Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back home again

Hello again!

I'm back, at long last, from my extended holiday.

I spent a lot of time driving and another lot of time flying.   Hardly green!!

This got me to thinking.  The airline I flew across the Atlantic Ocean with offered to sell me some "carbon footprint reduction".    Whilst I'm sure these schemes are good, I decided that it would be better to create my own "carbon neutralisation" scheme.  After a bit of deliberation, I have decided to plant a tree, simply as an offset.  The advantage to going down this route, rather than simply paying out some money, is,  I believe, two fold: Firstly, I will know exactly what has been planted to cover my trip, and secondly, I will get to enjoy the tree as it grows and matures. 

I haven't finally decided on the tree yet.  There are various places in my garden where I could site another tree but first I have to decide on the tree.... and even before that, to decide whether it should be an ornamental tree or a fruit producing one.  My first thought was to plant another fruit tree, but I'm wondering about planting an ornamental one.    This year's drought has left it's mark in my garden and a rather fragile pine tree has succumbed.    I was planning to dig it out and simply fill in the hole, but maybe I could find something attractive to replace it.

lobster_001sm2 My holiday was a mix of both happiness and sadness.  The trip to the USA was brought about by the recent death of a close relation following a year of battling with cancer.   My brother in law was an amazing man and I am very happy to have known him so well.    After a career in the military he retired to his beloved New England just a few short years ago.  I was always certain that the abundance of Maine lobster figured heavily in this decision, and I have enjoyed many local lobsters with him since he moved there.   The lobsters this year, whilst still stunningly delicious, seemed to be missing him too.

Today I've mostly been opening up my home after almost two months lockdown.   It was dark when I got here so I've not even seen the garden yet.  Tomorrow I shall take a look.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Away for a while

I’ve left behind the sunny south west France and headed west for a holiday.

After a week or so in the UK I’ve arrived in the USA just in time to be greeted by the worst October snow storm on record. Just a couple of days after I got here, a huge storm swept through the USA closing all airports in New York, Connecticut and Boston. I am, however, pleased to say that here where I’m staying, in Mid Coast Maine, the storm only dumped about an inch of snow, although, just a few miles inland, over a foot was recorded.

The trip over here was interesting. I flew from the UK to Paris, then to Boston and finally to a small airport, known affectionately as Owl’s Head. I traveled on an Airbus, then a Boeing 747 before boarding a smaller plane for the last leg. When I say smaller, I’m talking SMALL!!! Cape Air carried me in an 8 seater Cessna for what was probably the most interesting one hour flight I have ever enjoyed. And yes, they did ask me my weight at check in!!

I’m here in New England until towards the end of November when I shall head back towards the Kitchen Garden in France.

The past year in the garden has been a disaster.

The severe drought caused a complete ban on any form of irrigation ensuring that virtually everything I had planted died. The only things that cropped were a few tomato plants, which produced fruit just before I left, although I did get quite a bit of fruit from the established trees inb the orchard.

When I get back, I shall be turning the ground over in preparation for the 2012 season.

In the mean time, I’m just enjoying the hospitality offered by family in the USA.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Good Week

You know how sometimes, you look back and say, "That was a good week"?   Then, there are the rather more rare occasions when you look back and say "That was a GREAT week!"   I have just had a GREAT week.

It was my birthday. Well, actually, that is not true.   It will be my birthday in a few days.   It will be one of those birthdays that are "momentous".

Some years ago now, I decided to give up trying to fight my way along in the rat race.   I sold my house, collected all my belongings together, packed my car and drove off into the sunset....   or, at least, the cross channel night ferry.   I had some small savings and the proceeds from the sale of my property.   I guess, the crunch moment for making that decision came whilst I was on vacation.  In an idle moment, whilst drinking coffee on a pavement somewhere, I suddenly realised that, even though I was working hard, I was neither enjoying myself, nor making enough money to put up with the grief.  I also realised that, after selling my property and buying something in France, I would have more left over than I would earn between then and retirement.

For many years I had idly dreamed of buying a little place in the sun and living a long and happy retirement.   My own psyche never seemed to quite come to terms with when that should be, so, at just 53 I upped and left.   It's well known amongst my friends that I left the UK, and came to live in France, but only had a holiday cottage which I had rented for just two weeks. I guess it worked out, as I have now lived here for over 7 years.

To get back to my birthday, those of you with an eye for numbers, will by now have realised why it is a "momentous" birthday.     If I had not taken that decision back then, this week is the week when I would have been given my carriage clock and sent off into bewilderment.    As it is, I took the tent I was given back in 2004 and started to forge a new life here in the Kitchen Garden in France.  Oh, I still have that tent, just in case!

But none of these ramblings explain why it has been a GREAT week.

About  a month ago, I started to think about these things and decided I wanted to celebrate this "coming of age". This coming of a new era in my third age.

I guess I entered my third age back then when I moved here.  But there is the third age and there is the seven year itch, so all in all, seven years after entering the third age seems a great excuse to throw a party.  So that's what I decided to do.

For personal reasons I chose to celebrate it a week before my birthday and so it was, that I had about thirty of my friends here to celebrate with me.  Their were some old friends of more than 20 years standing, and some new friends, met on the day for the first time.  Their were friends I had met for the first time at the start of my adventure here, and friends and neighbours I have met along the way.

It was hard work, but fun, preparing food and drinks for my friends and I had great help from everyone.  And then, as the thermometer edged into the upper 30's C (about 100F) I filled the newly imported garden fridges and waited for the guests, who turned up determined to give me the best birthday ever.

Well, They succeeded.

Erm, I'm sure none of you will be surprised when I mention that I didn't take a single photo....  Sorry!

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Lucky Morning

My friend Michael has been out and about again, "shooting" wildlife.

In a country that takes any form of hunting very seriously and the quiet of a Sunday morning is peppered with the sounds of gunshots, Michael always enjoys telling people he's been out shooting wildlife, only to later clarify that the only shooting he ever does is with his camera.

He emailed these photos to me, this morning.

