Sunday 28 September 2008

The summer we never had

The last couple of days we have had stunning weather. Absolutely marvellous, and it's made us so happy. We've been taking all our meals outside, yomping around the fields, picking apples, searching for fungi (sadly rather unsuccessfully) and generally having a wonderful time. Particularly if your idea of a wonderful time is catching up with the mowing and washing!

There was time to pick a late crop of blackberries. We've now identified at least three distinct strains of blackberries, there are many varieties and sub species known to botanists of course, a large early fruited variety, a rather small fruited, sparse drupe with delicious flavour and now these late fruit. A couple of weeks ago these fruit were green and hard and if we hadn't had this late burst of sunshine would have come to nothing at all but in the warmth of an Indian summer have produced some delicious fruit for pies and crumbles, all before the devil's spit arrives with the first frosts.

There have been some other interesting developments with the late sun. The oca has flowered, the first time I have ever seen flowers on a vegetable oca (there are several flowering varieties of oxalis available to the gardener). My other varieties, the pink and crimson coloured tubers, have never flowered but these are the flowers on the white sort I purchased from RealSeeds last year.

And these are possibly a first for pictures of ulluco in France, ulloco flowers on two of the varieties that we're growing this year. I haven't tried to pollinate or save seed from these, and now the plants are past their flowering period and hopefully settling down to producing a good crop of tubers for harvesting in November or even later if the weather stays good.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Naked Nuts

No, I'm not trying to be puerile (who, me?) but that's really the name I remembered for a variety of pumpkin I grew this year; the seed came from Chiltern Seeds and looking at their online catalogue this year they seem be calling them Pumpkin Nuts now. The variety is supposed to give hull less seeds, without the hard seed shell which makes roasting ordinary varieties almost pointless unless you really need fibre in your diet.

The plant is Cucurbita pepo var. styriaca and there are at least three other named varieties out there, Lady Godiva, Triple Treat and Kakai.


This seems to have a fairly typical appearance although an interesting article here shows some work being done for prettier results. This specimen is slightly immature and I think it would develop some yellow colouring when it's ripe. I picked it early as it had developed a crack at the base and I was worried it would rot in the field. After 3 weeks maturing I couldn't control my curiousity any longer and decided to open it up...


As I might have predicted the seeds were only just formed and not very plentiful. In appearance they looked as if they might have a tendency to forming a seed coat but at least at this stage they are very tender and easy to eat in their entirety. Something I'm not clear about is if cross pollination will affect the characteristics of seeds forming in curcubits. If so, I should grow these types in isolation to preserve the nakedness I'm looking for. Normally, unless saving a particular variety for seed this isn't something to worry about, so I haven't until now!

The pumpkin flesh is not as similar to a courgette as you might imagine looking at the picture of a ball shaped marrow but actually almost melon like. I was tempted by this to start processing it for crystallised sweetmeats but realised half way into the process that I didn't have enough time to finish them before going away on a trip so binned the lot which was bit wasteful of sugar but stopped the worry of failure in its tracks.

And the nuts?


I have to report that the seeds or 'nuts' are delicious. A subtle sweet flavour with notes of vanilla. I'm not sure how well they'll dry, particularly these immature ones, but they are very pleasant to eat. Worth growing again.

Friday 19 September 2008

Mellow September


I'm really enjoying this gentle and mild patch of weather, neither too hot nor too cold and sweetly nostalgic for summer while the fruit ripens, the leaves colour and the nights become chilly in preparation for autumn.

how many beans?

The experiment with the Runner Beans White Spanish is now complete. The plants grew vigorously and well and seemed to make a good set of pods although many shrivelled before maturing. I'm not sure what caused that, possibly the terrible summer, maybe just poor soil and inadequate moisture.

The pods that did set were short and rough. Pleasant enough to eat when young as sliced runners but quickly toughening up and developing strings. We didn't eat many young so that we could maximise our crop of huge white beans. With only two or three beans per pod we needed all the pods we could get. And huge the beans are, as the picture above shows.

