavenly.
My hands, however, felt like they had been through a few sessions with the inquisition and lost out.... badly lost out.
There are many tricks and hints on the internet for preparing quince. Before you go ahead and try them out, let me tell you that they DO NOT WORK. Save yourself some heart (and hand) ache. You can thank me later.
The only thing that makes it easier is to wash the fruit in a sink of hot water and let them rest a good half hour before trying to prep them. The water needs to be hot enough that you can just barely put your hands in it. This seems to soften the skin slightly and makes it a bit easier to peel them. Cutting and coring is still hard work, sorry.
To make jelly from quinces is the simplest recipe there is. Quinces are very high in pectin, so they don't need to much heat or sugar to reach a jelling point.
First, wash, peel and cut into chunks about a kilo or so of quinces.
Put in large pot with about a cup or so of water (I actually cooked them in a pressure cooker to save time) and bring to simmer. Cook till fruit is rose pink and tender.
Drain off liquid into a measuring jug. Hopefully you have about a litre of liquid. If not rest fruit in a strainer over jug and let all the juice drip out till the fruit pulp is fairly dry. A jelly bag is great for squeezing out the liquid without getting pulp into it (pulp makes the jelly cloudy when it is set). If still a bit short, top up with water.
A litre of liquid needs about 600g of sugar. Put liquid and sugar into a saucpan and bring to boil, stirring frequently. Once setting point is reached bottle and use prefered method of preserving.
The leftover pulp is now going to be turned into quince paste. You know the stuff that you spend a fortune to buy at the deli.... yes that stuff. It is delicious served with wild boar (or any game meat for that matter!) and most people think it belongs on a cheese board. Personally, I prefer it with meat, and take my cheese plain or with a little salad as the French do.
Place reserved fruit pulp (which looks a bit revolting at this stage - see photo above) into a large saucepan add about 500-600g sugar(depending on sweetness of fruit) and heat. You must stir constantly!!! You want to cook off the remaining moisture and turn it into a claggy, gluey mess.
Once this texture is reached, turn out into a baking paper lined tray and smooth surface.
Place in a slow oven (100celcius) for a few hours till it takes on a solid feel. Think of a rubber ball and you are aiming for slightly softer...lol. You should be able to push on the surface and it rebounds instead of leaving a divot. I leave the oven door slightly ajar so any moisture escapes and it dries faster.
When cool, slice and put into a lined container with a tight fitting lid and put into fridge. Will keep for months if you don't cross contaminate with an unclean knife (yes I am talking about you double dippers who reuse a knife that has been used on something else!).
Perfect for bringing out at Christmas or for gifting to foodie friends and family.
I always add half a lemon to the fruit when I first cook it. There is no need for the lemon, I just like the hint of flavour that it adds and the balance that it brings to the finished jelly and paste. You could add spices to the jelly such as cinnamon etc if you wish to have a real wintery warmth and perfume.
Thursday, 7 November 2013
I would love to have something as pretty as that pictured above, (gardens at Invalides in Paris), but think it will turn out more rustique and organic.... oh well, c'est la vie as they say here.
Monday, 21 October 2013
Last week saw our neighbours grape harvest come to an end for this year.
It was the first time I have participated in a French vendange. Hard work (all that bending and scrunching into weird postures to make sure you get every grape), but a lot of fun also.
We picked red and white grapes. Jean will turn them into wine - or more likely they will end up as Pineau, a local speciality.
I took home some of each and made grape jelly....... well, what else do you expect from me?
Wednesday, 9 October 2013
Life has been a bit busy lately. Firstly, we had family here for a month, so that was fun. No time for blogging though as any spare time was spent in the garden.
In fact, quite a few days I had them helping to prepare the bounty of the garden into winter stockpiles. Well, I say they helped... but in fact my Mum seemed to eat as much fruit and green beans as she prepared..... hmmm. All good though as we had more fruit and veg than we could cope with.
My arriere cuisine is filled to the brim with jars of compote, stewed fruit, jams, sauces, syrups and condiments. The cellier is stockpiled with parsnips, potatoes and carrots, with more potatoes in one of the dependances.
In one week I lifted over 130kgs of potatoes! This does not count the potatoes I have lifted for eating over the summer. A bit of a shock as it did not look like that much on the ground. I had 2 rows like the one pictured. Next year we may just put in one row I think. Thank goodness for generous neighbours with tractors and potatoe lifters!
We did buy a second freezer, and it is cram packed with veg from the garden. I have prepared enough green beans, courgettes and kale to last us till next harvest. Also lots of blackberries, mirabelles, plums, raspberries and other sweet treats filling the shelves.
Just waiting on the pumpkins to ripen and I can bring them in to add to the collection. There are some citrouille and butternuts, along with something else that I have fogotten the name of.
I feel a little bit like a squirrel hoarding food away for the winter.
There have been a few fails. For some reason the rhubarb and peach compote did not want to remain in the pots, and proceeded to ferment and fizz all over the shelf. Really upset about that one as I adore rhubarb and peaches. My first batch of tomato sauce did not work either. It was simply pressed tomatoes with fresh herbs. Think the herbs needed to be cooked or blanched before adding to the sauce. I threw them in whole as it looked pretty, and so I wound up with mouldy sauce - even though they were put through a water bath. Oh well, live and learn.
I do think I have done alright though considering I did not have a big steriliser and have been processng in small batches on the stove. A huge time saver was my lovely pressure cooker which was an early birthday/Christmas pressent. So nice to cook things in 30minutes instead of 6hours.
Now it is time to prune the plum trees, and tidy up the rest of the garden. The apples need to wait till later, so at least the pruning is a bit more spaced out this year.
About 150 bulbs have gone in to the ground so far, with another few hundred to go. My lawn is looking nice and shows real promise for being lush and verdant next year. I have been attending gardening workshops at a local nursery, and have quite a few cuttings quietly sprouting away, ready for planting next spring. Next week we look at dividing plants, so I will increase my stock again. We have a real liking for grasses, geraniums and lavenders, so they are going to be the main plants, with others scattered amongst them for interest. Photos will have to wait till next year though as nothing to see now.
Tuesday, 13 August 2013
Plums by the hundreds!
All different shapes and sizes, and colours.
All ripe at the same time.
All begging to be made into something, - anything.
What to do?
Well there is only so much jam you can make before you have to say no more. ... and I do not eat jam, so it would only be poor Wayne who would be going through it. He does not eat that much bread or toast, so it would take him a lifetime to get through it. So jam is not going to be practical.
In desperation I turned to bottling.
A quick scour through my books (which took quite a long time actually as I have a whole bookcase dedicated to cooking, food etc) and I found an easy method for preserving fruit. This has been my saviour in the quest to use the bounty of our orchard.
Basically you take ripe - but not too ripe - fruit and wash and dry before deseeding and packing in to glass jars. A layer of sugar goes between each layer of fruit. Then you close the lid and put in a pot of water and boil. Voila!
Of course there are measurements and timeframes to take in to account, but it is super easy and quick. Perfect as I am picking kilos of fruit each day.
I do prefer the fruit in light syrup to jams and other sweet treats, and know I will enjoy these even more come winter when I can make compotes and other treats with our own fruit.
For now I have beautiful jars to look at when I open the cupboard in the arriere cuisine. Bliss!
For now, it is back to the kitchen to start on the tiny mirabelle plums.......