Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Our Potager at the End of a Very Busy May

As a grower of fresh produce, I never know if weather conditions will allow getting into the ground soon enough what I planned to do way back in the quiet of winter.

Pods for sure, but half of the patch is still at the flowering stage

Peas and new potatoes need to be planted early in the season which would be around late February/early March in southwest France. Their maturity takes about three months from sowing and requires cool temperatures, especially les petit pois. This season they were introduced into their soil home in April which means end-of-June harvesting. Hopefully there won't be a canicule (heat-wave) occurring before then!

Flowers usually signal potato harvesting is close; no blooms yet for this Artemis variety

The tomato seedlings were developed enough for planting in mid-April but various cold snaps prevented that from happening. Instead of being too frustrated, I took comfort from the French version of the European traditional rule-of-thumb, that is, les saintes de glace, which govern when outdoor spring planting is safe from cold temperatures. There is an ice saint for each of three days in mid-May, but the really big shot is St. Urbain (link in French) who is the final arbiter. Since his day falls on May 25, I tell myself that it is perfectly OK that the tomatoes went in just today.

The bed was staked shortly after

Shallots were planted for the first time. What an engaging grouping of perky green tufts!

These delicious & versatile aromatics are fantastic culinary additions

Since annual vegetables can be so challenging in terms of planting deadlines, perennial edibles are a welcome relief.

Blackberries are beginning to fruit

This winter our small peach tree (pruned to keep it manageable) was sprayed* for the first time with Bordeaux mixture to combat a very persistent case of leaf curl (caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans). Then after leafing out, it was sprayed with a different product to vanquish the ever ingenious blackfly (the sometimes winged black aphid). Ants love their sticky excretions so much that they protect the aphids from predators.

Not many peaches, but they are all clean of insect goo

In the flower garden, peonies are shaking out their ruffled, deep-pink petals.

Lavender in the background

The David Austin climbing rose, Falstaff, is showing off its deeply fragrant, quartered, crimson-touched-with-purple blooms in cascades.

Mixing with the scent of the bi-coloured Bourbon rose, Ferdinand Pichard, is the perfume of entwining honeysuckle.

Taking a break from tomato planting could not be better spent than being ensconced under the pergola flanked by these flowers which regale both the eyes and the nose. 

À la prochaine!

*Spraying is done on windless, dry days via an applicator filled with the right dilution of the appropriate product. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fresh Garlic . . . and more May flowers

Our main garlic crop was planted just a few weeks ago, but there were some cloves sowed last autumn so the mellow sweetness of fresh garlic is available presently for the table. Very little skin and an undivided bulb makes for easy preparation.

The major planting will be harvested in July, then dry-cured for storage

Because The Calm One doesn't measure ingredients for his splendid Three-Cheese & Three-Pasta speciality, he sometimes has a surplus of cooked penne, shells, and corkscrews. The cleaned, trimmed, and roughly chopped garlic along with the cold pasta, thyme, and Parmesan got tossed with olive oil plus a good sprinkle of apple cider vinegar. A dusting with fleur de sel/freshly ground black pepper was the final touch for this easy dish boasting the health benefits of resistant starch (reheating would result in an even greater decrease of a spike in blood sugar).

Though its flavour is more delicate, fresh garlic's flesh is juicy and meaty

Our garden and potager continues to embrace spring. The ivy's new growth is brightening up the pergola.

Honeysuckle joins the ivy in another corner. Through the haze of the asparagus bed's feathery foliage, a neighbour's tall evergreen (not a church steeple!) can be seen.

Ferdinand Pichard, a fragrant, bi-coloured Bourbon rose

The wild area is not only good for biodiversity, but for beauty as it completely covers an old shed. If you look closely, you will see a neigbour's black and white, long-haired cat (Elmo is our nick for him) rolling in the sun between the raspberry patch and a dilapidated cold-frame overgrown with weeds. Perhaps this is the season I will mulch the frame with cardboard!

Iris foliage, glads, newly planted garlic & shallot bed, to-be weeded bed, pea & potato beds

Coming from the back of the garden, I always enjoy seeing this lovely melange of plants before my dipping inside the sous-sol to put back/get tools.

Creeping sedum, bee-loving abelia, perennial geraniums, bearded irises, calla lilies & roses

Along one side of our house, a path winding through flowering sage, yet-to-flower rosemary, already bloomed sweet violets, bearded irises, hardy mini-gladiolus, and roses leads to the front garden lit by the setting sun.

Our entrance includes a stairway leading up past the sous-sol to a balcony which affords a lofty view of the front garden.

Weigela, soapwort, yellow rose & lavender

Entwined with the balcony railing is the robust, velvety, deep-crimson, and potently perfumed climbing rose, Étoile de Hollande.

Dirac the Young cat left his sentinel position on the doormat to supervise my pruning.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Fragrant Month of May: Roses, Lily of the Valley & Lavender

Since the Queen Elizabeth hedge rose which snugly cohabits with a calla lily thicket in the patio's small cut-out faces south, it blooms first, thereby heralding months of flowering from sundry rose bushes tucked in all over the garden.

Wall of ivy, flowering culinary sage, pot of dianthus, rose & calla lilies

You may be thinking that roses and calla lilies make a fantastic combination. And you are right, but I had nothing to do with it. The lilies seeded themselves here from elsewhere and once noting that they were receiving copious watering because of their strategic location (as real estate developers, they know it's all about location, location, location!), they realised their luxuriant growth was just the thing with which to cover the rose bush's knobby knees.

They also figured out that their cool elegance . . .

would make a rose seem even more luscious.

Touched with a light hybrid tea fragrance, this bush displays its flowers in a lofty manner, way above the tangle of leaves.

The next rosy performer in the line is a gorgeous, quartered, luminous, coral-coloured knockout of unknown identity.

Though not a repeat bloomer, it more than makes up for that aspect with its potent fragrance

Our lilies of the valley were not ready for the first of May which is celebrated in France by filling vases with them.

But they are available for picking now—just one small bunch near my desk fills the office with their lemony, rosy scent.

The many lavender bushes are just on the brink of blooming.

The Calm One organising the former chaos of the sous sol storage room means during a sudden downpour I can be sheltered while seeing this:

Pots of parsley on the sill and flats of tomato seedlings on the table with iris foliage, mini gladiolus & laurels in the background

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fresh Mint Whipped Cream Experiment . . . and preserving rhubarb

When recently packing up a container of forced pink rhubarb for the freezer, I imagined how its delicate texture and lovely shade of pink could be made even more appealing if it was folded into pale-green, fresh mint whipped cream.

A large handful of freshly harvested Moroccan mint was rinsed, chopped, and allowed to steep in 150 ml of warm cream for about ten minutes. The covered pot was left in the fridge overnight. The next day, the contents were sieved and whipped with some sugar.

However, the fabled pale green I was anticipating did not materialise. Instead, the result was the palest olive-green I have ever seen.

Scrapping the idea of a pink and green rhubarb fool, I instead topped my hot cocoa with it. What a wonderful combo mint whipped cream and cocoa is!

About thirty rhubarb stalks were plucked from the two non-forced bushes.

The rhubarb was sliced, mixed with sugar, and placed in the oven.

Once cooled, the rhubarb was spooned into containers and frozen. We see two large rhubarb crumbles in our future. All that is needed is to make the topping the night before, and put it along with a defrosting container of rhubarb in the fridge. The next day, it can be assembled and baked.

The pink & green may not have been achieved for a rhubarb fool, but did so when preserving the rhubarb!

The small surplus remaining from the filling of two litre containers was quickly scoffed on the spot by yours truly.

Early-season potatoes planted several weeks ago are coming up in that lusty way which is their signature. The bed was covered with horticultural fleece at night just a few times to protect them from the cold.

They should be ready for harvesting around mid-June

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Forced Pink Rhubarb Experiment Results . . . and the last of the pea shoots

A month ago we covered up one of the three rhubarb plants with a heavy ceramic pot to provide the necessary darkness for forcing. Once uncovered, the rhubarb was indeed pink, but also white, with very small, pale leaves.

The green bits were duly blanched

That plant needs to recover and therefore will not be subject to forcing next spring. Its leaves are getting bigger and greener.

The large leaf in the upper right corner belongs to one of the unforced plants

The stalks were sliced, sugared, roasted, pureed, and frozen. The exquisite colour along with a more delicate texture will lend itself to many delicious offerings, especially to the fresh mint whipped cream rhubarb fool that I will eventually make.

Looks like juicy pink grapefruit chunks!

The large pot planted with peas gave its last harvest a few days ago.

The shoots were washed, chopped, and sauteed with some minced garlic in olive oil till tender which took a few minutes. Some leftover cous cous was stirred-in and then heaped so two wells could be made to accommodate eggs. The pan was covered and the heat turned on high for a few seconds then turned off. The pan sat for about five minutes.

Voilà! One very easy and delicious meal.

Getting close up to lilacs reveals a world of intoxicating fragrance . . .

. . . and  subtle colour.

The calla lily 'thicket' is flourishing.

Dirac the Young Cat who is approaching two years of age loves spring and vases full of flowers, especially 'bridal wreath' spirea.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rhubarb Harvest Begins, Asparagus Picking Ends!

There are so many ways of serving rhubarb; one of our favourites is rhubarb crumble/crisp.  It is a comforting dessert or a sweet breakfast which is easy to make.

about 10 ample servings, surplus can be frozen

  • Rhubarb, red/pink streaked, even better, is forced pink rhubarb, 1 kg (15 medium stalks)
  • Sugar, white, 620 g (divided into 320 g for the topping and 300 for the filling)
  • Flour, white, 320 g
  • Butter, cold, 160 g
  • Strawberries, rhubarb coulis & whipped cream for garnishing

Preheat oven to 205 degrees C/400 degrees F.  Stir together the flour and 320 grams of sugar in a large mixing bowl. Coating the butter with the flour allows much neater and quicker cutting into small chunks right in the bowl. Then, using your fingers, work the butter into the flour/sugar mixture until it resembles coarse sand which will take several minutes. Refrigerating the topping while preparing the rhubarb will produce a much firmer crumble.

Trim any leaves from the rhubarb. Rinse and dry.

Slice into chunks, 2.5 cm/1 inch pieces. Put them in a suitable baking dish.

Sprinkle on the remaining sugar and mix well.

Bake for about thirty minutes or until the rhubarb is tender but still solid. Stir once or twice during the baking.

To ensure that the topping doesn't dissolve, spoon out most of the juices, strain, and reserve. Roasting rhubarb instead of simmering retains its pinkness.

Spread chilled topping onto the roasted rhubarb. Bake for thirty minutes.

Though it is wonderful on its own, served warm or at room temperature or even cold (texture is less malleable), dishing up some strawberries by letting them macerate in sugar for about ten minutes, topping the crumble with them along with whipped cream and a generous splash of rhubarb coulis makes this dessert fantastic by focusing on two very compatible and fabulous early-spring produce.

And to mark the end of the harvesting of our asparagus patch, the remaining spears were quickly simmered, heaped on a plate unceremoniously, then drenched with freshly squeezed lemon juice and melted butter. Lovely!

À la prochaine!