Apparently he was out at about 5:45am, just waiting, when three hares literally shot past him.  They were moving far too fast to capture with his camera so he just watched them run.  Seconds later, the cause of the flight came into view, they were being chased by a female deer.

Once the deer had cleared the hares off into the neighbouring sunflower field, she sauntered back, giving Michael the opportunity to take these magnificent photos.

He tells me he thinks it was a lucky morning.  I think the skill and devotion that he puts into his photography takes it far beyond the realms of "lucky"

I hope you enjoy the images and, once again, thank Michael for sharing his magical photos with us.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

First tomato

With the severe drought and uncommonly high temperatures here this spring my work in the garden has almost collapsed to nil.

cobra tomato The drought has forced the local administration to impose severe water restrictions, and, whilst I fully understand the need to contain the supplies, I do find the practicalities bizarre to say the least.

At present I'm not allowed to wash my car at home.  Well, that's ok.   I'm not allowed to water my lawn.  Again, that's sad but ok.   I am allowed to drive to the local car wash and use it! Silly!  I'm not allowed to water my vegetable plot.  Which means I cannot grow my own vegetables but am therefore forced to buy farmed vegetable that have probably travelled thousands of miles to get to me.  Where, exactly, is the sense in that?

Anyway, all that aside, I today found a lone tomato luxuriating in the sun.   I got my tomatoes in the ground long before the water restrictions were imposed and I laid a mulch over them which is about 300mm (12 inches) thick.  They are struggling but surviving.

I'm glad to have this particular tomato, as it was a plant from my friend  the nurseryman, at Villereal market.   It was not a variety I had ever heard of called Cobra.  Searching on the internet, I could only find an F1 variety called that, but my man assures me it is not F1 and the seeds can be saved.  In fact, when  I asked him, he rather looked at me like I was stupid, and asked in return, "How do you think I get the plants?  I just save the seed from one year to the next!"  which, thinking about it, I know is true for everything else he sells!

So I now have a nice Cobra tomato, which at the moment I'm managing to resist the urge to eat, so that I will have seeds next year.

The only things I'm growing this year, apart from my permanent beds and the orchard, are tomatoes, beans and courgettes (zucchini).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Just Catching up

The lack of recent posts on here, coupled with quite a few appearing on my food and recipe blog (Ian's French Kitchen) reflect that for a while I've been unable to carry out much gardening.

There have been a variety of reasons including some health problems (again!) and also the drought.

A hard drought has hit south west France for the past few months and slowly, gardening has got tougher and tougher.  I've already written about the drought and until the last few days it has remained largely unbroken.

The ground has been drying out and I have huge cracks now right across the vegetable garden and orchard.   The cherry crop was prolific but fairly small compared to previous years.

However, a mild storm brought some rain in on Friday, about 1.5mm, and then we got a further 10mm on Saturday.  It has rained gently on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday as well and I noticed this morning that more rain has come in overnight.

Don't get excited for us though.  My rain gauge this morning is only showing 25mm since Sunday, which is a nice amount, but not nearly enough to turn the tide.  I mentioned in a previous post that Biarritz, just down the coast from here, normally gets about 135mm of rain during January but this year only 18mm fell. On top of that shortfall, the rains that should have fallen in February, March, April and May have been virtually non-existent.

But at least some rain has now come and my water butts have been refilled as the grass turns green again.

Sadly, one of the restrictions imposed by the authorities in an attempt to contain the water shortage has been to impose a total ban on watering vegetable gardens.  I understand the need to contain water and I agree that we must all do our bit.  I find it sad though.  I'm growing tomatoes and beans, both of which take considerably less water per kilo than say sweetcorn, a common crop here.  What's more, the tomatoes grown in my garden, and used in my kitchen use substantially less water than the tomatoes I shall now be buying, which were grown in Spain and transported.  Specifically targeting vegetable gardens seemed a very strange thing for a government to do and I am absolutely certain has no basis, whatsoever, in the desire to save water.

A farmer friend of mine, who runs a permaculture farm, tells me that he has had notice banning him for taking water from the river on his property, his normal source for all his irrigation.

Still, perhaps the rain now starting to fall will at least ease the situation and prevent the onset of the tougher restrictions being discussed where water will be cut off completely for a few days a week

I have been suffering from a problem with my leg and foot again and as a result have not been able to walk very far.  This has led me to spend a lot of time in the kitchen making all sorts of things.   My cooking blog has seen the benefit.

I'm hoping to get across to the vegetable patch this afternoon to check up on my beans and tomatoes, although, having had the total ban on watering for a couple of weeks now, I'm not sure what I'll find.

The latest e-coli situation rages on across Europe and further.

Day after day we hear new reports of what the supposed source of the bacteria might be, The German authorities leapt at the opportunity to blame Spanish cucumbers when the science was, apparently, very uncertain.  Subsequently, they have had to do a U turn and accept that the source is likely within Germany.   They then turned their attention to a bean sprout farmer within Germany and said, categorically, that was the source, until they again changed their minds.

The situation has been ongoing for so long now that it is likely the true source will never be found.

I believe that Germany made a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters and hide the failing of their own systems.   I also find it hard to believe that, when here in Europe, we have such good food traceability, Germany, one of Europe's leading countries, cannot trace an e-coli outbreak..... Oh, unless of course, they don't want to.

Now, the farmers in Spain and the farmer in Germany are demanding compensation for their losses.  I believe they are fully entitled to it.  However, the EU has stepped in and said it will pay.  This is NOT an EU problem, it is simply the result of an EU country, Germany, hiding the truth.  I have no doubt saying that the German government should be made to pay all the compensation and not spread the load across all taxpayers in Europe.  The taxpayers across Europe will have a big enough job salvaging the reputation of all our farmers around the world.  A situation only existing because of the callous failings of one nation.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Today, I planted out the last of my tomato plants.  I've cut back quite a lot this year and am growing just 31 plants. The ongoing drought is making cobra me a bit nervous of having too much stuff in the ground that needs lots of water and also, the ground has had so little moisture that it is baked pretty hard making planting anything quite a challenge.

