Forde Abbey Kitchen Gardens

I’m a sucker for visiting a stately home if they’ve got a working kitchen garden within the grounds!

I loved West Dean Walled Kitchen Garden and Clumber Park is quite close to home (although I don’t visit it as often as I’d like to) so during our recent holiday in Dorset, Forde Abbey was definitely on the list of things to do!

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Asparagus Fail…

We love asparagus and eat quite a lot of it, but let’s be honest – the season is very short and asparagus is best served fresh from the garden, so when we buy it from the supermarket we know it’s not at its best, and it’s probably been flown in from some far-flung location!

So when we designed our vegetable garden it made sense to dedicate one of the raised beds to asparagus, so we could cut it and eat it within minutes, enjoying this delicacy at its finest!

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The start of a New Growing Season

What lovely weather it’s been today!

Our first opportunity to get out in the garden as a family and get the growing season up and running for 2016!

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It was also our first chance to introduce Henry to the garden, thanks to my Mum who spent the day walking him round, entertaining him, and pushing his pushchair at naptime!

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101 Things to do with Figs!

The title of this blog post might be slightly misleading… we don’t HAVE 101 things to do with figs, we NEED 101 things!

The figs in are garden are ripening by the day, and we’re desperately trying to pick them before they go squishy and fall to the floor.

So, we open to suggestions please, any ideas for what we can do with all these figs?!

Here’s what we have done, or plan on trying, up to now, we’ll update this blog as we try other stuff or get suggestions from people!

1) Fig Jam from the Jams & Chutneys: Preserving the harvest, over 150 recipes"" Jams & Chutneys book. We tried this on Sunday and the result was quite sticky, but this is probably because I used sugar with added pectin, rather than sugar and pectin separately. That said, the mixture was quite gloopy before I even added the sugar! The finished product was a beautiful ruby colour, but was so thick it wouldn’t come out of the jar! We’ll give it another bash soon.

2) Sun Dried Figs! This is an adaption from The Preserving Book (Cookery)"" The Preserving Book which suggests drying figs for 48 hours in the oven, but there’s also a recipe for sun drying tomatoes if you’re in a hot climate. The temperature has been in the high 30s this week, so I thought I’d have a go at that! We’re midway through this process…

3) Baked Figs with Honey & Cardamon. This is taken from the Fruit (River Cottage Handbook)"". We’ve not tried this yet but once we have, we’ll let you know the results! It suggests to serve with ice cream so we’re all over that!

4) Juggling….? Hmm, might be a bit messy.

5) Figpote – the name intrigued me so we have to give it a go! It’s from the Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2"" and involves stewing the figs in orange juice and Earl Grey tea!

6) Figgy Mostardo is another recipe from the Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2 River Cottage Preserves Handbook and goes well with hot or cold meat, apparently. It contains mustard seeds and grapefruit juice, interesting!

7) One thing I want to try is a Fig Jelly. The colour of the fig mixture when it’s boiling away is such a deep, glorious pinky red colour, I think it’d make a fantastic jelly to go with hams and things like that. Also, neither of us are big fans of seeds in jam, and figs come with a lot of them! I can’t find a recipe for Fig Jelly so I’m going to have a go at concocting one myself, wish me luck!

8) What I’d really like to do is SELL some of them! Every time I see a tray of figs in the supermarket, they’re tiny, wrinkly and very unappetising, not half as nice as ours look! I wonder if they want any at the farmer’s market…?

Not quite 101 yet is it… If anyone has any more suggestions, please do post them as a comment on here or write on the wall of our Facebook page, and we’ll give you full credit for your recipe!

Helen x

The thing I love about vegetable gardening…

I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden lately, which has been absolute heaven for me, and has also lead me to analyse what it is that I love so much about vegetable gardening…

I’ve decided the answer is pretty straight forward; I love watching things grow and develop.

This applies to all kinds of gardening, but I think it’s the most satisfying when you’re growing veg. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing flowers and shrubs develop, but to me, it seems that once your flowering plants reach a certain size, you spend the rest of your time pruning, dead-heading and cutting back to stop them taking over!

With vegetables, for the most part, it’s different.

From the moment I sew the seed, I’m waiting impatiently to see that first green shoot poking through the soil. Then I’m watching for the first set of true leaves, and after that I’m measuring every day’s growth, anticipating the first flower appearing.

Flowers then turn to tiny fruit, which, if I’m lucky, will continue to grow day on day, until they begin to ripen and are ready to be picked.

Reading this, you can probably tell that I’m more of a ‘fruiting veg’ kinda girl. I still dabble in brassicas and salad leaves, but I find the most satisfying produce is the type that flowers first, then fruits. This year I’m particularly excited about the cucumbers that are thriving outdoors in the mediterranean  sun (in previous years they’ve failed miserably in my damp greenhouse).

Working ‘from home’ this summer has given me the wonderful gift of time – a cliche I know, but this time last year I would be leaving work at 6.30pm, arriving home after 7pm, cooking dinner, and if I was lucky, grabbing 5 minutes in the garden before it got too dark to see what I was doing. Gardening was more of a weekend treat. This summer, I’ve been finishing work at 5pm English time (6pm French time) and immediately stepping outside and into the veg garden, where I can spend a good hour watering, weeding, observing and admiring, before it’s time to move on with the evening’s activities.

I can honestly say, I am not searching for an abundance of crops this year (which somewhat hampers my other passion, preserving) for example at the moment I’ve only got 1 healthy looking pumpkin from 5 plants, but I am genuinely satisfied to just take pleasure in watching the plants develop day on day, week on week. 🙂

Horse Power!

A few weeks ago I reported in another post that I was experimenting with ‘Fumier De Cheval’ in the veg garden – in other words, horse manure!

I just thought I’d post an update on the results of the experiment, which seems to be going very well!

I planted 4 pumpkin plants directly into bags of composted manure (it was bought from the supermarket and all broken down nicely, no nasty smells!) I left another pumpkin plant and a squash plant in their original pots and just gave them a top dressing of the fumier.

That was a month ago, and I’m pleased to say that the pumpkins are thriving! Here’s the photo evidence:

First day of planting
One month on!
Pumpkin in original pot in front of the ones in pure manure! Still doing well but not as healthy looking.
The first pumpkin, that's growing by the day!

So today I’ve bought some more bags of ‘Fumier De Cheval’ and I’m going to move my courgette plants into them, as they need a bit of a boost at the moment!

How has our garden grown?

We’ve been living in France for about 8 weeks now, and having just had a week back in England, it was quite exciting to come back and see how our little veg garden has grown!

Here’s a few ‘before and after’ shots of the plants 🙂

Tomatoes when we arrived
Tomatoes thriving!
Pomegranate Flowers
Pomegranates!
The veg patch when we started
Veg patch looking a lot healthier
Young chilli plants
Our first chilli!
And the real bonus - we found some blackberries!