Olive Picking in France

At this time of year I keep seeing references to olive picking (in warmer climes than the north of England, granted) and it always brings back happy memories of the time we spent living in the South of France, when one of our last tasks before heading back to England was harvesting the olive trees in the grounds of where we were living!

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We set about the task on a late October weekend in 2011, which started bitterly cold but we were soon in shorts and t-shirts as the sun burned through.

We used various methods of removing the olives from the trees, little rake type things, a good old shake, and then climbing up the branches like ten year old boys when we couldn’t reach the best crops!

All, well most, of the olives would land on to giant nets that we’d spread around the trunk of the tree, which we’d then gather together when the tree had been harvested.

The nets were then emptied into a homemade contraption borrowed from the next door neighbour, to remove any leaves and stalks from the olives as they were loaded into crates.

The crates were then emptied out on to cloths in the garage for the olives to dry out a bit, before being crated up again and taken to the local olive press!

Of course it would be rude not to indulge in the french way of life whilst we were undertaking this quite laborious task, so a good Provencal lunch was laid on every day, and we celebrated our achievements at a local restaurant which is a converted olive mill!

Unfortunately we returned to the UK before the local olive press opened for the season so we weren’t able to see our harvest being processed, however the other members of our team sent us photos of the occasion!

To see more photos from our adventures in France, check out this post

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Garden Update May 2016

It’s been a glorious weekend in our part of the UK and we’ve made the most of it by catching up on jobs in the garden!

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We did lots of tidying and planting; seedlings that we’d started in the greenhouse were desperate for potting on or planting out!

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Continue reading “Garden Update May 2016”

Creating a Fruit Garden

When we bought our derelict house and overgrown garden in August 2013 we had no idea of the amount of land we had, and definitely didn’t realise that we had at least 20ft of space at the side of the house!

Side of the house and back door
This is all we could see of the side of the property when we bought the house!

Continue reading “Creating a Fruit Garden”

Variations on a Hommous Theme

Hommous / Houmous / Hummus / Hummous – delete as appropriate! I have never quite decided how to spell it… Anyhoo, that’s not my point, this is:

I have been making quite a lot of the stuff recently since I’ve stopped eating bread, as I’ve had to seek out alternatives to the usual lunchtime sandwich, and I much prefer to make it from scratch rather than have the shop bought stuff. Trust me, it’s quick and easy!

I found a recipe on the internet (after searching many websites and deciding they were all pretty much the same anyway) but I’ve also been experimenting with variations, so we don’t get bored of the standard houmous fayre (there we go, I have settled on a spelling).

I thought I’d document a few of my variations, so I don’t forget them, and so you can try them too if you wish!

This is the standard method I follow, most recipes call for tahini to be added, but you try buying that in France! So I leave it out and I don’t think it makes any difference. I have to be honest, I tend to add a touch more olive oil to compensate for the tahini, just to reach a nice creamy consistency. I use my food processor to blitz all the ingredients, and one tip I can give is don’t be afraid to keep the processor going for quite a while, until the chickpeas are well and truly mashed up. When I first made houmous, I thought that it was impossible to get the same consistency as the shop bought stuff, until one day I left the food processor going and wandered off. When I came back – perfect texture! It also helps to keep stopping it and scraping the bits down into the bowl!

Sundried Tomato Houmous

Large batch of sundried tomato houmous with some parsley sprinkled on top!

You need a jar of sundried tomatoes in oil. Leave out the lemon juice from the original recipe, and replace the olive oil with the oil that the tomatoes are preserved in. Chop up about 6 of the sundried tomatoes (or more if you feel like it, or have a jar to use up) and add them to the processor. Don’t make the mistake I did and add whole ones – the processor will not chop them up at the same rate as the chickpeas and you end up with whole tomatoes floating around. Kinda nice, but requires a knife when eating!

Basil Houmous

Stick to the original recipe (lemon juice optional, depends how you feel) and add a nice handful of chopped fresh basil leaves. I also have some basil infused olive oil, so I use this instead of the standard stuff. Yum!

Chilli Houmous

Fresh chilli that went into a batch of chilli houmous!

Standard recipe but with slightly less olive oil, and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce (preferably Scrummy sweet chilli dipping sauce, but as I’m not selling it at the moment I grant permission to use other brands!) Also, depending on how hot you like your chilli, add a freshly chopped chilli and garnish the top of the houmous with some!

Other ideas I’m pondering over at the moment include cucumber & mint, black pepper, and walnut (if the tree in the garden ever gives up its fruit!) I’ll keep you posted on how I get on!

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

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!

More plums than we bargained for…

Last Sunday was the first day that we could really get cracking in the kitchen, making use of the produce we’d already collected. The first weekend we arrived, we picked a huge bowl of mulberries from the neighbour’s garden, but we had to freeze them because we didn’t have time to turn them into anything else.

So the agenda for Sunday’s kitchen session was:

1) Mulberry Jelly / Jam

2) Lavender Jelly (a big favourite from the existing Scrummy range)

3) Green Fig Preserve (we have at least 10 fig trees in the garden so we thought we’d get ahead of the game with a recipe I’d found for under-ripe figs)

The makeshift vegetable plot!

Before we started, we thought we’d have a little meander round the garden to see how it had come on during the week. We’d had a nourishing mix of sunshine and rain which hadn’t gone un-appreciated by the salad and veg that we’d planted when we arrived! To see more of our latest garden photos, click here.

Checking the fruit trees!

During this scouting mission in the garden, we checked out the plum trees that we knew about, only to discover they were about a week off being ready for picking. However, I happened to spot another plum tree tucked away behind our house, that already had a carpet of ripe fruit at its roots. Further investigation revealed a tree absolutely laden with tiny purple plums (maybe even damsons, I’m not sure)

Plum harvest, from one tree!

So our plans for the day changed slightly as we set about harvesting the fruit from this tree. Leaving them another week would have been too late, it was now or never!

Fast forward 2 hours, and we have over 12lbs (6 kilos) of plums to de-stone and preserve!

I still had time (just) to make a small batch of Mulberry Jelly and Lavender Jelly, but the Green Fig Preserve was put on the back burner (excuse the pun) for another week, to make way for our first batch of Plum Jam!

The result of a busy day!

The Mulberry Jelly was a total experiment as I’ve never even seen a mulberry before, let alone cooked with one, but I chose a jelly as I wanted a nice smooth texture similar to a redcurrant or cranberry jelly, that could be eaten with meats etc. (knowing that we were about to have enough plum jam to keep the breakfast tables of Montauroux supplied for the rest of the year) The result was quite sweet so I think next time I’ll use less sugar, but it was still well received by the official tasters!

The rest of the plum harvest has been bagged up and frozen, ready for future preserving sessions! I’m not even thinking about the fact that there’s at least 4 more plum trees due to shed their fruit in the next week or so…

Visit our YouTube channel for more videos from our day!

P.S. We later found out that the new tree we found in the garden (as mentioned in the video) isn’t apricot at all, our french neighbours are convinced it’s either almond or walnut. Anyone got other ideas? Here’s photos of the fruit and the leaves: