Thursday, December 31, 2009



A Boxing Day Swim

IMG_0603 I know that a lot of my readers on this blog, live in the southern hemisphere, particularly coastal Australia and to all of you, I apologise for writing an article on such an everyday thing.

As I have previously mentioned, I have left the Kitchen Garden in France to fend for itself whilst I visit friends and family in the United Kingdom.

Over the Christmas period I have been staying with my family in a beautiful, Victorian coastal resort on the Isle of Wight, on the south coast of England

There is an old tradition here where people go for a swim in the sea at noon on Boxing Day.  This year was no exception and with temperatures around 5°C and the sea temp about the same there was a surprising number of volunteers, all prepared to swim for charity.

Prior to the swim it had been raining quite heavily but for the few minutes of the event, the sun broke through and temperatures raised ...ooooooh....probably to 6&176;C!!!!!

I spoke to one middle-aged lady who explained that she had swum in a full penguin costume and that once she was in the sea, she had to ask her sister to pull her out as the costume was so heavy.


My congratulations and support go out to all those who took part and also to those foreshore cafes who opened up specifically for the event offering hot drinks to those elders amongst us who felt the cold rather more than the copious numbers of ladies in their teens and early twenties who were sporting their best bikinis.

It was a great day.  Thanks Ventnor.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Kitchen Garden in ....

The kitchen garden in France has been left to more or less look after itself for a few weeks whilst I visit friends and family in the UK.

Recent events made it necessary for me to to visit a property I own in the UK and I decided to turn the trip into a longer vacation and visit both family and friends, at the same time.   I shall be here until into the new year when I shall return to the garden in France and try to make a more concerted effort to write on here again.

I arrived in the UK recently and was greeted by some pretty awful weather.   Those that follow the UK news will have heard of the devastating floods that came to Cumbria during November and my thoughts are with all the displaced people that live in that region.  My own family hail from a neighbouring county and I have an uncle who currently lives in Cumbria and has been affected by the flooding, although not to the terrible extent that so many people have suffered.   Apart from the obvious suffering of people losing their possessions during the floods, my heart also goes out to them as they lose a much less newsworthy but equally important thing....their gardens, many of which will have been under several feet of water for many days.

The property in France is some two and a half hours drive from the coast and one of the joys of being here is the ability to walk down to the beach on a regular basis.  During some of the recent storms, when winds in excess of 100mph (160kph) lashed the coast in this part of England , I was truly impressed by the raw energy of the waves crashing along the coastal defences and throwing spray high, high into the air.  One day I walked to the cliff, intent to take a path down it to the foreshore but the winds were so strong I was unable to stand as I neared the edge of the cliff and decided that I would be more than foolish to attempt the path in such conditions.

During this sudden, unplanned, vacation, my own garden is being looked after by a good friend who is also keeping me abreast of developments by email.

Whilst I'm in the UK, I'm trying to find time to help out in the gardens of my family and perhaps even some of my friends will be brave enough to let me loose!!!!!!

I know it's a bit early, but my access to the Internet is quite limited whilst I'm here, so I'm going to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas, great New Year celebrations and a wonderful 2010.  Many thanks for reading this blog during 2009 and I am looking forward to seeing you and hearing your comments during 2010

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Wet Autumn Day

Today is the first day for many weeks when it has been raining here in the south west of France so it was time to attend to all those indoor domestic jobs that inevitably need doing before the onset of winter.   You know, things like fitting a new light in the kitchen and rehanging a door that had fallen off a cupboard, things like adjusting the time clocks on the central heating the more pressing needs of the cooler wintry air, (we had minus 2C(28F) overnight this week).  Actually, there was quite a list of such jobs which was quite daunting.... so I decided to sort my saved seeds!

Over the year I have saved from numerous fruits and vegetables.   I tend to collect the seeds and then store them in a paper coffee filter in the kitchen whilst they dry.  This seems to work well, as the filter paper absorbs any moisture that is still in the seeds and also provides a medium to write the identification information on.  You know, things like "Seeds from that delicious melon which we bought from the lady that sells leeks at the market at Villereal".  So today I have been moving the seeds into better storage jars for their winter rest.

Actually, this whole operation has been precipitated by a recent holiday.

Last week we suddenly decided to go away for a few days and take advantage of the autumn sunshine that this part of France was enjoying.  A couple of hours here on the Internet and I had found a secured a beachside apartment just a couple of hours drive away.  It was in a resort which is far busier than I like in the middle of summer but which I felt would be interesting again, now the crowds have thinned.   So we upped and went and enjoyed a whole week of doing very little, swimming in the Atlantic, lazing on the beach and drinking good French coffee and eating good french patisseries.

Before we went, we moved all the seeds from our kitchen into our utility room for the sake of tidiness!

Sadly, on the day we left, a mouse, or maybe a whole horde of mice moved in.  Maybe in this instance I should use an alternate collective noun for the mice....  a mischief of mice!!!!

Anyway, the result was that the mice feasted for a whole week and I have now learned that mice prefer melon seeds to pumpkin seeds, are particularly partial to tomato seeds, especially those varieties where I only had a few seeds saved and generally can make a great deal of mess.... indeed mischief... when confronted with rows of paper coffee filters full of tasty seeds.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

We Are All One


Once again I need to thank Kate of Hills and Plains Seedsavers for bringing this video to my attention.

It is self explanatory.....

Take just ten minutes out of your day, grab a coffee, and settle down and watch the video

I'm sure you will be moved.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ian's Red Cherry Tomato,

I will be saving seeds this year from a cherry tomato plant that I have grown for the past couple of years.

I bought a few nice looking small red cherry tomato seedlings from some people who specialise in organic growing here about three years ago.  The sellers just said they were red and cherry....

I grew them on and they produced a nice crop of cherry tomatoes which proved to be sweet and tasty.

At the end of the season I saved a few of the tomatoes.... but didn't do anything other than wash and dry the seeds.  I cut the tomatoes open and washed the seeds out from the pulp.  Then I dried them in a paper coffee filter.  and put them away.