This year I have planted 2 Ananas, 4 Marmande, 6 Veeroma, 8 Moneymaker and 9 Ian's Red Cherry.  These have all been raised from seed saved last year.   I had some excitement with my seeds over the winter and lost most of the Ananas seeds  and all my Golden Sunrise seeds to a passing mouse.

This year I'm also growing 2 Cobra for the first time.   This variety was recommended to me by the seedling man at Villereal market.  His produce is raised very close to here and his seedlings have always done well for me.  I chatted to him about different varieties of tomato some weeks ago and he persuaded me to buy two of his Cobra.  He claims they are quite an early tomato.   Looking at the photo taken today, the fruit is certainly far in advance of any other tomato plant in my garden.   As I said, I've never grown Cobra before so I'm waiting to see how it turns out.  I like the seedling man. He sets up his small stall well off the main market where he can park his van and simply gets out whatever you want.  He has a small table which looks very unprepossessing but I know his van to be a veritable Tardis, with far more coming out than it could possibly hold. Tjhe other thing is that he shares this bit of road with just one other trader.  This trader doesn't even have a table, preferring to simply open the back doors of his van and allow you to peer in.  If you want to buy then he will happily pull out the crates for you to select whichever live animal you have chosen.  Yes, that's all he sells, live animals, chickens and pigs mainly, but often a goose or some ducks.

The drought continues unabated with no rainfall at all recorded by me for the past 12 dayswalnuts but the garden is fairing with mixed success.   I had two olive trees that had been in the ground about 2 years.  They are planted adjacent to one another...  one is fairly happy with the drought and occasional drop of water I throw at it but the other seems to have dies, although I'm still watering it from time to time as it seems to be holding onto it's greenness.   I had a great crop of cherries but they came and went much faster than usual this year.  I guess that also is an effect of the drought.   My walnut tress are laden with fruit.  I've nowhere near finished eating the walnuts I collected last year yet and looking at the trees this should be another good year for walnuts   Elsewhere, I have some of the best roses I have seen since I moved here about 7 years ago and a pot of Iris has flowered for the first time since we arrived.  To be honest, I inherited the pot when we moved here and always meant to dig out the bulbs and do something with it.... but the best of intentions and all that,... but this year I needed to move the pot so I put it out in the sunlight a bit more, mainly to remind me that I needed to deal with it and, hey presto, beautiful Yellow Japanese Irises arrived.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Another Saturday and another visit to the market at Villereal.   Today however, I didn't take the kitchen table with me, mind you, I don't often take the kitchen table with me, it's just that my camera was still on it when I arrived at the market.

Today, the talk all around the market was of the "secheresse", the drought.   This spring has been extremely dry here, In fact, it was dry last autumn, through the  winter and now in spring.  It's getting harder to believe that this area might be known as Aquitaine because the Romans thought it was a wet place.

Normally, in this part of the world, we have a very dry summer and a dryish autumn, then the winter and spring rains come and refill all the aquifers, reservoirs and even restore the rivers and lakes.  Then the cycle starts again.  However, this year the cycle has been sadly distorted.

I read today that Biarritz, a little way south of here, normally gets about 138mm of rain during the month of January.  This January they had just 18mm.  Apparently, in the ten weeks from the 1st March, the weather authorities have recorded about 60% less precipitation than normal, with my own garden records showing just a few millimetres of rain in the past three months....  that's February, March and April, which should be the wettest quarter....

Laurent, one of the greengrocers at the market told me that he was already seeing price rises on fruit and vegetables and that he expected the situation to get worse.  Rene, a friend who runs a Permaculture farm just a few kilometres away was also telling me how the drought was affecting him.  He has just finished planting a field of potatoes, right next to the river so he can pump the water easily for irrigation.  Now, as a result of restrictions imposed because of the drought, he has been banned from extracting water from the river.   We all recognise the need to leave what water there is, still flowing to support the wildlife, but it's astonishing that these measures are needed in May

Here in my own garden things are equally bleak.   I've already taken the decision not to plant numerous beds this year as the drought really bites, and then, today at the market, I discovered that the "departement" to the north of us has now imposed restrictions banning the watering of gardens!

On the other hand, our vacationing guests are all enjoying the sunshine and hot dry weather!  I even took a dip in the pool myself today to cool off a bit

At the moment I'm still able to water and I have cut right back on plantings.  I'm hoping to get enough water to get beans and tomatoes but some of the other things won't go out unless we get a change in the weather.  I'm glad that most of my orchard is well established and hoping that I'll get fruit crops to make up for the other losses.  We got off to a good start with a great crop of cherries.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Broad Beans with ???


I'm a bit behind picking my Broad Beans and didn't get them in until today.  Most of them were fine, but quite a few had gone black and slimy insidediseased bean

I'm not sure what the cause is and would welcome any suggestions you all might have!

I've not had much problem with the beans.  They were sown last november and have over wintered.   This is the same way I grew them last year without problem.  The winter this year was milder but not much with temperatures dropping to minus 10°C or about 15°F.  This spring the weather has been unusually warm and dry with virtually no rain over the past two months until this week when we have had about 15mm (1/2 inch)

I had a slight problem with black fly which I treated by spraying with a white horticultural spray following a recipe given to me by Kate, mixing sunflower oil with a mild liquid detergent.  The resulting solution was diluted before use by adding two tablespoons solution to 2 litres water (1/2 Gal US).   I sprayed three times every third day

The photo isn't very clear but you can see the black slime inside the pod.  Some beans had just one end affected whilst others had the entire bean affected.  I guess about 10% of the crop was affected.  The beans are planted in a different bed each year and have never yet returned to a previous site.

I look forward to reading your comments.   Many Thanks

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beef Bourgignon with a few carrots

FROM MY KITCHEN BLOG, Ian's French Kitchen

The French have a gorgeous traditional beef dish from Burgundy, Boeuf Bourgignon.    I've put my own slant on it here to make it "Traditional English cooking in France".  The wine really should be a bottle of Burgundy red..... but I tend to use any good full bodied red wine.

