Tag Archives: recipes

Seasons of mellow fruitfulness?

* we’ve not had any mist yet, and the fruitfulness SURE isn’t mellow. It’s kind of a last-minute explosion of ‘Get me in! Get me in! The Frosts are coming!’

Lucky for me, we have some things that like frost. I’m thinking of my parsnips, which I cannot wait to taste!

When you have 160 vines and the grapes they produce, and you don’t make wine because it tastes worse than acid, then you have a lot of storing to do. Every time a milk bottle comes up for service, I’m filling it with a litre of grape juice and sticking it in the freezer. The rest go for grape jelly (delicious… if I were to have a PB and black grape jelly buttie every day, I’d be happy for the rest of my life) and in my desperate attempts to do something else with them, I made a David Lebovitz grape sorbet. I love David Lebovitz. He has a life like mine, but better. He’s an ex-chef turned cookery writer. He lives in Paris and his blog is wonderful. The grape sorbet was very easy and very delicious. I’m off out with my secateurs in a minute to make more. I wonder how much I will need to make?

Grape Sherbet, David Lebovitz style
Have you ever seen anything so purple?

I like to think of ‘well, I’d like to have some if such-and-such came to stay’ – or ‘won’t it be nice, next summer, before the grapes are in, to have grape sorbet?’ but I also have to think in terms of my Cuisinart ice-cream maker, which can only make one, maybe two batches a day. And I need to think of my freezer.

Black Grape and White Grape Sorbet
Cabernet sauvignon grape sorbet and colombard grape sorbet

I like thinking of my freezer. It is nearly full. A 400l freezer at full capacity. That’s immense. It’s full of home-grown stuff, too. There are a couple of packets of frozen peas and carrots (I just cannot get those right in the garden. Here’s to next year!) because I’m going to de-frost my little fridge freezer today in preparation for MORE. But 400 cubic litres of tomatoes, cherries, courgettes, ratatouille, peaches, plums, apples, pears, quinces, beans, broad beans, baby borlotti beans, grape juice, grape sorbet, walnuts … it’s like a freezer full of summer! I also got the address yesterday of a man who will press your walnuts for you (I know that sounds painful, gentlemen!) and turn them into oil. Wonderful.

Ripe Quinces
Quinces ready for peeling, cubing and poaching in Galliano (not John)

It’s also kind of the end of the harvest year and I’m waiting for a cold evening to plan out next year’s harvest. It’s kind of like a reflection on fruitfulness past. There are a whole load things more that I’d like to grow. I just fear for my back and my capacity to collect them all in! It’s kind of the French thing to have a ‘vendange’ where you harvest grapes, bring all your friends and family around to collect in all your grapes and give them a mighty lunch in reward. Maybe I should do this!

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Back in September, we went on a trip to Brantome and I ate some fabulous beurre salée ice cream from a glacerie. It was amazing, and as soon as I got back, I was looking for a recipe. I found one on The Guardian website.

I had to adapt the recipe as I went along – some simple reasons for this. One is I don’t like melting sugar without any liquid in it or without butter. It tends to stick and burn, so I added the butter.

The other adaptation I made was when I saw you needed to add cold milk and cream to hot caramel – it’s very likely to harden it. So I heated the milk and cream in one pan and then added it, warm, to the caramel. I know it’s two pans, but it avoids solidifying the caramel. 2 tsps of salt is too much for me, especially with salted butter, and the original sauce was too rich for me, so I added 500 ml of crème fraiche. Made double the amount, but it mellowed the flavour a little so it didn’t just taste like Werther’s Originals.

So… a slightly amended recipe:

300g caster sugar

60 g demi-sel butter

500 ml whole milk

250 ml thick cream

1 tsp salt – fleur du sel if possible

5 egg yolks

500 ml crème fraiche

1. Melt the sugar over a low heat with the butter, stirring constantly, checking to ensure the sugar and butter don’t burn.

2. Meanwhile, heat the cream and milk. When all the sugar is melted and the cream/milk are gently simmering, add them to the pan with the sugar in it. Add 1 tsp of salt.