Last year I grew them again and again they produced a nice crop of bright red cherry tomatoes and again I saved seeds from the three plants I had.

Sadly, over last winter, something happened in my workshop and the envelope the seeds were stored in got wet.   I discovered this in about late January/early February of this year, when I found the seeds all stuck, in a mass, to the envelope.

Eventually, I decide to sow the lot and see what happened.  I simply scraped all the seeds off the paper onto a seed tray of sowing compound, watered it  and left them to it.

To my astonishment I got what must have been a couple of hundred seedlings.

I thinned them down and nurtured them.  I potted them on as they developed, pinching out a dozen tiny seedlings into a pot.  Later I split those pots into individual plants. I gave some of the pots of 12 away, I also gave away individual plants until,eventually, people were crossing the road when I approached for fear of being off loaded with another tomato seedling. 

I called them Ian's Red Cherry Tomato as I felt they had survived unfair stress and I owed them some recognition.

Now, some 6 months later I have about 20 plants fully grown in the garden, and today, I picked the first Ian's Red Cherry Tomato this year.  It was delicious.  They seem to be cropping better than ever this year.

I'm going to save seeds from these tomatoes and offer them under the Blogger's Seed Network.

If any one would like some seeds, please drop me a line at and I'll keep some for you.  I will be asking for a small contribution towards the postage costs.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

We all need to help our friends across the world


Monsanto is trying to introduce genetically modified eggplant seed into India. Here is a letter I received recently. Please read it and do what you can. This is NOT someone else's problem, it is the responsibility of every human on this planet, including you and me.

Dear friends and colleagues,

This letter is to request you to sign a petition to the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, seeking to ban the entry of GM foods and seeds into the country.

The Anti-GM Food campaign ( has been active  for a couple of years, and has thousands of farmers and urban consumers backing it in India. The protest recently got a reprieve when the newly appointed Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, made a statement saying he would not allow the entry of GM foods into India. We now need international support to make sure that there is enough pressure on the goverment to take sane decisions regarding the future of our nation.

Many of you may be aware that Monsanto is ready for the release and commercial sale of  Bt Brinjal (eggplant) seeds in India. Eggplant is an an ironic choice of vegetable, since it is a well known fact that India has hundreds of local, native eggplant varieties, that continue to be cultivated even today, in fields and home gardens.

Earlier, the Indian government allowed  large scale field trials of Bt Brinjal without biosafety protocol being cleared. Some of you may also have seen Monsanto's  advertisements in leading newspapers and magazines in the US, about biotechnology saving the world, using Climate Change as a platform for their argument.

All you need to do is go to  and sign the petition. It will go directly to the Prime Minister's office (PMO). Every voice counts. This is a global concern we are talking about here, not just India.

I would like to mention here that India and the US  Bush administration had signed an agreement - the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA)  with a great emphasis on and large plans for transgenics,  using state of the art infrastructure in India as tools for  multi-national seed companies. It is interesting to note that Monsanto is one of the members of the KIA board, along with WalMart!

The Indian government  had also come up with a Biotechnology  Development Strategy (a policy framework) for the country with huge financial outlays for modern biotechnology, despite great opposition from hundreds of civil society groups at each stage  - right from the draft to the regional consultations.

I am sending this mail out to all of you whom I have met, or been in touch with on email or phone during my time in the US over the last four months. I have mentioned the Bt Brinjal campaign to many of you, and I feel confident that you will respond to this alert. Please also take a few minutes to send it out to your network so this gets wider publicity.

The campaign may also request you for future help, in case things reach a stage where phone-ins on designated dates are needed. We would deeply appreciate it if those of you who can do so, respond to this request as well. What seemed like a lost case then, has reached this stage with public pressure and participation, and with our collective effort, we may be able to get the government to take an appropriate decision. 

Many, many thanks in advance and all good luck with your own work.

Warm regards,

Sunita Rao

Sunita Rao
Adjunct  Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, India (
Member, Kalpavriksh, Pune, India (
Founder Trustee, VANASTREE, Sirsi, India (


Sunito Rao is a board member of Kitchen Gardeners International.   I thank Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers for bringing this to my attention.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Wander in the Orchard

IMG_0563 Last year the fruit harvest of my orchard was bad.
When I say bad, that is probably an understatement...


There was a late frost, a very late, very hard frost and I, along with almost everybody else in the vicinity, lost ALL my fruit
IMG_0566 With this in my mind, and aware that it was now July and we had not suffered a late bad frost again this year, I decided to go and take a look how things were


panning out.
It looks like it's going to be a bumper crop for some of the orchard standards.
IMG_0569 The Walnut trees are all laden with healthy looking fruit and I am looking forward to the usual battle I


wage with my red squirrel, where, every time a walnut cascades to the floor, Squirrel and I run to see who can bag it first.  Sadly Squirrel usually wins.
The top picture is of the fig tree.  I have a few
IMG_0570 figs.  I'm pleased because the fig tree is in the middle of a kind of restoration project and I did not expect any fruit at all.

The lemon tree grows in a pot as it gets too cold in mid winter for it.   I was delighted to note a tiny fruit on it the other day as I wandered.
IMG_0571 The fruits on the pear tree look the healthiest they have looked in the five years we have been here.


Maybe, the new tree I planted earlier this year has provided some extra stimulus and I'll get some usable fruit once again.
IMG_0572 Apples are one of my favourite orchard fruit and for many years, as a youngster living in England, I believed that orchards only grew apples.


Now, out of thirty trees in the orchard I only have 4 apple trees.  but my favourite is showing a very heavy crop again this year.  I inherited most of the fruit trees
IMG_0574 when I moved here and I really must put some effort into identifying the various varieties.


And finally my mirabelle.  I only have the one tree producing this delicious small yellow plum.  It is a rather late ripening variety and in my garden, it is usually ready to harvest in late August.


As well as the above , my orchard has cherry, peach and nectarine trees.    The cherries fruited well, and we ate substantial amounts before succumbing to the glut and freezing bagfuls.  The peach is new this year and is establishing itself but the current drought is not helping it.  I think the drought has also taken it's toll on the nectarine....a new tree last year but, I fear, neglected through oversight as my attention focused on all the new vegetable beds.   I shall give it some tlc and see if it recovers.