This recipe is so incredibly easy,  and relies on a slow cooker to gently simmer everything for about 12 hours.

I hope you love it as much as I do

Beef Bourgignon

1 tbsp duck fat (use olive oil if you don't have duck fat)
600g beef shin, cut into large chunks
100g smoked streaky bacon, chopped  (Lardon)
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 carrots peeled and sliced 
4 garlic cloves crushed, peeled and sliced
2 heaped tablespoons Herbes de Provence
1 small can tomato purée
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
750ml bottle red wine, Burgundy is good 
A glass of water

200gms mushrooms, sliced into largish chinks

In the Slow Cooker
Heat the duck fat in a frying pan and brown the beef for about 3 minutes a side.  (cook the beef in batches)  Toss the browned beef in flour then add to slow cooker.   After frying the beef, fry the bacon, onions and garlic in the same pan, adding a little more goose fat if needed.  Add to slow cooker

Reserve out the Mushrooms and put the rest of the ingredients into the slow cooker.  Give everything a good stir

Cook for 4 hours on the high setting and then a further 8 hours on low.

Add the mushrooms 2 or 3 hours before finishing.  (after about 9 hours cooking)

From time to time check the mixture for liquid and give a stir

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Garden and Kitchen

This spring I've not been able to get out in my garden nearly as often as I would have liked.   Some minor health problems, delayed building work and winter repairs to our holiday accommodation have all taken their toll.

However, today I felt I was starting to make a little progress.   Over the past months I have managed to fit in sowing a few things like tomatoes, melons, cucumber, courgettes etc but I have been sadly behind with the ground preparation as I juggled time to try and fit everything in.

So, first thing this morning I was out in the garden starting to prepare my first three beds.   When I laid out the garden, a few years ago now, I adopted a system of regular beds, all about 7.5m (25ft) by 1.2m (4ft).  I find that the four ft width is great as it's easy to get to anywhere in any of the beds.   I separated the beds with a 600mm (2ft) wide path.    I pondered long and hard about how wide this path should be.   The plan was to let the grass and weeds grow on the paths and simply cut it back with the lawn mower.  So that is where the size of 600mm came from.... It's the width of my manual lawn mower.   I do admit, however, that with almost an acre of lawn to mow, I do have a ride on mower.   That mower also has a trailer attachment, so through the middle of the vegetable garden I put a wider 1200mm path so that, if needed, I could pull a trailer right into the middle of the garden.

Actually, I only prepared 2 and 1/2 beds.  The other half was already planted with broad beans which are doing well.   The beds I prepared will be populated with courgettes, pole beans and tomatoes.

As I was so far behind with ground preparation I decided to cut some corners and used my rotovator to break up the soil.  As I have mentioned, it's been very dry here with no significant rainfall for over a month (20mm in the past two months and nothing for the past couple of weeks) and temperatures have also climbed as high as 30C (86F) on more than one occasion.  Consequently the ground has baked quite hard so cutting through it seemed the best option.

To prepare a bed, I first set about rotovating to produce a better tilth.  Once I was happy with the ground I added a bag of substrate that I'm using to help improve the soil and then a bag of well rotted farmyard manure.   I used the rotovator as a great big mixer to blend all these elements together.  before finally raking the surface.

Having prepared the soil, I then laid in a watering system.  I use a kind of dripper hose system.  It's homemade, but I think it works well.   I seal one end of an old hose pipe and fit a connector the other end.  I then use a special tool I have manufactured to pierce the hose wherever I want the drips to be.    If you imagine a thin piece of wood with a small sharp nail pushed through, you'll have a very good impression of my " special tool"!

Once the watering system was in place and tested, I covered the whole lot with about 5 or 6 inches (150mm) of straw as a mulch.

That all took me right up to lunch time but, after lunch I was due to be away from the garden again.

Today was Hot Cross Bun Day.   Well, I guess I should say, Hot Cross Bun Baking Day.

I like to make Hot Cross Buns a couple of days ahead and then freeze them.  I think it helps all the flavours mellow and blend together.

I've not had much success with my Hot Cross Buns since I moved to France.  I think it's been because of the differences in bread making here which calls for subtle changes to yeast etc.  So, once again today, I decided to try out a new recipe.   This recipe calls for the dough to be made in a bread machine and then the buns baked and glazed as usual.    It was my best effort  in France! although, I did make a silly mistake...  My oven has a pre heat setting which brings it up to temperature much quicker.  It adds in additional heat at the top of the oven.    The problem is that whenever I use the pre-heat I seem always to forget to turn the oven back to normal once it's got up to temperature and, as I'm sure you can imagine, additional heat at the top of the oven really affects things like baking Hot Cross Buns.  So, apart from being a bit dark, this year's buns are fabulously tasty.  As ever, I took an online recipe and then adjusted it for my own tastes.

I'll probably post the recipe on my food blog Ian's French Kitchen tomorrow or the day after.

Tomorrow it's out in the garden again to get things growing in those beds!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday..

I love Pancake Day, the local name for today.

Almost without fail, my evening meal is constructed to make provision for the main event... Beautiful pancakes doused in Maple syrup, or hiding sultanas.... or both!!

Here is my own Pancake Recipe, yried, tested and developed ove many years of celebrating this special day in this traditional way...


Basic Pancake Batter

(makes eight) except it only really made 5 or 6

75g/3oz plain flour

Pinch of salt

2 large fresh eggs

150ml/1/4pt milk

a dash of water

A little oil for frying

Mix the water and milk and beat in the eggs.   Place the flour and salt in a large bowl, then add half the milk. Whisk until the mixture is lump-free. Add the remaining milk and whisk again until smooth. If you prefer place all the ingredients together in a food processor and blend until smooth, Pour the batter into a jug. The batter can be made in advance and chilled for up to eight hours before use.   I think it improves if left to stand and usually leave it about 30 minutes or so

Heat a 20cm/8in diameter non-stick frying pan until hot, drizzle a little oil over the centre and wipe it around with a piece of kitchen paper. Now pour a little of the batter into the pan and immediately tilt the pan to spread the batter thinly and evenly over the base. Cook for two minutes or until the top is set and the base golden. Turn the pancake over with a spatula or if you are feeling brave, flip the pancake!

