Courgette Glut

When I was 14 I went to stay with a French family called the Plassards.

They had five children aged between 21 and 11.

They lived during the summer in a large country house on the edge of Paris with their parents and grandparents.

Their mother, Huguette, was a good cook in the French classical manner.

She made a warm courgette salad by steaming or boiling them whole.

She then halved them lengthwise and dressed them with a strong mustard vinaigrette while still warm.

The quantities are as follows:

1tsp Dijon mustard mixed well with 1tbsp red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and two pinches of sugar.

Then add 3 tbsp of olive oil and emulsify well.

Make sure the courgettes are cooked but still firm.

Spear them with a fork to test.

Then dress with the sauce and eat while still warm.

This year I’ve planted two yellow Athena Polka courgette plants and two Green Defenders.

They’re not over-productive but we’ve had a steady supply for the past six weeks.

We’ve had courgette soup, courgette, lemon and basil linguine and I’ve even made a courgette and walnut cake.

Tonight I’m going make warm courgette salad.

It’ll transport me back to the summer of 1976 and the two weeks I spent with Monique and her rambunctious family, playing “ping pong” in the garden and listening to her eldest brother, Bernard, playing old time sheet music on a piano in the barn loft.

Courgettes are in front of the potatoes and a tepee of Czar runner beans

 

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How to Make Herb Tea


Recently I mentioned I’d cut back and dried some lemon balm for tea after I found lots of rogue plants that popped up all over the place.

Here’s how to do it.

Cut the plants back to the ground and leave in situ if you want to keep them or weed them out and compost the roots – but in either case keep most of the leaves, wash them and hang them up to dry.

Make sure you only keep the unblemished leaves on their stalks – the top growth is likely to be most suitable.

After I’ve washed them in cold water, I dry them in my salad spinner (you could also use a clean tea towel).

I then take half a dozen stalks with their leaves and tie them with a longish piece of string which I then loop around our clothes drier.

Don’t be tempted to gather more in a bunch as they won’t dry quickly and efficiently.

You can also dry them on a tray in an airing cupboard or find another way of getting warmish air to circulate around them – blue mushroom crates with holes in can be lined with muslin or kitchen roll and stacked on top of each other  to make a drying tower.

This only took a couple of days in our laundry which houses the boiler and gets very warm when the central heating goes on for a couple of hours at night.

Store in a jar and use for tea.

A tea sock or a teapot with an infuser is useful.

You can also dry lemon verbena, sage, parsley or any other herbs in the same way.

Flower petals like calendula/marigold can also be dried on trays lined with kitchen roll or clean muslin.

Just make sure you don’t gather too many stalks and leaves or petals in one go – they need to be spread out evenly so they can dry.

You can also use a dehydrator or a bespoke drying rack.

As well as tea or dried herbs for cooking you can make salves and potions.

My friend, Kate made me some calendula oil from dried marigold petals.

 

 

 

 

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Citrus of the World Unite!

I ordered a tree a while ago in memory of my father, James Saunt, who was a great gardener and citrus expert!

Before he died in 2010 he wrote his life’s work, “Citrus Varieties of the World: an Illustrated Guide”.

He first learnt about growing citrus in Australia where I was born and where he worked for the CSIRO.

He then spent the next forty five years travelling the world advising commercial growers.

He bought several trees which he tried to grow in large pots in the glasshouse but the conditions didn’t suit them and they eventually sank into terminal decline.

One that did survive was a very hardy ornamental called citrus trifoliata that sits near the yew arch in the main garden.

The shrub is in flower at the moment and will produce small hard round fruits which will appear in winter

It’s got huge long spikes and produces very small fruit which I was encouraged to try by my friend Steve Brett  (disclaimer: do not try this at home as they are not really meant to be eaten!)

He used the zest of the tiny orange globes (you can read about it here)  to flavour some fruit sorbets he made – and said he would have used yuzu if it had been available.

Yuzu is a bitter aromatic orange which is used extensively in Japanese cookery.

I lived in the country for three years in my late twenties and remembered it well.

And now – with the rise in popularity of Japanese food – you can buy yuzu juice from Waitrose!

This what Dad said about it in his book.

So after the successful fruit sorbet experiment I thought I might buy a Yuzu tree and finally got round to doing an online mail order from a German company called Lubera.

It came two days ago!

The citrus junos, as it’s also called, has huge spikes like its cousin, citrus trifoliata

I am assured by my research that the yuzu is quite hardy and will survive outside in temperatures  as low as −9 °C (15 °F) where more sensitive citrus would not thrive.

I’m going to plant it on the other side of the yew arch in memory of my Dad who created the garden here and who showed me how to grow my own food.

Who’s inspired you to garden or grow your own veg?

 

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Apple Pressing and Cider Making

Beginner’s Luck

The cider I made two years ago was brilliant.

I’m not being arrogant – that’s just what others told me.

It must have been beginner’s luck as I really didn’t know what I was doing.

I used natural yeasts which are on the apple skin – apparently they’re quite unpredictable and some cider makers kill them off and then add manufactured yeast to start the bubbling process.

We pressed the juice at an apple day here at the garden with the help of Lingwood Care Farm volunteers and some neighbours and produced quite a dry cider.

Another go

This year I decided to try again.

But instead of borrowing a hand-powered scratter (apple crunching machine) and small hobby press I decided to try out an ultra efficient electric scratter and hydropress (powered by water pressure) like the one I’d seen used during my brief visit to Axel and Angelika’s in Northern Germany.

I was lucky – I tracked one down at the Good Life Home Brew shop in Norwich.

I couldn’t believe how easy it was – especially with the help of Lee who was in charge at the shop.

They charge £25 for an hour and claim that one of their customers has managed to press one and half tonnes of apples in that time.

I was pretty sceptical but actually it’s a very efficient quick process and well worth the 12 mile trek there to do it.

I took us about half an hour to process six big crates worth (maybe 140kg) and we came away with about 70 litres of juice.

Don and Jane took about a third, I froze a third and the rest is now in a plastic barrel with an airlock in the shed in the first stage of fermentation.

I used a hydrometer, which is like a thermometer, but which measures the sugar levels in the juice.

As the microbes and bacteria really get to work they turn the sugar into alcohol and so the sugar content should decrease.

I will measure the brew again with the hydrometer over the next week or ten days  to get an idea of whether the initial and sometimes quite violent fermentation has finished.

Then it’s time to rack off (transfer the cider) to another container where I will leave it to go through a secondary fermentation process.

Fingers crossed it doesn’t turn to cider vinegar!

We haven’t wasted anything. The pomace (what’s left of the fruit after pressing) has gone to the lovely pigs at Lingwood Care Farm.

What I really loved was the camaraderie between Don, Jane and I.

I met them volunteering at the care farm a couple of years ago.

They drove to and from the home brew shop and helped pick most of the apples two weeks before.

When we got home we had warm quince cake which I wrote about in my last blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Future Orchard Cork

In my last post I told you I’d been to Cork to sing and meet up with old friends and bumped into a ceramicist called Martha Cashman.

Martha in turn took me to see Elaine Garde who has set up a community orchard.

She lives on the other side of the valley from where I was staying with my friend Pauline.

 

 

And it was Elaine who supplied us with a lovely veg box that included apple juice, homemade wild garlic pesto, pickled beetroot and rhubarb compote

When we rolled up Elaine had been picking blackberries with her gorgeous hound, Finnegan.

Listen to this podcast to find out more about Future Orchard

 

 

Elaine, Martha and Finnegan with a great haul of blackberries
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