Of course, I have other fruit in the garden, grapes, melons, rhubarb, hazelnut, raspberry and redcurrant to name a few. but many of them are new and all are suffering from a lack of water.   Don't they know this part of the world is called   AQUA taine......

Monday, June 22, 2009

Another couple of firsts

My First COURGETTE (Zucchini)

I am growing Courgettes for the first time ever this year.  I have just two plants and they have now started to produce fruit.  So here they are...  The very first courgettes I have ever grown..  I tasted the one that is cut and it was delicious.
And my first SEEDS to SAVE

I have also done quite well with Broad Beans this year, again my first time ever.    They are over now and I have eaten lots and frozen some.  I left these few (about 500gms {1 lb}) until the pods were quite black and then harvested them for seed for next year.
IMG_0557 And a little RESCUE

A couple of years ago I went away in late November for a few days and didn't return until late April..  NO, I wasn't thrown in prison but it is a long story....  Anyway, when I got back, one of my lemon trees had suffered severe damage from the winter chills.  To be honest, I quickly decided that it was a gonner and threw it under the bench in the workshop where I forgot about it.  Imagine my surprise the other day, when I suddenly noticed a glimmer of hope.  I think it's on the road to recovery.
And a big thank you to all those people who have offered advice and support.  You know who you are.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Failed Fennel

IMG_0555 I've had a problem with my fennel.....

The plants have grown but have not formed the bulb at the base.  This is the first time I have grown fennel and I'm not sure what the problem is, or more likely, has been..


Maybe someone out there can help me.....


I hope so as I am intending to grow some more....

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fun in September

Kitchen Garden in France is hosting a weekend of gardening fun in September.

The weekend  is in support of Kitchen Gardeners International's commitment to encouraging vegetable gardening across all the nations of the world.

The fun will start on Friday evening and go through to Sunday evening with visits to local gardens and markets etc.   There will be ample opportunity to sample some of Perigord's exquisite cuisine and, after all, Perigord is one of France's gastronomic delights.

On top of all this, an opportunity to chat with fellow gardeners from around the world make this a weekend not to miss.

For a fuller explanation, take a look at A French Kitchen Garden Weekend

Anyone interested in attending can email me at

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Another Pech Bessou Gourmet Evening

Saturday night was the date for another gourmet evening at one of our local vineyards.  I wrote about this annual event last year and you can read that post here

A Typical Frenchman Allegedly

For these evenings, which are very popular in this part of France, you wander along, taking your plate, knife and fork with you, and of course, the all important wine glass and then you sit at one of the communal tables and eat what ever produce has caught your eye and you have bought.  The local farmers bring their produce, transformed into delicious dishes....

This year, our local pork farmer brought his mobile barbecue set up and produced delicious escalope of pork, pork chipolatas and Saucisse de Toulouse, a beautiful thick sausage, very similar in texture to a Cumberland Sausage.    Sauscisse de Toulouse is my favourite so that part of the decision making was easy.  The meat, which was cooked Touristes_IMGP2328simply in its own juices was soooo good and was accompanied by a fried potato and onion dish, pomme sarlataise.

Next came the question of a starter and as many of you will know, when I spied "foie gras de canard", I was sunk.   On this occasion the foie gras was served on a simple slice of bread and accompanied by the most exquisite apple segments, which had been delicately sautéed in white wine. Another tour of the stalls revealed a cheese producer from the Pyrenees with a supeTouristes2_IMGP2335rb creamy Brebis.

Brebis is the name given to a cheese made from sheep's milk and the Pyrenees are famous in France for this particular type of cheese.

Just desert left to choose and with two excellent choices what could I do but opt for both, sharing them around the other guests at our table.

Some of the tastiest strawberries I have yet eaten this year, and yes, that includes those I pulled from my own garden, had been grown within a few miles of the event and were being sold by the grower, and a tourtiere.  A kind of Apple tart......with attitude....  it's covered in layer after layer of the thinnest crispiest pastry flakes....

Of course, to wash this all down, the hosting vineyard were selling their own wines, by the glass or by the bottle...  I opted for a bottle of Red and a bottle of Rosé to share at the table.

And finally, the entertainment.  My favourite local band. Les Tourist's provided their own brand of music, humour, excellence and just occasionally, total anarchism.  Their rendition of classic French and English songs was wonderful and to hear three French lads playing and singing classic Beatles tracks, to visitors who had just arrived from Liverpool, was something never to be forgotten....  Up on the stage they continued with a fabulous version of the Blues Brothers Everybody needs Somebody.  If ever you are in this part of France. make sure to catch this band.

What an evening, thanks go to Sylvie and Pascal of "Clos du Pech Bessou".  Their web site says that they are concentrating on production of high quality wines....  I believe they have achieved the production of high quality evenings as well.

Local Wildlife

Chenille 01 My friend Michael has been out and about again taking more stunning wild life photos
Libellule 09 I am very pleased that he allows me to share them all here.

These three photos all happened whilst he was walking in his garden looking for evidence of a fox that he wants to photograph.
Rainette 05
He tells me that there was plenty of evidence of the fox being in the area but that he has missed it time after time. 

I applaud his patience, knowing that photos like these only come after an immense number of waits, delays and frustrations

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cherries are here

We've had a few really nice days now since it last rained, so today was cutting the grass day....


We have quite a lot of grass in our "parc" and it usually takes me about 4 hours to do the basic cut and then another couple of hours to do all the fiddly bits where I can't get with my big lawnmower.  I rarely do it all in one day, usually cutting the bulk of the grass one day and then taking the hand mower round the next   That's my plan for tomorrow as usual.

Imagine my delight as I discovered that as the journey around the garden took me under the cherry tree, I was able to pick a few cherries, without even stopping.

