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.
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.
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.
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.