I'm still working on the definitive recipe for "Greek Beans" which was the incentive for growing such large white beans but the beans themselves have a good mild flavour, and a pleasant texture with enough bite to satisfy. I think we will grow them again. They do nearly everything we require from a 'butterbean' without the temperature requirements of lima beans or the relatively small seed size of normal runners. I would point out though that Runner Bean Painted Lady, the bicoloured flower runner, has beans that I think are nearly as large. The seeds are very attractively mottled brown and white and the cooking quality is good. Worth trying if you don't want to multiply your orders to seedsmen.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

A frog in my throat


This little chap was found a few mornings back sheltering in the lee of a bucket of water we'd caught from a leaking hot water tank and reserved for flushing the loo. Water costs money in France and although we have a well the pump is considerably out of condition and the water too probably. Anyway I digress, this frog was making the most of the damp indoors and was quite disgruntled when I evicted him/her. But what I can't work out is how they get in in the first place.

I've been quiet for more than a while now. Some of it is to do with a broken routine, I've been in the UK and travelling around without access to my usual resources. I do now have the Aspire for mobile connectivity and jolly good it is, now that I've found out how to make it behave like a computer and not a nobbled games console. Still have issues with getting photos into it from the camera or phone without taking out cards, something I try to avoid doing since I invariably lose them.

The tomato crop has been occupying a lot of my time. Why I ever hoped for a bumper crop is currently beyond me, I dream tomato pulp and I'm exhausted from making pickles, many of which I suspect will never be eaten.

Just before I stopped blogging I had been planning a post about how lucky we are in France, We are having such a wonderful privileged time doing things that make us happy and without any stress at all. I still feel we are extraordinarily lucky but the words that I hoped to write have become mangled.

I am a lucky person and I hope to share that with everyone again soon.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

New Tools

Sad in a way, the new tools of which I speak are of the electronic variety but I am very excited about my brand new tiny little Aspire 1. It is so cute and light that I need never be out of touch on the road again. There are some issues of the Linpus operating system that I need to work out but mostly it's perfect.

sweet chestnut
A picture of Sweet Chestnuts

That's it for now really, more later, when I've finished rendering some more tomatoes into ketchup!

Thursday 4 September 2008

Field Walking

One of the obligations of owning land is the need to really keep an eye on it and know what's happening on your patch. A brief gap in the clouds today let the sun through for an hour and made the imposition a pleasure.

top field

The main purpose of the jaunt today was to check on the progress of the cider apples but it's always necessary to watch out for boundary damage, pests and diseases and drainage issues.

I was also looking hard for edible fungus and did take a detour into the woods but didn't find much and although the woods are beautiful, they are shady and mushroom hunting necessarily involves keeping your eyes to the ground most of the time. I wanted to be in the light and air.

cider apples

The apples are looking good. Although the summer has been poor, cider apples aren't too fussy about sun and enjoy a good soaking several times a summer. All we need now is a couple of warm weeks to allow the fruit to mature and we'll have a fine crop. Most of the trees have fruit including some we've never seen in fruit before. I brought a pocketful of likely specimens home to make a pie with although cider apples aren't always the most palatable in the flesh.

Our first efforts at making cider didn't work too well for reasons that we're not entirely agreed on. Last year, we didn't even try as family issues intervened at harvest time. This year we're going to try again with some different equipment and see if we can work out a method that can be built on and scaled up for the future.

Naturally since I had only the little snapping camera with me, all sorts of wildlife put on a show. I stood for five minutes under one tree while a woodpecker, entirely oblivious of me and seemingly tame enough to perch on my shoulder, worked its way around some dead wood and flaky bark. Snaps were taken but they're hopeless. I don't suppose I'll get a chance like that again for a long while.

In the other field the buzzard wheeled and keened up and down in front of me, albeit at some distance, for quite a while. Even with the bigger camera I'd have been lucky to get anything usable from that, the wretched bird was just teasing me as so often they do.

peacock butterfly caterpillars

These ugly monsters finally had their mugs recorded though. Peacock butterfly caterpillars, one of several colonies I've found around the place this late summer. Hopefully they will all grow big and strong before making their chrysalis' and waiting out the winter. Let's hope for a beautiful spring for them.