That's the cherry tree on the right of the's a big old affair and stands about 10 metres (30 feet)  high.   I usually harvest the lower half for myself and leave any fruit on the upper half, which is pretty inaccessible,  to be collected by the birds and other animals.1st cherries 0905

After I finished the grass cutting I went and collected a basket of fruit...just collecting the ones that were in easy reach, and leaving a good quantity of those very low ones for a neighbour's young daughter to pick tomorrow...(no school as it's a holiday here in France)

I find that fresh cherries freeze really well, and can be eaten, simply defrosted with no further attention needed....

I also still have a large bag in the freezer, which I intend to turn into jam...  I better get a move on....

although, I'm not sure how many of these will make it to the freezer.....

If the weather holds, I think tomorrow will be spent cutting the grass with the hand mower before getting the steps and ladder out and seriously picking cherries.

Now, lunch....cherries and chips anyone???

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nest-building Wren

Spring has arrived here in south west France and it has brought with it an opportunity for my friend Michael to get out again photographing the local wildlife.   He sent me these 4 pictures which he took the other day.  The French call the bird a "troglodyte", but we English speakers know it as a wren.  Michael has been trying to capture photos of this bird for several years.  It is the second smallest European bird weighing in at only 9 grams (about 1/3 of an ounce) and is very shy.

 Troglodyte 003 Troglodyte 001
Troglodyte 002 Araignée 


The fourth picture is difficult to see but is of a spider....  I still continue to be amazed at how Michael even finds these photo opportunities, let alone captures them.

Once again, thanks to Michael for sharing these photos with us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Week of Firsts

1st broad beansI found a lamb joint buried deep in the recesses of my freezer the other day and decided to make a roast lamb dinner for Sunday Lunch.  I had a look around for things to accompany my meal and found quite a nice selection.  Then I took a look in my garden and decided that I could pick enough broad beans to accompany the lamb.... My first broad beans of the year.....

Actually, this is not strictly true as I have been picking young broad beans for a while now and slicing them into my salads...but these were the first broad beans I intended to shell and cook....and they were delicious...

The following day a friend dropped in just to see how I was getting on with the new garden and as we walked around I showed him some young new rhubarb plants.   These plants had been given to me by a friend in Wales back in October of last year and she had grown them from seed.  I had never come across rhubarb grown from seed before so I took them with interest.  I'm hoping to get a little rhubarb this year but probably won't really get a harvest until next 1st strawberries spring.  All the talk of rhubarb led me to take him round to where my established rhubarb crown has been flourishing for a few years and is coming up to time to divide...  I found several stalks were ready to be collected so I cut them, removing the leaves for the compost, before sending him on his way with my first rhubarb of 2009.

And then today, Wednesday, the first strawberries were ready to pick...So I was able to enjoy strawberries and cream with my afternoon tea.   When I started the garden last year, strawberries were one of the first plants I bought.   I bought 12 each of 2 varieties and carefully alternated them as I planted....Now I do not have a clue which plant is which...but both are delicious

Suddenly the garden is flourishing and I'm really enjoying all this fresh produce, knowing that just over a year ago I made my first tentative steps into the world of vegetable gardening....  Is rhubarb a vegetable??

A big thank you goes out to everyone out there who has helped me along the way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

About my tomatoes???????

I'm looking for some advice, and where better to pose a question than right here...  It's about planting my tomatoes....

I have a bed which faces, roughly, south west,  probably more south south west.  In this bed I am going to plant two rows of tomatoes, each row containing 10 plants.  I want to plant 10 plants each of two varieties.

I can't decide whether I'm better off planting 2 rows of 5 for each variety, or whether each variety should have a single row of ten plants.

What do you think?    Please leave a comment with your suggestions and reasoning.  It will be a great help to me.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Fish in a kind of Provencal sauce

It was Friday and I was running out of food....  Well it would be an exaggeration to say running out of food....  My garden is loaded with salad stuff, I had the few last leaves of cabbage growing and the new crop of Broad Beans was ready for it's first picking.....  but....

So, it was Friday and I was running out of food and I had to prepare lunch.  The solution in my mind was take a look at what I actually had and then create something...which would hopefully be tasty.

There were the last couple of pieces of coley, which I quite like.  I had Courgettes (zucchini), lots, I found a fennel in the vegetable rack and as I dug into the freezer, I found the last few tomatoes from last year,  3 large Marmande, a tomato I find very tasty and which freezes and keeps well.

I could create a fish in a kind of Provencal sauce.

sauce  I got down my big old heavy frying pan from the rack and set it on a medium heat

Provence is olive country so a good tablespoon of olive oil was the first thing in the pan, quickly followed by a generous dose of "Herbes de Provence"....(what else??)

Next I peeled and sliced 4 cloves of garlic and chopped a medium onion, throwing them in the pan as I went.

The pan had now warmed sufficiently to turn down to a low heat.

I chopped the onion and tomatoes and added those.  I really needed more tomatoes but I didn't have any so I opened a tin of Italian plum tomatoes and chopped them before adding them, along with all the liquid

I chopped half the fennel and added that.

When I found the tomatoes, I also found a small aubergine (egg plant) from last year...although, I didn't actually grow aubergine last year!!! so that got chopped and added

A few dates, pitted and chopped and the sauce was beginning to come together although it lacked something...  I added a teaspoon of sea salt and a generous cupful of a sweet white wine I have.

The wine is a home made wine made by a local farmer....  It is made in the same way that Monbazillac is IMG_0506 made.  Sadly, he lives a few kilometres outside the Monbazillac Vignoble limits and as he isn't a registered wine producer it remains as a home made wine which he can't sell.   This particular bottle was 25 years old and beautifully mellow and smooth.

The fennel was added next and then the sauce left to simmer gently until the liquid had reduced quite a bit.

In the meantime, I lay the fish fillets in the bottom of an ovenproof dish and scattered a good handful of peeled prawns (shrimp) over them.

Once the sauce was ready I covered the fish with it and then baked in a medium oven for about 20 minutes (180C).