3. Beat the egg yolks and when the milk/sugar mixture is just about to boil, add the eggs. Keep them on a low heat unless you want omelette. Stir for a few minutes until they thicken.

4. Leave to cool

5. Stir in 500 ml of crème fraiche

6. Put in an ice-cream maker for 30 minutes and then freeze for another couple of hours until it is set properly. Defrost for 15 minutes before eating to soften

EDIT: this was far too salty, even with the extra cream. I ended up throwing it away. It also tasted like Werther’s Originals mixed with Butterscotch Angel Delight. Not so bad for me, but neither of the boys would even try it. I’m going with the Marmiton recipe (in French) next time, if I bother at all. Much better ratio of caramel and custard. They put no extra salt in it, and a third less sugar. I guess this will taste better. Will let you know!!!

Quince jelly – la confiture de coing

We have a fabulous quince tree in our secret garden, which had 20 or so huge, globe-like, weighty fruits hanging pendulous and heavy from it, making the branches sink under them. Some of them gave way to rot (my fault… I have to get better at picking things quickly!!) but we had 7 heavily-scented fruits left after I’d given four of the biggest to my dad’s neighbours. This morning, I decided it was time to turn them into jelly.

Again, I found my way to the cottage smallholder and the recipe for quince jelly here. I washed them first to get rid of the fluff, and then cut them into pieces. They are very hard and it’s a good job I had the internet to peruse or else I’d have left these a lot longer than I did in order to ripen up!! They were a soft pear-like yellow. I covered them with water and they are currently boiling. Apparently, they can take 3 hours or more. Larousse says only 30-40 minutes, but that doesn’t seem enough to me. They’ve turned a deep peach already.

1 hour later, they softened and the water is a deep red (not sure how!) – they are soft enough to mash. I’ve mashed them and put them through a fine mesh sieve (I don’t hold with muslin!) and now it will be left for 12 hours to drain through.


Walnut and Gorgonzola pasta

A quick and delicious pasta dish – good for post-foraging!

400 g fresh pasta, preferably home-made. If you haven’t got it yet, Phaidon’s fabulous recipe book, The Silver Spoon which is at least a thousand recipes under one cover, is a must-have! Unfortunately, mine is still languishing in England and there’s no way I’ll be able to bring it back in December seeing as how heavy it is. Still, I’ve got a good few recipes to heart. Basically, it’s 400 g of 00 Italian flour, 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks. Give it a lot of kneading and leave it to rest. When it’s rested, form into pasta shapes, farfalle or tagliatelle.

200 g crème fraiche

100 g walnuts (or to taste)

200 g gorgonzola, or other smooth blue cheese.

Put the pasta on to boil. Heat the creme fraiche and gorgonzola until the gorgonzola has melted. Add the walnuts and heat. Then mix in the fresh pasta. You could always add a few sultanas, but Steve is not a sultana fan so I left those out. Equally, bits of chopped apple would be lovely, if getting a bit Waldorf salad!

Preparations for Autumn

Jake’s been off school yesterday and today – so today we’ve been baking biscuits, as opposed to my usual cookies. I’ve dug out my cookie cutters for Hallowe’en and we’ve iced and decorated our biscuits. It’s a very simple recipe:

  • 225 g caster sugar
  • 225 g butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 450 g flour, sifted

Just cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and then add the flour in 50 g increments, mixing it in with your hands until it’s a dough. Leave somewhere very cool for an hour (or in the fridge!) and then roll and cut out. Some people are fussy about them being level and flat and so on. I don’t care because they don’t last long. Bake for 10 minutes at Gas Mark 4 – whatever that is. Then leave to cool, then ice!

I am unscientific with my icing sugar – Put a bit in, add some milk and mix to a thick paste. Add light colours of food colouring first and be very sparing if you’re adding darker colours to mix to other colours.

Jake and I painted them with a cocktail stick – and then we all enjoyed eating them!!

