Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sorry, sorry, sorry…

Before you all start putting up wanted posters or dragging the nearest stream-bed, I've been busy. Despite the heat I've been working away in the garden and thoroughly enjoying myself. On top of that, for the past week I've been spending every spare minute reading – not blogs or nice light novels, but a beautifully-illustrated and totally fascinating 500-page book on local history in this area of southern Manche, lent to us by friends.

The only trouble is that it’s all in French, and rather demanding French at that, and I only have another week to finish it, before I reluctantly have to hand it back. So if you wonder at my delay in reading and commenting, I will be back, and by then probably trying to comment in French after all the practice I’m getting. À bientôt…..

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I must be mad….

….making jam in this heat! Unfortunately, by yesterday evening the same gloriously warm and sunny weather, that has kept me outdoors wherever possible for the last couple of weeks, had ripened the apricots I bought last week to the point of jam-making perfection. As usual my beloved travelling jam pan came with us this summer, so last night I sat down at the kitchen table after supper, to the accompaniment of my favourite French radio station, to stone apricots and cover them with sugar to macerate overnight.

Ever since a French-resident friend gave me some of her home-made apricot jam a few summers ago, I have been hooked on making jam the French way, with no added water. This involves mixing the apricots with the sugar and leaving them to stand for between 12 and 18 hours to allow the sugar to draw out the juice, before cooking gently, rather than with the rapid boil normally used to make jam the British way. The result is runnier than I had always been used to, but with an intensity of flavour that to me is incomparably better.

Recipe and full method now in a separate page above this post.

The upside down sealing method - it really works!

Sadly, the cherries that have now ripened all at the same time on our three trees aren’t suitable for jam making – believe me, I've tried! So DH and I just have to eat them by the handful at almost every meal, before the heat pushes them beyond ripeness. I wonder – can one eat too many cherries…..?

Why are the best always at the top of the tree?

Obviously the past couple of weeks have been about a lot more than jam and cherries, but the details will have to wait until the weather breaks. J  

Coeur de pigeon - our yellow cherries

Friday, July 05, 2013

Changes, changes….

What’s happening? This morning there’s this great big round yellow thing up in the sky and suddenly it’s warm enough to take off all my winter layers. On top of that the sky has turned a different colour. I think it’s called blue. I’m going out to investigate and I may be some time…. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Tale of the Travelling Pelargoniums

Once upon a time, on a market stall in a little French town, there stood a tray of six small, pink-flowered pelargonium plants. They were surrounded and overshadowed by other bigger, flashier (and more expensive) plants, but nevertheless, one sunny morning they were seen and bought by a summer visitor, who wanted to add a splash of colour and beauty to the front of her little house.

Planted out in two big blue ceramic pots, the pink pelargoniums blossomed happily all summer and when the time came for the summer visitor to depart, instead of being abandoned to be killed by the first frost, the were transplanted into smaller pots and taken across the sea to spend the winter in an old Welsh farmhouse.

That was three years ago, and each summer since then, the travelling pelargoniums, no longer small but still beautifully pink, have been carefully brought back to France and planted out in the same big blue pots, to blossom and brighten up the doorway of the little French house. J

Standing guard by the door

One of the problems of trying to garden in a place where I don’t live all the time is keeping plants alive. In our absence our big patch of former orchard is grazed intermittently by a few of our neighbour’s cattle, which at least keeps the grass within bounds much of the time. 

Unfortunately cattle are just as partial to some nice flowering plants as they are to a swathe of juicy grass, if not more so. This means that before we leave each autumn, DH and I have to construct a temporary barrier of branches to protect the little flower border so lovingly created by my mother-in-law two years ago.

Gardening keeps you young

The branches do a sterling job of keeping the cattle away, but sadly they don’t do the same for the weeds, and by the time we return each June, the flower border has all but vanished under a carpet of invaders. Nothing daunted, once we've evicted the spiders and unpacked, and I've planted out the pelargoniums, I make it my next task to banish the weeds and rescue the border, before turning my attention to taming the hayfield lawn.

The weeds make a bid for dominance

The battle is worth it
Some people might find it odd that I work so hard all summer to weed and mow and make the garden as lovely as I can, only to turn my back on it for the next nine months, and have to start all over again next year. I don’t see it that way at all.

One of my most pleasurable occupations during our summers in France is working outside in the garden. I actually love the mowing and get more healthy exercise this way than at any other time of the year. I enjoy finding out which plants will survive neglect to blossom faithfully each summer in my little flower border, and I take pride in the fact that my travelling pelargoniums continue to flourish year after year, flowering happily both in the French sunshine and in my Welsh kitchen. They may make unusual travelling companions, but it works for us.

A splash of colour and beauty