I started off calling this a "kind of Provencal sauce" but I'm not sure anyone from Provence would give it a seal of approval....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spring Water in Spring

Saturday morning brought another visit to Villereal market, and this week, the first Saturday in May, brought a big increase in the numbers of people there.  It seems to me, that this year, the arrival of the normal summer crowds has been somewhat delayed....   Last week, the weather was awful and the market was all but deserted, with a few hardy traders trying to make a living from even fewer shoppers.   But today, the sunshine was back,  the crowds were back and the market had a great buzz.
On the way home from market I often stop at my local "source" to fill a couple of bottles.  A "source" is a natural spring and there is one in our little community.  The water bubbles out of the rock at the back of a small cave and can be collected at the entrance to the cave, as people have done for many hundreds of years

The water is so crystal clear and tastes wonderful.  This photograph shows just how clear the water is, although it really doesn't do justice to the place as it is difficult to even see the water is present although, here, it is actually about 500mm (18") deep.

It is in a beautiful spot, overlooking the valley and I usually park in the village square and then walk past the 12th century church and down the track towards the "source" enjoying some fabulous scenery on the way.

Once there, I can fill a couple of containers and then sit for a moment, under the shade of a big old chestnut tree and drink in, not the refreshing water, but the peace and tranquility of this idyllic spot.

Sitting in the sunshine, I often think of times gone bye and imagine people, hundreds of years ago, in this same spot, resting their horses and filling their water carriers.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Ill Wind....

It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good....

Back on the 23rd January a storm hit this part of France.  It came in overnight and lasted for about 24 hours.  There had already been a lot of torrential rain and some flooding, and then, when winds of almost 200kph (125mph) hit, the whole area was devastated.

Several million homes lost power and the house at the Kitchen Garden in France didn't escape.    We lostpool_house power for almost 6 days!!!!  No electricity in the immediate vicinity also meant no mobiles...  no ATM's..the list goes on.

This is a photo of our small "pool house" where we keep the pool filtration equipment and chemicals, and yes, that is a concrete base that it was torn away from....

Now, you are all probably saying that now, at the end of April, this is hardly news any longer, and that is true....

But a sequence of events has brought the memory back to me and I thought I'd share it with you.

As I said,  we lost power for nearly 6 days and that prompted me to decide to buy a generator....  In the 4 years I have lived here, we have lost power for 4 days on one occasion and then 6 days this time...

So after the storm had abated I went off to select and buy a generator, and as luck would have it my local "Brico" had an offer on a suitable model with 15 % discount, off a reasonable price.

I ordered the machine and eventually, some weeks later took delivery and, as is so often the way in France, the 15% discount was credited to my loyalty card and I took my generator away to await the next time power disappears....

IMG_0480All this happened back in January/February and to be honest I had forgotten all about it until the other day when I popped into the local "Brico" again to buy some tomato stakes....

Spiral stakes for tomatoes are all the rage in this part of France this year and as I tend to grow indeterminate tomatoes and take out all the interstices, just leaving the main stem to fruit, they seemed to be a good option.   and I needed stakes as I don't yet have any bamboo growing...

I picked up 20 of the steel stakes and when I came to pay, I suddenly remembered the credit and sure enough, there was enough on the card to pay for all the stakes with still some left over....  Nice to get something I had been wondering whether to buy or not for free.....

I'll be planting out the tomatoes just as soon as I get some dry weather and I'll let you all know whether these things work.

I started with the quote "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good" and it appears that the winter storm in January that devastated more than 300,000 hectares (750,000 acres) of forest, taking out between 60 and 70% of timber, and in France alone causing an estimated 1 billion euros worth of damage, excluding forestry losses,  was not an ill wind....

Monday, April 27, 2009

Vegetable Soup

veg at market I usually buy all my fruit and vegetables at the market on a Saturday morning.  Mostly I buy from a local producer or I buy from Laurent, a greengrocer who buys off small local farmers to save them having to invest the time in attending market with maybe one product.   He also brings in things from Spain, like oranges and strawberries and very occasionally from further afield.... By buying like this, I get to pick the freshest produce available each week.   Don't forget, of course, that the Spanish border is nearer to me than Paris.

Some weeks, I find that my plans have changed and I have a wide selection of vegetables left over when Saturday morning comes round again.

Since I moved to France nearly 5 years ago I have developed my own "Potage" which solves this problem perfectly.  "Potage" is the name given to a soup made from vegetables grown in the "Potager" or vegetable garden.

potage I make the soup in a slow cooker which allows all the tastes to develop and blend.

The problem of left over vegetables occured last week and by yesterday I had a lot left.... So, I made the soup today, using....cauliflower, celery, celeriac, pumpkin, onion, carrot, Swiss chard, courgette, lemon, fennel seeds, sunflower seeds......

I think that was all...  I added a big dose of herbes de provence , a good teaspoonful of Marmite (yeast extract) and about 500ml (US Pint) of salted water and the same of a light lager type beer.   It then cooked for about 7 hours on the high setting, with just an occasional stir....

Today, I also went through the fridge and emptied all the odd sauce bottle ends into the pot.... but I didn't put any garlic in as I was running low...  That is the beauty of this soup....anything that you have goes in and if you don't have it, it doesn't matter.

At the end of cooking I assess what the soup looks like and what I feel like.....  sometimes I will blend the whole lot down to produce a rich thick soup....others I will serve it as it is, with juicy bits of vegetables in a glorious liquid stock.  Then, I will serve what I need and pot the rest, ready to cool and freeze.

However, a word of warning to those of you who are used to following recipes.....   This way of cooking, simply using what is available and, perhaps, even including things because they "need using up", can produce some truly superb results.   Your family may well ravenously finish the pot and demand you make it again very soon.... And there, my friends, is the problem....because of the very nature of the way the ingredients are chosen, you will never make another one which is exactly the same!

Sunday, April 26, 2009


This is a frittata made with Courgette(Zucchini), Pumpkin, Celeriac and Feta cheese

I made it the other day, guided by a recipe I had not tried before, but adapting the ingredients to use up some leftover vegetables.

I used a metal frying pan that I could put under the grill at the end.