Cook for a further one to two minutes or until the base is golden. Transfer to a plate and interleave with greaseproof paper, keep warm. Use the batter and a little more oil to make a further seven pancakes in the same way. Serve simply with lemon and sugar or try them in the following recipe ideas.

French Mushroom, Ham & Goats Cheese Crepe

Fill the pancakes with sliced mushrooms sauteed in oil, a slice of ham, then top with thinly sliced goats cheese. Fold up to enclose the filling then pop under a hot grill until the cheese begins to melt. Serve scattered with flat parsley.


Redcurrant and apple

cook the basic pancake and just before serving add a mixture of stewed redcurrants and apple, then roll and serve immediately.


Or, simply add a handful of golden sultanas to the pan immediately before adding the batter.    These are great served with Maple syrup.

Monday, February 28, 2011

St David's Day - Dydd Gŵyl Dewi

welsh flag

March 1st is a big day in Wales.    It's the Saint's day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales.   As you can see from the title, in the Wewelsh-folk-costumelsh language it's called Dydd Gŵyl Dewi.   However, maybe I should also explain that this translates back to Saint David's Festival rather than day, which might give you a clue about it's perceived importance.

David was a cleric in the sixth century, born near the west coast of Wales, near to what is now the cathedral city of St. David's, the smallest cathedral city in the United Kingdom.

Many of you will know that before I came to live here in south west France a few years ago, I lived in Wales.   In fact I lived there for over 30 years, more than half my life.  I was born in Lancashire and apart from a few holidays didn't have much involvement with Wales until I took a job there.   However, once I had started working there I quickly fell in love with the country and it's people. I very much enjoyed living and working there and learning about it's customs.  During my time in Wales it gained devolution and it's own Welsh language tv channel.  I even tried, very unsuccessfully, to learn it's language.

The Welsh language is one of the old Celtic languages of Britain, dating back to about the time of David and deriving from the ancient language of British.

The national flower of Wales is the daffodil.   I am always pleased when I go out into the garden on St David's day and see those first blooms of spring waving hello.  I love the synergy that brings the blooms of the national flower out on the day dedicated to the patron saint.

BBC - sportBut 2011 has delivered another string to add to the celebrations.  Rugby is the national sport of Wales , well, it may not be considered the national sport by every one in Wales any more, but it is still considered the national sport by the majority of Welsh people.  so how very fitting that in the week that finds the daffodils blooming and St David celebrating his festival, the national rugby team also delivered another win in the prestigious RBS Six Nations tournament, defeating Italy by 24 points to 16 in Rome.

Wales also has it's own food.   Welsh cakes are a delicious light fruit cake much like a drop scone.  They are traditionally baked on a bakestone or griddle.

Another Welsh delicacy is Laverbread.  If you ever find yourselves in Wales then you really must seek out this treat and try it for yourselves.  But don't let the name confuse you.    It's not a traditional bread.  Indeed, you should pay more attention to the Laver part rather than the bread part.  Laver is an edible seaweed.

My own favourite, although it's hard to choose, is cawl (pronounced cowl).  Cawl is the traditional meal of St David's day, forming an important part of the festivities.

Cawl is a thin soup or broth.  The number of recipes around is roughly equivalent to the number of people that speak Welsh!  daffodils However, on the whole it's a thin broth containing meat and vegetables.  The meat is, more often than not, lamb and the vegetables usually contain leeks.   Of course, leeks are also a popular symbol of Wales.....  I guess they could even be considered the national vegetable.   If you have ever watched Wales' comedian/singer Max Boyce then you can't have failed to notice his enormous leek buttonhole!

Then there are the delicious Welsh Cheeses.  Traditional Caerphilly has been made for almost 200 years.   There are lots of others, Llanboidy, Y Fenni and Tintern to name a few.

Of course, entertainment is also virtually a national endeavour,  from Tom Jones to  Shirley Bassey, from  Dylan Thomas to the Manic Street Preachers, from Anthony Hopkins to Catherine Zeta Jones... the list is almost endless

I think all that's left for me to say - Diwrnod Dewi Sant Mwynhau's.   Enjoy St David's Day

Oh, in my own garden just  small cluster of daffodils arrived to trumpet in St David's Day, but plenty more are just around the corner

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spring arrives with....

I've always reckoned that my big Forsythia bush was the herald announcing spring in my garden and for several years, around this time, I've looked forwards to it's sudden outburst of deep yellow flowers. The Forsythia is one of a number of large shrubs that enclose my parking area.  I have an forsythiaarea to the east side of the house that is big enough to get about three cars off  the road and it is this area that is bounded by by some six or seven very well established shrubs.

As it's where I park my car, I get to enjoy it's blossom whenever I go out.      As you can see from the photo, taken today, it won't be long now before those flowers are once again adorning the area


This year a little upstart of a thing has decided to vie for the position.   Indeed, not only has this primroses delicate little plant decided to go for it, it has won....  Today there is a small cluster of these beautiful primroses already in flower in the garden.  

I'm sad for my good old trusty Forsythia bush, getting knocked off it's "first to bloom" pedestal, but I'm just absolutely delighted that the signs of spring are now all around in the garden and things are once again waking up.

You may recall that last year, I suffered a twelve week drought, going well into October.  By the time some rain returned it was too late for a few of my shrubs and things to really recover.  Couple that with a pretty harsh winter and I'm looking at quite a few things that have simply not made it through.     I'm particularly sad about a very pretty rose, given to me many years ago by an artist friend who, subsequently, died of cancer.   The rose sat by the door and I was reminded of her throughout the summer by the delicate pink and yellow blooms.

Now the weather is turning warmer I have realised how much preparation work I have let slide.   I need to spend a lot of time in the garden getting the beds ready.  Those seedlings, and more still to come, will very soon be looking for a place of their own.

