Wednesday 30 May 2007

Fizzy Spirits

It's been another lousy wet day. Yesterday, which wasn't too bad, I did some housekeeping, went to the dump, planted out the pumpkins and generally did a good day's work. Today, rain streaming down the windows, cold feet and a despondent heart and I've done next to nothing.

Except, I have been progressing some of the alcohol related projects that have been started this month.

First I bottled the Beech Leaf Noyau. This involved making a sugar syrup and adding it and a 25cl glass of armagnac to the strained gin from the beech leaves. Easy enough but what does it taste like? Like sweet gin with brandy in it. There might be a slight aroma from the leaves but it's very faint - as far as I can tell it's just an excuse for making gin palatable without having to add mixers. I believe the Dutch like sweet gin, perhaps it originated there or maybe it was more significant in the days when spirits were distilled at home and anything to hand was adopted to give the raw spirit some flavour.


Then I bottled the elderflower champagne started a few days ago. The most difficult part of this was finding bottles that would take the pressure of the fermentation in the bottle. In the UK I have a crown capper which works well for low alcohol fizzy beverages like beer, over here my options are more limited, I think, I've just had an awful thought that the crown capper may be in the end room. I won't look right now.

Anyway, I found two fine lemonade bottles with pressure caps, two old fizzy wine bottles and some corks with tops on (what are those things called?) and for the rest I used 50cl plastic coke bottles which should take the pressure adequately and can't really fail dangerously. I tied the corks down after taking the picture, blue string isn't very photogenic. It'll still be a few days before the champagne can be tasted but the wort was sweet and lemony elderflowery, delicious.

Monday 28 May 2007



Rain, rain, go away
Come again another day

Sunday 27 May 2007

Elderflower Champagne


Today I've made elderflower champagne, at least, I've started the process. I've used Roger Phillip's Wild Food recipe as a base but because I've have some bad experiences with things going off have adjusted his instructions to include some preparations for sterilising the equipment.

4 elderflower heads in full bloom (I used six)
4.5 litres (1 gallon) water
650g (1.5lb) sugar
2 tablespoons (about 30ml) white wine vinegar.
1 lemon, preferably organic

Sterilise your bucket with brewing equipment sterilising fluid, baby bottle steriliser (Milton or one of the generics) or if all else fails wash out thoroughly twice with boiling water.

Bring the full quantity of water to boil in a large pan and dissolve the sugar in it. Allow to boil for a minute or two then cover the pan and allow to cool to below blood heat (37C)

Put the unwashed and dry flower heads in the clean bucket with the juice of a well washed lemon. Throw the lemon shells into the bucket too, then add the vinegar and the cool sugar water. Whatever you do, don't add the water too hot as this recipe relies on the natural yeast present in the flowers for its fizz and hot water will kill this.

Leave to steep, covered, for four days then bottle in scrupulously clean screw top bottles (old plastic pressure lemonade bottles are fine) or corked bottles with the corks tied down.

Ready to drink in a week or ten days and should be finished up within the month. Serve chilled.

Watch this space for progress.


The cat has been propositioned by our lady of the night. Convinced there is a red blooded male in the house she has been calling outside most of the day. Bagheera, who lost most of his naughty bits a good while ago, is most bemused and has come rushing to me for protection and reassurance. Let's hope no one else will oblige her either, the last kittens have mysteriously disappeared and we don't really want any more this year.

Saturday 26 May 2007

What have I done today?

I can't tell you. Well, alright then.

Today a lot more grass was mowed, this was instigated by the weather forecast predicting heavy rain for the next two days. The grass was already two feet high in places, I couldn't risk letting it get any further. And I've done quite well, nearly all areas previously mown have had their hair cut although I've not done behind the cider house or the far side of the potato patch.


I did find this though, when I was having a wander. An almost complete snakeskin cast, missing the end of the tail but with the head complete. I'm not clever enough to work out what sort of snake it was but it's going to be bigger now.

Today's other treat was a trip to Baobab; our nearest and possibly best garden centre. I needed some pumpkin plants because I failed to get any started at the right time and couldn't wait. There were three sorts available, Rouge Vif d'Etampes in a pack of three, Uchiki Kuri also sold in threes and a single Muscade de Provence which looks suspiciously like my old favourite Moschate Muscade, I'm hoping so anyway.

They are destined for a row in the back garden that I have been building up with grass clippings rotted and fresh. This will have some compost starter sprinkled over it, be well soaked and then covered in black plastic making a perfect hot bed full of nutrients for the pumpkins and at the end of the season the well rotted compost can be spread over the whole patch and dug back into the soil. Perfect.

(oh, and I meant to say, I've started a new blog about vegan food in France, which might be of interest to some here)

Thursday 24 May 2007

Gone tomorrow

I've spent the day waiting for the meter reader. EDF are concerned that they haven't had a reading for over a year and sent me a letter advising a man would call. He didn't. I can't say I've wasted a day but I've not been able to go out and now there is the uncertainty of whether he'll call tomorrow. Pooh.

Still this morning a mad May hare hopped in from the field, sauntered across the yard and gently disappeared around the corner. Naturally in the face of such a perfect photo opportunity I failed entirely. To begin with I was on the phone to Paul and then the camera card was full and fighting my way through the menus to find delete meant the chance was lost. Never seen one of those here before, not even a rabbit. Wonder if he'll come back. So here's a picture of an oak tree while we're waiting.

It is so beautiful here. I am really really lucky to have this chance to spend time just being. Thank you Paul, you make it all possible. If only you were here it would be perfect.

I've spent the day mowing mostly. We seem to reaching the limit of what one woman and her machine can achieve so I think we'll have to stop expanding the boundaries of mown land until we can get that tractor. But it's pleasant enough when the sun is shining. Have to get some extra strong sun cream though, I can feel my face burning even now.

Wednesday 23 May 2007

Potato Patch


This is an entry that's been a long time in the brewing. We covered a patch of ground with black plastic last autumn to kill the grass, then in April this year we rotovated it (well, when I say we, I mean Paul) four times in all, took out several barrowloads of rocks and planted our seed potatoes discussed here.

The picture below was taken today and shows the state of growth achieved so far. We put the plastic back over the newly planted rows for two (or three or four) reasons, primarily so that weed growth would be suppressed for as long as possible, the grasses will take many months to finally die and secondly to keep the deer off as much as possible. Unfortunately the spuds did have a small check caused by this regime, we did not return here quickly enough to slit the plastic to let the young growth through and some new shoots were blanched and burnt by the heat of the sun captured by the black plastic but they seem to be doing alright now.

Next task will be to spray for blight if we hope to avoid the disastrous infection that killed all the tomatoes last year.

spuds up

William, it was really nothing

I think I must be going mad, I heard a vehicle with muted radio on draw up outside, but when I went to look there was nothing there. Spooky.

Broadband est arrive...

I'm going to have to get a french keyboard, I can't be doing with chasing accents around the char map.

Anyway, that's all. There was a reason for the delay but we're not talking about it.

Returned in France after a few days back in the UK I'm overwhelmed by everything, from silly swallows in the kitchen to people arriving unexpectedly. I'd better investigate.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

Hogweed and Beech


The sun has come out again after a week of dreary grey skies. It's wonderful, so fine to feel warm again. The swallows are as relieved as I am and are out there, battling against the rather brisk south westerly, and singing their hearts out. The acrobatics are amazing and there are some pictures of them in Paul's flickr stream.

A favourite book for bedtime reading is Roger Phillips' "Wild Food" ISBN 0-330-28069-4 Dipping into it again I discovered that now is just about the right time to try two things I've never tried before; hogweed and beech leaf noyau.

I wasn't expecting any difficulty with finding the hogweed, it's something we used to pick for the pet rabbits when I was a girl so I recognise it easily and there seemed to be plenty of plants about the place but when I went looking yesterday the early spring had brought the plants on so quickly there were hardly any tender young shoots to pick. Eventually, after much cursing of the stinging nettles (they're next for the pot) I managed to collect a small handful and I also gathered a few sticks of rhubarb from the abandoned patch behind the cider house. Then I headed back to the kitchen to taste my booty.

Roger describes hogweed as 'unequivocally one of the best vegetables I have eaten', so I followed his directions with some care and great hopes. Alas, it was a real disappointment. The slightly musky spicy smell of the hogweed disappeared in the cooking but what remained was a terribly bitter taste which no additions of salt or lemon juice could mask. It went in the compost bin unfinished.

Luckily the rhubarb was much nicer and eaten, stewed, well sweetened and with a Speculoos biscuit meant the meal was saved.

So it's with some trepidation I approach the making of Beech Leaf Noyau. There is the sacrifice of a bottle of gin to consider if the experiment proves to be a failure. However, his enthusiasm for the brew is high and I've long dreamed of trying the recipe so here goes.

Young beech leaves, while tender and green, have no perfume or spice and almost no flavour so I'm not sure what they will add to the gin apart from a greenish tint. I went to the woods and gathered my bowl full before coming back to assemble the recipe:

1 Bottle Gin (I've used Gilbey's London Gin - it's cheaper)
225g White sugar
1 glass of brandy

Strip the leaves from the twigs. Half fill a bottle or jar with the leaves and pour on a bottle of gin (70cl). (I spent a bit of time sterilising my bottle after last year's failure with brandied plums.) Seal up the container and keep the leaves in it for three weeks before straining them off.

Boil up the sugar in 300ml water and add this to the gin with a good sized glass of brandy. Put the result back into the bottle(s).

We'll see. The recipe is apparently based on Richard Mabey's Food for Free which is another excellent read. If you'd like to try it yourself then get out there quickly, the beech leaves will be too old in a week or two.

This spider was sitting outside the bedroom window for most of yesterday. Long may it stay outside.

And finally, we're going to get broadband in the next couple of weeks. I am mad with joy, dial-up has made uploading photos and blog entries almost impossible. Of course, this may co-incide with a sudden drop of productivity around the farm but it won't take long to get bored with the webbyverse again, will it?