300gms (12ozs) of pumpkin cut into 1 cm cubes frittata
100gms (4ozs)of pumpkin grated
200gms (8 ozs)celeriac grated
200ml (1 cup) Apple Juice
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 green courgette cut into 1cm cubes
2 salad onions sliced
4 eggs
200ml (1 cup) liquid cream
200gms (8ozs) feta cheese, crumbled
1/4cup chopped fresh basil leaves 
3 tbs olive oil to fry


Turn the grill on high. Heat the oil in a large 25cms(10"~) frying pan, over a high heat.
Add the garlic and onion and cook until you can smell the garlic/onion mix. 
Add the pumpkin cubes and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the grated pumpkin and celeriac.
Add the Apple Juice and bring to the boil and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the courgette(zucchini) and then carry on cooking on high heat until the liquid has gone again. 

Whilst this is happening beat the cream and four eggs together and then add the crumbled feta and chopped basil leaves and stir it all together.  Once the liquid has gone, turn the heat down and evenly distribute this mixture in the pan.  Cook for a few minutes(6 or 7) until the edges are just set but the middle is still quite runny.

Remove pan from heat and place under grill for about 5 minutes. The frittata should be set and lightly grilled on the top.

Serve immediately accompanied by fresh salad leaves.

I opened a young Bergerac Red to drink with this meal and it went very well, the lightness of the young wine nicely complementing the lightness of the omelette.

Rainy Day Sunday,


We have had a lot of rain here.  This seems to be in keeping with the entire world right now, but no, we have not had the 92mm that Kate in Adelaide is reporting... But still, 30 mm yesterday is a lot for South West France, and it has kept on raining all morning.

This has led me to do some much needed work inside.  After the usual round of chasing bits of paper I moved to my workshop and started to sort out a few things.

First, I had some herbs to sow into pots.  I have sown Sweet Basil, Sage, Dill and Sweet Marjoram.  I already have a pot of Basil but it is looking very sad so I decided to get ahead and sow a new lot.

I have also sown a pot of Aster this morning in the hope that the fragrant flowers would attract lots of insects.bob the builder

Potimarron I have a little bit of space at the end of my pumpkin bed so I also put a couple of  "Potimarron" seeds into pots.  This is a pumpkin, not the character in the French version of Bob the Builder, Bob le Bricoleur .

Then, I got onto sorting out seeds, basically looking at what I haven't sown which I should have and there were plenty.

First of all, an apology goes out to Miss Fuggles (A Blog Called Fuggles) who back in February very kindly let me have some seeds including some Poletschka beans.   I regret to say that they had been completely overlooked and did not feature at all in my list of sowings and proposed sowings published the other day.  However, that won't stop me growing them and they have very firmly been put in the box where I keep the seeds that I am sowing next....Just as soon as the garden is dry enough to get out there again....

Next into the box went the successional sowings.   I am absolutely hopeless at successional sowings.  This year I'm growing an 18 day radish and it will be ready before the second batch even leaves the packet!!!!  The same with salad stuff, I know I need to be sowing every couple of weeks but, somehow it just doesn't happen..  So radish and lettuce are in the box.

I really enjoyed my Red Cabbage over the winter and picked the last a couple of weeks ago.  I noticed that an April sowing will produce cabbage in November/December so I thought I'd give that a try, to supplement my usual Autumn sowing.  So red cabbage in the box!!!!

Already in the box were some Dwarf French Green Beans given to me by Sarah.   Sarah is a lovely lady who gardens not far from here in Charente-Maritime  I visited her a few months ago and am intending to get over to see her again soon.  She doesn't write a blog though, she has this idea that spending time in the garden, actually growing things is what counts!!!!

As you can see, there will be plenty to sow next week!!  The good news is that my cold frame is fairly empty, as is the heated shelf in the workshop where I germinate seeds, so I should be able to quietly get on with growing the lettuce, the pumpkins and the cabbage and then get the beans and radish in the ground just as soon as I can.

Actually, maybe I could call on Bob le Bricoleur's friend Potimarron to come and give me a hand.

Yaĉon - an update

 yaconl Back in January, Patrick of Bifurcated Carrots sent me a couple of Yaĉon tubers.

I potted them up as instructed and subsequently, one of the tubers germinated and then, a few weeks ago, the first leaves appeared in the pot.

However the second tuber showed no sign of life.

The first tuber has continued to grow and as you can see is now a healthy plant just waiting for any chance of frost to pass before getting out into the big wide world.

I kept this one watered and checked daily to make sure conditions were right for the second...but nothing


this morning, when, comme d'habitude, I watered big brother and there, just peeping out into the daylight were the tiniest pair of leaves.

So Yaĉon the baby brother has made it and hopefully will catch up with his big brother in the big wide world in just a week or two.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Nice Supper

I made this hot sauce the other evening to serve with some shrimp and smoked salmon that I was having for supper.   I ate the fish, covered in the sauce and accompanied by my home made bread and, of course, salad from the garden.

This is a nice little hot sauce to serve with shell fish, smoked salmon etc..

It takes about 5 minutes to make and keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days.


Tomato Ketchup
1 tsp Horseradish Sauce
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce
a couple of drops Tabasco Sauce

I usually make this in a small ramekin.

Half fill the ramekin with Tomato Ketchup.   Add all other ingredients and mix together.  Let stand for about 30 minutes.

Multigrain Bread

300gms multigrain bread flour
200gms plain bread flour
300ml water
a handful of mixed nuts
1 tbs walnut oil
3tsp coarse sea salt
7gms (1 sachet) of dried baker's yeast

I make the bread in a bread machine, setting the machine to run overnight so that I awake to the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread.

Put the water,oil and nuts in the pan
Add the flour.
Create a dip in the middle of the flour, and spread the salt outside of this dip.
Put the yeast into the dip, ensuring it stays dry.

Set the machine to cook on a whole grain programme to finish when you want to get up....

If you are not going to delay the start, there is no need to worry about keeping the yeast dry.

I'm sorry, bread is funny stuff and I have never successfully made any, using any measurements other than metric.