Last week, I started to sow new seeds in earnest and now have several trays of tiny seedlings clamouring for attention as they cling on to life trying to do no more than grow strong and healthy.

Over the past ten days or so, I have sown various tomatoes, basil, cauliflower, marigolds, malva, coriander and lettuce amongst others

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ian's Red Cherry Tomato

Ian's Red Cherry 1week

Here's a photo of my Red Cherry Tomatoes at just 10 days after sowing.  Yes, I found some batteries!!!!  I'm really not sure I can use the term sowing for burying a piece of paper kitchen towel, but I don't know what other term to use!!

I always love the way the seedlings take their first tentative steps into the world with their heads bowed, and then, once up, stretch themselves.  In fact, tentative steps and then a good stretch sounds a lot like my own routine in the mornings.

I hope I prove to be a worthy father and they reward me dutifully.

Good luck, little ones.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Seedlings of 2011

About 10 days ago I carefully unfolded a piece of my kitchen roll, placed it over a seed tray full of damp compost and scattered  some more compost on top.    Then I put a plastic cover over it and placed it on a shelf in the little room that houses our central heating boiler.

Today, I took out that tray to discover the first new seedlings pushing through.   The kitchen paper was where I had dried my Cherry Tomato seeds during the autumn of last year.

I love seeing the first shoots appearing out of a tray of little more than dirt.   The delicate stems pushing their way up as they unfold themselves from the very seed that gave them life are truly an inspiration.  I often wonder that such tiny spindly things can bear such beautiful fruit.

There should be a photo here....but, as so often happens, there isn't!!!    Tuesday is my "shopping day""    The Kitchen Garden in France is in a fairly rural part of France and, although there are a couple of small villages within a few kilometres, the nearest real town is about 20kms (15 miles)away.     Because of this, I try to keep my trips to the shops to a weekly affair and, normally, that is Tuesday.  Today was no exception and immediately after breakfast, I set off with my list of several businesses to visit.      It was only when I got home again and started to think about this piece that I discovered the batteries in my camera were flat....  and yes, it could be next Tuesday before I replace them....  So that's the photo excuse!  and I'm sure you can all imagine a tiny seedling in it's first few days of life!

As I said, I really love seeing the tiny shoots of a new plant appearing out of the compost.  I guess it's a kind of pride, a bit like watching your own child taking their first tentative steps.      I'm not really sure just how proud I should be though.  True, these tomato plants are growing from seed I saved last year from my own tomatoes, also grown from seed I'd saved the year before.    In fact, this year is now the fifth year of growing these plants.  I have worked a little magic on them over the years and now, they are beautifully acclimatised to the climate in this part of the world.  For the past couple of years I have also shared the seeds with friends and neighbours.

But, as I said, I'm not sure how proud I should be.

I guess what I'm getting at is this....  Have you ever thought about it from the point of view of the tomato?  I wrote a piece about this a couple of years ago.  Follow the link to Who'd Be a Tomato if you'd like to see what I said.

I must say, having reread it, maybe I was a little harsh on myself....    True, mostly those fabulous fruits are being torn away from the mother plant to be eaten, but now, at least, some of them will be saved and for those few, their mission will be accomplished and they will father the next generation of tiny seedlings

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Mistakes I Make

I decided to sow tomatoes today....  Well, I actually decided to sow them on Monday but didn't get around to it, so, this morning, I decided to complete that task.

tomatp seeds I grew tomatoes last year and saved the seeds.   I have adopted a simple method for seed saving of tomato seeds.   I get rid of as much pulp as possible and then spread the wet seeds onto several layers of paper kitchen towel and let the whole thing dry.  Once dry I carefully fold the towel so that the seeds are safe inside and put it away in the dry.  Then, when today comes,along and it's time to sow, I simply prepare my seed trays with moist compost, lay the kitchen towel over the top, bury it with a couple of mm more compost and leave them to germinate.  If I have too many seeds, I tear the paper up, keeping the seeds buried in the middle.  and use only part.   As you can see, it's not very pretty, but it's easy and it works.

To be honest, I've been a bit ashamed of this lazy practice so have not mentioned it much, but I was heartened today when searching blogs for something else and came across The Cottage Smallholder's blog post "How to Save Tomato Seed Easily" and discovered that she also uses a similar "lazy" method.  It works every time for me, although if the seeds are destined to be exchanged I treat them rather differently.

I mentioned earlier that I intended to sow tomatoes on Monday.  Well, that was why I was reading Fiona's blog...  I have a  workshop where I do things like sowing and had got out my saved seeds.  Sadly, at the end of the day, as  time avoided me, I forgot to put the seeds away again.... and, as I was occupied all day yesterday, they had sat there for about 36 hours.

Although, in fact they hadn't.  When I finally got around to doing the task, I discovered that my seeds for "Golden Sunrise" tomatoes had all been eaten.... Every last seed..... gone.

It's a pity, because, over the past three years I have acclimatised these  seeds and was hoping that this year they would provide a good crop.   On a side note, I noticed that Fiona lists this variety as pretty tasteless.   I have to say, my own experience is contrary to that.   Last year I truly enjoyed these medium sized golden tomatoes, but perhaps they need the longer summer get here as opposed to the UK?

Hopefully the experience will teach me to take more care of my precious seeds.

Oh, in the end. the only tomato seeds I sowed were Ian's Red Cherry, Veeroma, Marmande and some seeds which I think are Ananas.     I was given the Ananas seed a couple of years ago by chaiselongue  and have grown them since and the Veeroma were also given to me, this time by Miss Fuggle.   I did also sow a pot of Marigolds and a pot of coriander though

Monday, February 7, 2011

Seed Exchange List

The Seed Exchange is a network of people offering seed.  My own seed is now all saved by myself here in France.

Please come back and visit this page again soon, I intend to update it regularly as I establish what seeds I have available.

