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Strawberry Fatigue

Each year we have an avalanche of certain fruit.  It is not the same fruit each year, last year it was the tayberries.  This year is the year of the strawberry.

strawb2012

Last year we decided to refresh the strawberry patch.  We dug up the old plants and prepared a new bed in a different part of the potager.  Three different varieties were chosen to give us a long season of wonderful sweet red fruit.  The plants were left to grow and any flowers picked off to make the plants stronger for the following year.

Fast forward to 2012.  On the first passing – 3kgs were picked.

strawb2012b

Fresh strawberries with creme fraiche, strawberry coulis with home-made pancakes, fresh fruit salad with strawberries, 5 pots of strawberry jam …

erm …

strawberry milkshake

Homemade fruity strawberry milkshake.  Delicious for breakfast and a favourite of one of our younger house guests this year.

Another 6 kgs picked …. that makes 9 kgs in total …. and counting.   This doesn’t include the garden snacking whilst working in the potager and the hundreds of partially slug eaten or rotten ones we have given to the chickens.

So now – we are running out of things to do with them – we have given 1 kg to friends – there can be only one option left …

ingredients for strawberry daiquiri

What could this possibly be ….

voila - strawberry daiquiri's

A strawberry daiquiri – for the lady – of course !

Pumpkins & Halloween – 2011

The sixth annual pumpkin competition now draws to a close – who was the winner ?   …

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Blue

Today’s colour is BLUE !

Just picked our first crop off our early blueberry bush.  200g doesn’t sound a lot but I have been grazing on the bush every time I visit our potager and there are plenty of fruits left on, waiting for a little more sunshine!

Blue Berries

A few years ago, I was given three blueberry bushes as a birthday gift off my parents – early, mid and late summer varieties.  We built 3 raised beds full of acidic soil  and planted the blueberries along with a goji  berry and lingonberry.  This year the blueberries are totally coming into their own.

Unfortunately the lingonberry didn’t survive – I think it was just too exposed for it and the goji berry is trying to take over the garden – it will need a major hacking back this autumn to contain it!

The mid and late summer blueberry bushes are heavy with unripe fruit, although a few of the berries on the mid variety are starting to change colour!

mmmm I see blueberry muffins and pancakes with blueberry sauce on the menu at Chez Bellebouche !

A Welcome Return Visitor

After our little sojourn in South Africa we have both become quite a pair of  twitchers.  One of the delights of Spring after a long cold winter is the arrival of the summer visitors.  This year the first to arrive was the Hoopoe, followed by the Cuckoo and then the Swallows.

My heart soars when I hear the wonderful songs of these birds for the first time in the year.  I know that the better weather is arriving and summer barbecues are on the horizon.

When we first arrived at Bellebouche our first sighting of the hoopoe was down the lane.  A pair were nesting and we would catch a glimpse of them occasionally and  hear their calls frequently.  Over the years they, and their progeny, have moved closer and closer until …

Hoopoe

One morning, while Adrian was making toast,  this little fellow flew to the window and looked in.  Adrian ran and grabbed his camera and took some photos before he disappeared.

Hoopoe

As I sat in the kitchen he returned back and seemed to be chasing a fly on the window.  The fly was on the inside but the hoopoe wouldn’t give up …

hoopoe

After a good 10 minutes he then flew off, only to return a few days later to tap on the window again.  We now have a pair , who visit nearly every day and sit on the barns opposite or patrol our lawns.

I can’t wait to see their young and hope they bring them to our garden to show them off !

WOO HOO – Spring is here !

The day started out dark and gloomy with a thick fog hanging ominously in the air but … by 10:30 it had lifted to reveal a glorious day.

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Aperitif á  l’Épine noire

In late 2006 we’d had a roofer in, Denis, to do some renovation and repairs on our old slate roof at the rear of the property. He was a super guy and tireless worker… scampering up on the roof in the dark at 7am and living on-site with us and parking his camper van in the paddock for a few nights each week. A real diamond in the rough.

When the job was over he invited us over to his place to see his renovations on his own place (very impressive) and to view his vehicle collection… he had five Harley Davidson motorcycles, one of which was pre-war and a huge white (white leather interior, whitewall tyres on gold spoke wheels, massive V8 engine) Cadillac pimpmobile. Awesome stuff – he was totally into Americana.

Anywhoo, he took us to his friends place (a very smart riverside petit-chateaux) and we were offered an Aperitif à  l’Épine noire.