I have added a new blog caled "Ian's French Kitchen.  There is a link under "Our Links" in the sidebar.  I will post all future recipes to there as well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Thank You

I have just posted my latest item for this blog which, as you will see is an overview of the new Vegetable Garden and what is growing there.

As always when I post an item, I then went to the blog to read the finished article as you will see it.

As I read it, I realised just how many people have helped me get where I am today.  I think I have credited everyone who has given me seeds etc and I know I still have some seeds to sow which don't get a mention.

I'm also aware that by writing these pieces for the blog, I have a focus, a spur, to keep me going....

So, to all of you, those friends who have given me seeds etc, those friends who have offered advice and even materials, those friends who have turned up in the garden to help and encourage, and also, those friends who read this blog and offer comments, to all of you, I want to say a BIG thank you.

Garden Layout

After all the work in getting the new beds ready I thought I'd give you a list of what is actually growing in them and also, what is just around the corner...


So here is what is actually growing, today, in the garden (in the Ground)...or things waiting to be planted (And almost ready to go in the ground)


Bed Number In the Ground And almost ready to go in the ground:
Bed 1 Spunta Potatoes
Oak Leaf Lettuce
Bed 2 Courgettes
Dog Beans (Patrick)
Dwarf French Yellow Bean (Sarah)
Bari Cucumber (Kate)
Bed 3 Borlotto Beans
Wisley Magic Runner Bean
Purple Runner Bean (Sarah)
Black Turtle Beans (Kate/Toni)
Bed 4 Spunta Potatoes
Binjt Potatoes
Lollo Rosso Lettuce
Bed 5 Verte Grande Asparagus 
Argenteuil Selection Asparagus
Bed 6 Queensland Blue Pumpkin (Marie-Sylvie) 
Butternut squash (André)
Bed 7 Ananas Tomato (chaiselongue)
Geant Tomato (Gabriel)
Coeur de Boeuf Tomato (Marie-Sylvie)
Purple Ukraine Tomato (Miss Fuggle)
Veeroma Tomato (Miss Fuggle)
Golden Sunrise Tomato
Bed 8 Glasking Perpetual Rhubarb (Val)
White Lisbon Spring Onions
Lillia Red Salad Onion
Jaune Paille des Vertus Onion
Globe Artichoke
Bed 9   Melon Medley
Charentais Melon (M.Gary)
Bed 10 (a) Ian’s Red Cherry Tomato Yellow Cornos Capsicum (Kate)
Kaibi Round Pepper (Miss Fuggle)
Bed 11 Bok Choy Red Radicchio
Cavolo Nero (Kate)
Bed 12 Douce Provence Peas 
Dwarf French Green Beans (Sarah)
Yakon (Patrick)
Bed 13 (a,c,e) Longue d’Espagne Hazelnuts 
Salad Leaves
Radish (18 day)
Bed 14 - 24 These beds are not yet Constructed  
Bed 25 Groeseillier a Grappe Juniper Red Currant
Raspberries (André)
Bed 26 Zeva Raspberries
Magnific Delbard Raspberries
September Raspberries
Fall Gold Raspberries
Bed 27 Bay
Evergreen Shrub (Still to identify)
Deciduous Shrub (Still to Identify)
Bed 28 Cotoneaster Lacteus
Deciduous Shrub (Still to Identify)
Wild Flower Mix
Bed 29 Cotoneaster Lacteus
Kerria Japonica Pleniflora
Lagerstroemia Rouge
Wild Flower Mix
Bed 30 Evergreen Shrub (Still to identify)
Deciduous Shrub (Still to Identify)
Wild Flower Mix
SALAD GARDEN Oak Leaf Lettuce
Joy’s Cos Lettuce
Broad Beans
     Burgundy Creole
     Cuban Purple Creole
Ail Blanc de Lomagne
Salad Onions
Spring Onions
Marais des Bois Strawberry
Gariguette Strawberry
Batavia Lettuce
Wild Alpine Strawberry
Flat Leaf Parsley
Garden Cress
Garden Mint


The Salad Garden seems a bit strange now but it was originally the vegetable garden and it will become more salad oriented as we harvest the existing crops.

The layout for the new garden originally allowed 12 beds for expansion...but I have already pressed one into service to grow Hazelnuts (Bed 13) so there is space for just 11 more.

and here is a sketch plan of the new garden

planting summer2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

At last....

Today is a bit of a time for celebration in the Kitchen Garden in France.

Over the past few months I have been constructing several new vegetable beds in a part of the garden that was previously wild.   All together there are 19 new beds in this project and today I finished the preparation of the last of them.

If I cope with these 19 new ones, then there is provision for a further 11 beds to be added next year.... or in the future, anyway.

So, this evening, I have given myself a big pat on the back and even, and those of you who know me will realise how rare this is, even had a small glass of wine to celebrate....  Yes it was a local one.... Bergerac Rouge.

Now I just need to get on with the planting, seed sowing etc to make full use of all this new space.

Soon, I'm going to post an inventory of what I have growing and what is waiting in the wings.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Red Cabbage

I picked the last of my red cabbage a couple of days ago.    You may remember, I was only growing it because I bought it in error, not noticing the hand written amendment to the printed label which simply said rouge (red)!!

I have however been very pleased with the dozen plants I had.  I have enjoyed red cabbage in various ways over the past few months particularly liking the leaves shredded and pickled.

I decided to cut the last couple of heads and pickle them, hoping they'll last a few months longer....

To pickle red cabbage I use a mixture of 50% water and 50% vinegar and boil it with some pickling spice.  I now make my own spice blend for pickling.....

Pickling Spice Mixture


1 tsp Coriander Seeds
1 tsp Chilli Flakes
1 tsp Mixed Peppercorns
1 tsp Yellow Mustard Seeds
1 tsp Ground Ginger
2 Bay Leaves

I use this quantity for 5 litres (5 US Quarts) of vinegar/water, just crushing the bay leaves and then mixing all the ingredients together.  For smaller quantities, I use a tsp per litre (US quart).

I then bring the vinegar, water and spices to the boil and let it simmer for a moment or two.