Anyone can ask for seeds by emailing me at kitchengardeninfrance@gmail.com .    If you have a blog then why not offer some of your own spare seed?    To find out more about the Seed Exchange Network, why not take at look at Patrick's comments on

Bifurcated Carrots

Please note.  This is only the second year I have offered seeds for exchange and I have tried to keep the seeds pure.

Seeds for 2011


  • Black Turtle Beans  -  These are a pole bean. The seeds were saved by myself.
  • Purple Podded Pole Bean.  These beans are beautiful.  They are a deep purple on the vine and change to green when cooked.  The pods are long and full.  Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Borlotto Bean - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Poletschka Bean - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010

Pumpkin, Courge and Melon etc

  • Monsieur Gary's Charentais Melon. M. Gary is a local farmer here at the Kitchen Garden in France and for years he has grown his own sweet Charentais melon, saving the seeds from one year to the next.  I'm pleased to have grown a few of these myself and kept the seeds to offer here.
  • Courgette d'Italie - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Queensland Blue Pumpkin - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Butternut Pumpkin - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Bari Cucumber - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010


  • Ian's Red Cherry Tomato.  A delicious variety of cherry tomato which grows successfully here, giving truss after truss of delicious rich red cherry tomatoes.  These are seeds I've saved myself after several years acclimatising the plant to the climate here.


  • Cath's Red Cornos Capsicum - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Yellow Cornos Capsicum - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010

Cabbage and Lettuce

  • Joy's Cos Lettuce - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Lollo Rosso Batavia Lettuce - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Reine des Glaces Batavia Lettuce - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Red Cabbage - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010


  • Dill - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Chives - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010

Email me if you would like any of the above seed.


What do you do with your seeds?

When I started vegetable gardening a few years ago, I obviously, acquired a lot of seeds.  To start with I just threw all the packets in a box, after all, most of the seeds had been bought at local stores.  Then over time, the box became two boxes and soon a third was added.  As I collected my own saved seeds jam jars, used carrier bags and coffee filter papers were all pressed into service.  The boxes were joined by the kitchen Welsh Dresser, which proved a great place to keep coffee filters containing all manner of seeds as they dried.

I have found I have a couple of problems with this approach.   The first is that, although I tend to remember what I've collected, I never remember what packets I have bought.

seed box I'm not one of those people who meticulously spend their winter evenings poring over seed catalogues wondering what to buy this year.   I'm the guy who sees a packet of radish seeds in a supermarket whilst picking up some toilet cleaner, and buys them because the picture is nice!   I try to make my garden generally organic but I've never worried about my seeds.  As long as they are good seed and not from hybrid stock I'm happy.

Well, all this discussion has come about because, this week, I sowed my first seeds of 2011, some of my Cherry Tomato seeds, saved last autumn.     I found the seeds, still in a coffee filter, tucked behind a rather nice designer vase on the Welsh Dresser in the kitchen.  This was after I'd looked in the four drawer plastic storage unit, an empty paint container and a couple of used carrier bags.....

You get the picture.  Now, one of the consequences of the second problem..... is that I have loads of packets of seeds, some full, some half empty, and, quite often, I forget to sow them until a couple of months after the time.... causing either, a game of catch up, or more often, that plant to be abandoned for this year!

It was whilst reflecting on all this that I decided to make 2011 the year of seeds!

I have organised my seeds and, hopefully, as I go through the year, I can make decisions based on something more relevant than my memory.

I decided the first thing was to break the year down into segments.  At first I thought about seasons but quickly discarded that idea in favour of months.  Once I had made that decision, it was simply a case of putting some marker cards in for each month and then sorting the seed packets.

Firstly, I dealt with all the seeds in packets.  If the packets were open, I simply folded the top over and fixed it with a paper clip.  Then I filed each packet behind the month marker corresponding to the earliest sowing date.  Of course, I'd only just got going when I came across the first packet that could be sown all year round.  So I soon had a few packets filed before the year started in that interesting space created before the start of January, but which is not in the previous year!!!!   Before long I had sorted all my seed packets and could see exactly what was due to be sown this month.  This was quite a shock.  I think of March as being the start of the sowing year.  I know I sow a couple of things before then but I was quite surprised to find about 20 things in the February file!   I'll need to get sowing underway if I'm to keep up.

This was a great start but I still had seeds in bags, seeds in coffee filters, seeds in jam jars, seeds in little plastic pots,, in fact, seeds in virtually anything that would contain them.  In fact, all the seeds that I have either been given by other gardeners or seeds I have saved myself were stored like this and none of these fit neatly into my file!

What I ended up doing was making a card for each loose seed   The card just  names the seed and gives the month to sow it.   It might in the future tell me where the seeds are stored!!!! and of course, I'd only written the first couple of cards before I thought, "Oh, I could make a note about that on the card!!".   So now, as I look at my seed file, I can choose a month, look at all the seeds I need to sow and all my saved seeds are included in the same system.

Another side effect of this sudden burst of organisation, is that I have ended up with a coherent list of seed that I have saved and that I can offer through my participation in the Blogger's Seed Network.  For details of what seeds I am offering take a look at my Seed Exchange List.   Now I just need to update that list of the seeds I'm offering!!

Oh, at the end, here, there was supposed to be a photo of the newly organised seed boxes....  However, I got them out of the storage unit to photograph them but decided that I'd just file a couple of packets I had found since I finished....   As I put them down on the table I must have completely misplaced them and pushing the first seed packet in was sufficient to drop the whole lot on the floor.  Of course, the boxes decide to animate them selves and turn upside down, before mixing all the packets in big mess!!   The photo will be along soon!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Potato and Beans

Yesterday's rain has passed over so this morning I was able to get back outside gardening.

My vegetable plot is about 25m (28 yds)square and is divided up into individual beds.  The final plan is for 30 beds, but, at present, I have only created 21 of them.   I add another bed as and when I need it.  All the beds are about 7.5m x 1.2m  (25ft x 4 ft).  The ground is clay, sitting on chalk, which is beautiful for growing grapes...   Maybe that's why there are far more vineyards than arable farms around here, and that is even taking into account the EU controls on wine production.