I’m planning on having a ‘feu de joie’ (a fire of joy – or bonfire to you and I) for the 5th November, seeing as we can’t get back to England at half term. I’ve planned an extensive list of potato and apple products – pommes d’amour (toffee apples), purée de pommes de terre (mashed potato) sausages, jacket potatoes done on the barbecue, parkin (only if I can find molasses, my make-do substitute for Tate and Lyle’s divine black treacle) bonfire toffee, fudge, baked bananas and chocolate, mushy peas, pickled red cabbage – so Jake can invite some of his friends round. I’ll invite a few neighbours and English people who I like – and we’ll have some games and a small bonfire (not forgetting firewood is now a commodity, not something to get rid of!) which I think will be jolly lovely!!

We’d also gone to look for the non-existent maison de la Resistance in Chasseneuil – apparently a room in someone’s house (not unlike a ‘teddy bear’ museum I went to in Japan which really was just someone’s front room done up!!) – but didn’t find it, so I dragged us up to the Necropolis in Chasseneuil instead. Amazing to think it was a small hub of Resistance activity. I thought Jake might be interested because these were your real life Jack Bauers and Tony Almeidas, taking pills to stop themselves confessing under torture. The Necropolis is dedicated to the Resistance fighters in Chasseneuil. It’s quite amazing to think of these real people fighting. Not like the British, sending people to war, but actual war around your own home, affecting everybody – your parents, your children.

Unfortunately, however, in the midst of this solemnity and sombre necropolis, Jake and Steve decided it’d be great to do their usual horsing about, throwing each other about, attacking each other, kicking each other, punching each other. I said I’m not taking them anywhere ever again. They can’t go anywhere without it being street theatre and almost a contact sport for the average passer-by. So they’re staying at home from now on. I shall not allow their noise pollution to escape Les Ecures. I’m sure it’s their way of holding hands, but it’s more like chimps playing. In fact, I’ve seen this very thing on Monkey World, where the little chimp chases after the bigger chimp and they roll about for a bit and then the little chimp ends up playing too rough and the big chimp ends up losing his temper and playing too hard. How little we have evolved.

I’m standing at the foot of this huge memorial, mulling over the seriousness of world war and contemplating life 70 years ago, and they’re rampaging through it like they’ve escaped from La Vallée des Singes.

Next week, I might go and look at some stuff on my own and leave them at home. Men.

As I write, Jake’s just gone outside to set fire to some pine needles, and is murmuring about ‘it only gives off a smoke’ – Neanderthal, then, rather than chimp?!



Creme de marrons

Crème de marrons

This recipe is quintessential France for the autumn – a purée of chestnuts. It’s a sweet jam ideal for putting with profiteroles or choux pastry as an éclair, or spread on flaky pastry, or as part of a tart.

A lot of the online recipes call for 2 or more kg of chestnuts, but that gives LOTS of chestnut purée – so I’ve used a smaller amount.


500 g of shelled chestnuts

300 g sugar

100 ml water x 2

1. Put a cross with a sharp knife into the top of each chestnut. Put them in a pan and cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for 10 minutes, then plunge them into a tub of cold water.

2. Peel the chestnuts and take the inner skin off too, so you’re left with the flesh.

3. Boil the chestnuts in 100 ml of cold water. It will take about 10 minutes to boil them until you can mash them. Then put them in a food processor and whizz them until they are smooth. If you haven’t taken the outer skin off, this will make it bitter, which is why you need to get rid of them first. That’s the messy, tricky and annoying bit – but after that, it’s easy.

4. Put the 300 g sugar in a pan with 100 ml water and bring to a boil. Pour in the puréed chestnuts and keep over a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Rapid, but not chaotic, and not just simmering. Keep stirring from time to time.

5. Put into a sterilised jar, cover with a piece of waxed paper, seal and leave.

I’m keeping mine in the freezer until it’s cold enough in the pantry to keep it in there. Opinions vary as to how long it can be kept, from 1 month to a year, but err on the side of caution unless you want a nasty case of botulism!

Oooh, a lovely bit of crumpet!