I put the shredded cabbage into jars and add a teaspoon (probably slightly less) of sugar to each jar before pouring on the hot spiced vinegar and sealing.

I use some conserve jars that are readily available here in France called Le Parfait.  They are really excellent and available in all sorts of sizes and forms.   I like the screw top jars best.

These jars use a disposable capsule to seal the jar and then the screw cap lid holds everything in place.  The problem, nowadays, is that these capsules are getting very expensive and add significantly to the cost of home preserving.  You need to use a new capsule every time you seal a jar.... and they now cost about €0.75 (US$1.00) per capsule.  Today I have modified the capsule in an attempt to make it reusable although the seal will probably only last a couple of uses but even that halves the cost....    I have drilled a small hole in the middle of the capsule which I have then sealed with wax.  I'll tell you all about it in the future if it works out OK.

Today, 18th April is St Parfait Day...hence this piece.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns are an age old recipe traditionally eaten at Easter in Great Britain, where an old law permits their sale only at Easter and Christmas.  They are now eaten in many parts of the world.  They are basically a spicy, glazed, currant bun with a pastry cross piped on the top... Not strictly pastry, it's often, simply flour and milk made into a firm batter so that you can pipe a cross

Hot Cross Buns, however, don't seem to be available in this part of France, indeed I suspect they are not available in any part of France as the French people I have talked to didn't know about them.   Now I'm usually happy to adopt my French life and go without whatever is not available, except, that this year I have been invited out to lunch on Easter Sunday and thought, "wouldn't it be nice to take a traditional British thing with me"...   So, none available in the shops, I decided I would simply make some.

Well, that was my first error.  There is nothing simple about making Hot Cross Buns.  If you have the choice between making them yourselves, or buying them from a bakery, choose the bakery!  I have spent the entire afternoon baking about a dozen hot cross buns.

First I had to find a recipe.   As usual, I turned to the Internet.

There was a recipe with a beautiful photo on a site from a British magazine called Woman's Weekly.  Woman's Weekly launched in November 1911 and is still being published today.  It does what the title says, a weekly magazine for women and cookery has always been a strong part of it's subject matter so I thought they could probably be relied on to give me a good traditional recipe.  And they did!

Next I assembled all the various ingredients, , nothing very unusual, flour, sugar, spices, milk, an egg, bakers yeast, all of which I had in my cupboard.

Then to start making the buns.  First start the yeast in a milk and sugar solution.

As  soon as that was happily going I mixed the flour, sugar and spices and and then added the yeast mixture and the beaten egg, formed all this into a dough and left it to raise for an hour and a half.

hot-cross-bunOnce it had risen I worked in the fruit and then made the individual buns, before leaving them to rise again for a further 1/2 hour or so

Next I added the cross that gives them their name, then off to the oven.

As they were baking, I started to get the idea that I had chosen well and the recipe was going to be delicious.  The smell from the oven was mouth watering....

The recipe called for the hot buns to be glazed as soon as they came out of the oven which is what I did next.

So, several hours after deciding, I have about 16 Hot Cross Buns.  They look and smell great and I'm struggling to wait till they are cool to try the first one.


For the full recipe, go to the Woman's Weekly Hot Cross Bun recipe

Things I did differently:

I varied the recipe a little.  I made my own mix of spices using Ground Nutmeg, Ground Ginger, Ground Cloves, Ground Cinnamon, Ground Mace, 1/2 tsp of each and then added another tea spoon of Ground Cinnamon.  I mixed strong white flour (300gms) and wholemeal flour (200gms) and I substituted whatever fine brown sugar I had in the cupboard. 

And yes, having succumbed to temptation, they were delicious.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In the Garden

I've spent a lot of time over the past few weeks working away in the garden.  As you will recall, I have been making a new vegetable garden and I thought today would be a good time to reflect on all that I have done.

I'm turning a piece of meadow into the garden and have created about 19 new beds.  All the beds are about 7m x 1.2m (24ft x 4ft). The ground is heavy clay so I have had to do a lot of amendment mainly adding in sand and compost.

The site has the provision for another 11 beds which might get added next year.....

The layout of the garden is pretty straight forward. It occupies a square piece of land running roughly north west/ south east.   There are 4 corner beds, each quadrant shaped.  On the west side there are two beds run together to form one long bed, running at right angles to the main beds.  Apart from those, the rest of the beds are in rows of 3 beds running lengthwise.

Of the 19 beds, 18 have been prepared leaving just one bed still to make. More sand and more compost......

I have also been planting these beds extensively over the past couple of weeks.

At this moment, I have perennial beds planted with Asparagus, Rhubarb, Artichokes, Red Currant, Raspberries and Hazelnuts.  The quadrant shaped corner beds have been planted with shrubs to attract birds and insects, some evergreen and some deciduous, Bay, Cotoneaster, Kerria, Thyme, Flowering Currant, etc.

Here's a list of the vegetables already planted

IMG_0407 Spunta Potato
Binjte Potato
Lollo Rosso Lettuce
Joy's Cos Lettuce
Oakleaf Lettuce
Bok Choy
Ian's Red Cherry Tomato
Sturon Onions
Lillia Red Salad Onions
Spring Onions
Borlotto Beans


I also have lots of seedlings ready to be planted, including

Charentais Melon
Queensland Blue Pumpkin
Purple Ukraine Tomato
Veeroma Tomato
Golden Sunrise Tomato
Capsicum Yellow Cornos
Capsicum Kaibi Round
Cavolo Nero Kale



In the herb garden this year I have

IMG_0430 Bay
Flat Leaf Parsley
Garden Mint
and something called aillette in France.....maybe a wild garlic.


Last year's vegetable garden is still in operation and has

red cabbage
several varieties of Garlic
Salad Onions
Broad Beans
and three varieties of Strawberries

and finally, I still have some seeds to sow, mainly beans cucumbers, melons and peas.


I think I'm likely to remain busy for a few more days yet....I'm so pleased that when Kate was here helping me get started on this project she insisted on having a table and chairs right in the middle of the garden