One of the crops I'm planning for 2011 is potatoes.    I'm in the middle of selecting some potatoes and chitting them.  I have about 40 at present and will try to get about 100 on the go.

I grow potatoes because they are so good for the soil.  At least, everyone tells me they are.  I can't make my mind up.  Certainly, the soil in the bed is much better after I've grown potatoes.  But I'm not sure how much of the improvement simply reflects the work put in to grow them.  After all, you turn the bed over, dig deep trenches for the tubers, then earth up as the plants grow and finally ddig again to harvest the potatoes.  I wonder what a bed of, say lettuce, would end up like if I put that much effort into it??

Be that as it may, it's a great crop because of all that and the heavy top growth does a good job of smothering weeds as well.  So, this year, I'm turning over two of my beds to grow potatoes.    All my beds are separated by a path wide enough to mow, so, in this case, I'm also incorporating the path giving me a bed of about 3m x 7.5m  Plenty for 6 rows of about 16 tubers.   Once I've turned the whole bed I'll plant the potatoes about 100mm (4") deep by scooping out the soil, sprinkling a bit of fertiliser in the bottom them carefully placing the chitted potatoes in the hole before back filling.  Each hole is about 500mm (20") along the line.

Last Autumn I planted some broad beans and was happy to find a bed of strong healthy plants when I looked this morning.   Last year I lost most of my Broad Beans because of several late frosts so, with this in mind, I decided to protect the young plants.  I have some metal tubes about 15mm diametre which I casn join together and a box full of plastic couplers.  It's an old garden gazebo frame I scrounged when the material was no longer any use.   I've assembled a rectangle which sits about 300mm (12") above the ground and secured some old net curtains to it with clothes pegs.  I really like net curtains for this job.  They do a great job of keeping the frost out whilst letting the rain in.  Plastic hoop tinnels keep both the frost and the rain out and garden fleece is both expensive and not very durable.  My net curtains lived their first life screening a window and for a few years now, have lived a second life protecting my plants.  Fixing them with pegs also works well.  If it gets very stormy then the pegs give and the net flaps a bit but neither the frame nor the nets get torn apart.

This afternoon I'm going back outside in the hope of turning over more of that potato bed, if I can dig my shoes out the pile of clay they are encased in.

Rainy day

A whole day of rain kept me out of the garden so I turned my attention to the kitchen.

A friend of mine had an operation to repair a hernia during the past week and I was planning to go and visit him to see how he was feeling.  He's French, but after several holidays in Scotland he has developed a real love of Scottish Shortbread, so, I decided that making him some shortbread would be a good way to spend a wet Saturday.

I've posted the recipe on my kitchen blog Ian's French Kitchen ....   Here's the link : Shortbread Biscuit

Monday, January 24, 2011

In the Garden, at last

I spent today in the garden.

For a whole host of reasons, this was the first day I've been able to spend gardening for several months.  The main reasons were weather and health.  My health took a bit of a dive back in September and by the time I came out from underneath it, winter had very firmly set in.

forsythia cuttingsThis winter here in south west France has been both cold and wet.   My own measure of how wet it has beeseedlings2n is by looking at how dry the roads remain....  Normally, here, the roads dry out every day, but this winter, they have remained wet for days and indeed, weeks on end.

But back to my day in the garden......

One of the last things I did before collapsing in a heap last autumn was to take some cuttings.

The Forsythia cuttings are looking healthy enough and I'm hoping to get enough shrubs to make a short hedge to give some wind break to parts of the vegetable garden.

seedlings Some of the seedlings that have been overwintering are happily existing in the  unheated cold frame.

One of the jobs I did today was to chit some potatoes.

I start my potatoes about 8 weeks before I'm intending to plant them in early April.   An elderly gardener I knew many years ago always told me to plant potatoes on Good Friday.  Of course, Good Friday is always at the same point of the moon cycle so I guess this was his version of moon planting.   At the time I lived in Wales, in the UK, and now that I have moved to the warmer climate of south west France, I still follow the advice but have moved the planting date 28 days ahead.....so I intend to plant my potatoes on 25th March.   I should be setting out the potatoes next Friday, but today is ok!!!!

Chitting potatoes is a method of promoting strong growth of shoots before planting.    I set the potatoes in egg boxes with the eyes uppermost and place them on a shelf potato chittingby a window in my unheated workshop.  The window actually faces south, which is not ideal, but it is what I have.  North facing(away from the sun) would be chits in windowideal. Remember I'm in the northern hemisphere so if you live down under, your ideal window will be south facing.

I will leave these potatoes in the window for a week or two and then inspect them, removing some sprouts to leave just the 4 or 5 strongest ones.   You need to cut out the shoot and dig a bit of a hole to get the eye out so that it doesn't simply shoot again later.

Some people argue that this is a waste of effort but I believe that by choosing the strongest shoots and also, considering the position of them, you can give the plant the best chance to produce a nice healthy crop of potatoes.

As for the rest of my day.... well, pruning a large old linden tree took me a lot of time.  I only got as far as cutting out all the shoots coming up from around the base of the tree.... but there's always tomorrow.   I'm thinking of pollarding it.  It looks like it was done a few years ago, but that must have been before I came here six years ago.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


After a long hard winter I am, at last, thinking about creeping back into the garden again

Winter here has seen low temperatures of minus 10C (14F) and snow on the ground for a few days.

After the long hot simmer of last year I was very disappointed and struggled to get through... but now, I'm back and looking forward to what the new year of 2011 will bring.

I found a few potatoes shooting in my vegetable box yesterday, so I have started 2011 with half a dozen potato tubers chitting in  my workshop.   I also have few things which are just starting out life in the cold frame, although I'm not entuirely sure they will survive.

However, cuttings I took from some shrubs in the autumn seem to be doing ok and I'm hoping they will take.   I might even have got a bamboo to take at last... but my history on that plant is not great.

Let me wish everyone a great 2011 and hope you'll join me as I wander along my gardening road.