Strange to describe this but this drink is made from the spring growth of the woody spines of a blackthorn bush. Speaking to various French neighbours, there seems to be some differences in opinion as to what parts of the bush you use – young fresh buds or young leaves.  We were informed that you cannot buy this drink in the shops but lo and behold we found a bottle.

epine

Now, it’s only a few short weeks until the growth will show again in our hedgerows.   We will be attempting to make our own and will now be able to compare with the commercial version.

Cooking Up A Storm

From the first leeks and cabbages in late February up to the baskets of quince in November, 2010 has been a great year for Bellebouche produce.

We have enjoyed eating cherries, peaches, plums and pears picked straight from our trees – tomatoes picked and eaten before reaching a salad plate – strawberries and blueberries popped into an eager mouth before reaching a bowl – cucumbers, lettuce and fresh herbs all mixed into a summery salad – courgettes and patissans grilled on the bbq and many many more delights.

The only downfall is that at this time of year – the garden is bare.  Nothing left to graze on while walking around the orchard or potager.  So, how do we remedy this sad situation?

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Bellebouche Délices d’Automne

This year has been one of the better ones for our old, gnarly quince tree.  We often ignore this tree and then are surprised with the wonderful delights it offers up to us.  In spring the beautiful pale pink flowers bear a strong perfume which wafts around the courtyard and catches you unawares.

Then in late autumn, the last harvest to be made, is a bountiful supply of golden yellow fruits.  This year resulted in 28 kgs, not the best but still a good amount.

Golden fruits

So the question is – What to do with all these fruits?

This year I have already made a bazzilion jars of various jams and we are still eating chutneys from 2006/7.   One of our successes over the years at Bellebouche has been the quince paste – a misnomer as it is closer in consistency to turkish delight.

These little fruity gems are perfect for xmas gifts and if the surly security guards at the airport don’t confiscate them, then they will be handed out tout suite.

They take a while to make but fill the house with a wonderful fruity, floral aroma.  Basically, they are peeled, cored and chopped into cubes.  Put in a pan with a little water and cooked until soft.  Mashed and whizzed into a compote consistency.  Sugar is added and then they are cooked, slowly, for a long time – a very long time – until the mixture turns from an apple colour to an autumnal leaf colour.

The difference in colour as the paste is cooked

You can see in the photo the pan on the right is much lighter as the mixture spits and spatters like molten lava until it thickens.  You can speed up the process of the cooking by turning up the heat, but it then needs constant stirring so as not to burn on the bottom of the pan.

Once the mixture is so thick that you can make a ball in the bottom of the pan with it, spread it out evenly onto a tray, coated with parchment paper.  Leave to dry further – again if you want to speed up the process – put the tray into an airing cupboard or hot oven which has just been switched off after use.

When the mixture is ready for cutting it should be firm and easily chopped into cubes.  You can then either coat in icing sugar or leave as is.

Ready for cutting into cubes and coating with icing sugar

28 kgs will make an awful lot of quince bon bons so I have made a few variations on the above.  Apple and quince, blackcurrant and quince (which produced an amazing coloured sweet) and one with a secret ingredient which you will have to guess by tasting!

quice jellies 2010

Winner of the fifth annual Bellebouche Pumpkin Festival is…

certificate and prize - la citrouille d'or

The most sought-after prize in French Horticulture - 'la citrouille d'or'

NOT US!

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All in a day

Today started out as usual. Up at the crack of dawn to let the birds out, back to bed for a quick snooze, then up and a strong cup of coffee. A treat, brought back by Adrian, crumpets for breakfast and I was ready for the day.

We had harvested a lot of the plums from the orchard at the weekend. 4 bowls of plums sat on the kitchen table awaiting some attention. So … after 3 hours of cleaning, de-stalking, de-stoning 2.75kgs, I was ready to make some jam. We have a whole collection of preserving books and after looking at the various plum recipes, I decided to just plump for the plain plum jam.

The friendly farmer’s wife nipped round for coffee and I was grilled on my jam making and bottling processes. Once the jam was ready I filled 9 jam jars, with still more than enough plums left to make Mucky Duckly Plum Sauce II.

The friendly farmer’s wife commented on the bowls of tomatoes on the table, enquiring what I was planning to do with them. We had picked 8kgs of toms at the weekend and I was planning to make some soup to bottle for the winter. After discussing this with her, I realised that I hadn’t picked the tomatoes from down on the potager for 2 days. Blimey … I then spent half an hour picking the ripe fruit.

All in a day's harvest

5 bowls of tomatoes, 1 bowl of cornichons (some slightly too big) and 1 pattissan.

The grand total – 11.11 kgs of tomatoes and  1.3kg of cornichons.

So I guess tomorrow I will be making soup and pasta sauce with the 19kgs of tomatoes.  I will keep you posted …

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