Jake and I have been making crumpets this morning. Delicious! In between making the dough, we made some chocolate chip cookies which started going down as quickly as they were coming out of the oven, but there’s still a good twenty or so left. Definitely a day for baking!

Jake's crumpets

New favourite website of the day is re-foundobjects, which is a fantastic website with beautiful treasures found and done up – definitely something I want to do myself. There’s some beautiful hand-painted tins, which is a bit above and beyond the tins I plan on painting to adorn the side of the house next year. I really would like mine in bright colours hanging down the side of the house with some nasturtiums and verbena in acid colours trailing from them. However, I love these beautiful tins

And I also like these rather weird painted plates

Beautiful green solitude

*title taken from John Clare’s Evening*

The work continues: a lot of the trees have come down that were dead or dying, and the back orchard is bigger, spacious and free. The sun is welcome in, these days. We’ll prune the trees right back when the leaves have fallen, but it’s already looking a hundred times better. We have a neat row of plum trees, ended with a maple, rather than a crazy orchard that was impossible to stand up in.

I’ve pulled up another load of weeds, too – my carrot rows look more like carrot rows and I’ll start on the spring onions tomorrow. The last of the apples are collected, and the last of the peaches frozen. It’s getting to the point where I can map out the grounds, knowing what is where. We have a couple of walnut trees beginning their final stages, the quince to harvest, but other than that, Les Ecures is shutting down for l’hiver.

It’s time to get into the kitchen and start making things for the winter. Chinese Salt and Pepper wings tonight, followed by apple caramel waffles and home-made ice-cream – the last of the apples that aren’t frozen up. The boys have a run on cookies right now, and it’s definitely time to stock up. Jake wants to make home-made crumpets tomorrow, and I have to say it’s the perfect weather for them. Yet another Hairy Bikers’ recipe. Some salted butter on these will be delightful!

Moll enjoying the fire

La recolte des raisins

As you will no doubt be aware, we are drowning in grapes. I have no idea what to do with them all. I can’t find a co-operative who’ll take them off my hands for vin de table – so Steve decided we should make wine. I guess it’s only sensible. This is laden with problems as it is.

One: I drink a glass of wine a week. About. Mostly, I leave my glass half full on the floor and kick  it over a few days later. I cook with it quite a lot – most soups and stews benefit from a good shot of wine. Steve drinks a glass a night. Currently, in the land of the grape, we drink a couple of bottles of 2.50 euros wine a week. Always white. That’s a crap set of behaviours for French inhabitants when the rest of the nation drinks red wine by the bottle, and it’s a crap set of behaviours for a girl whose father and step-mother hosted a lunch where the guests drank 12 bottles of wine between 8 people on Sunday. Before tea. I feel like a let-down. Still, my liver is in good condition!

Anyway, it seemed like I couldn’t make enough juice to use up the produce of 150 vines – so Steve decided we should at least have a go at wine-making. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. Plus, it won’t cost anything and we might have something at the end of it. Who knows?!

It seems, however, that the entire home-brew English-speaking world only does ‘kit’ wine at home, or ridiculously complicated chemical calculations to work out what you need to kill off, then add, then how long, and temperatures and so on. I just needed something simple, but no matter what search I did on English-speaking Googles, I couldn’t find anything. I had some insight into Campden Salts and Wine Yeast – but nothing beyond.

It took one sensible google on Google.fr to find home brewing (sans ‘kit’) to be alive and kicking – comme les Romans, je pense.  Surely, back in A.D. 1, they didn’t have Campden salts and hydrometers and so on.

So, we washed and sanitised a bin. We picked 5 buckets-full of white grapes, de-bunched them and we’ve now left them overnight for creepy-crawlies to come to the top and for Mr. Gravity to do its work and begin to soften the skins. Tomorrow, we shall get to work with a couple of potato mashers and a bit of net. I shall upload pictures as and when.

I’d guess, if each bucket holds about 10 kg of grapes, we’ve got 50 kg grapes – not sure how much we’ll get from all this. Watch this space!!