Friday, 2 December 2016

Nature's way of preparing for winter

I thought it would be a great idea to make a contrasting post, to look at the different ways plants, flowers, fruits prepare for winter.

End of summer, autumn has already begun and there is not much time left for the garden to wrap its self up ready for winter. Here in our little hamlet in South West of France here is how, a few pictures  about how nature casually prepares for winter.

Here is the perfect contrast between the falling lime tree leaves and the evergreen ground cover ivy
Lime leaves on ivy

Tall ferns with their perfectly formed fronds offering an outstanding autumnal display
giant fern and its stunning fronzes 

 Oh, who doesn't like wild blackberries? this picture was taken on one of my walks around the hamlet, they were desperate for sunshine so they pocked out through the dense holly hedge, just stunning and they will serve the birds well as winter aproached and food becomes scarce.
wild blackberries in a holly hedge

Mix of tree leaves on the side of the road
 Up the road from us, the farmers cut the barley, but have left some on the edge for those birds that tweet so beautifully all summer long.
 These conifers are so grand and proud, even though the sea started to erode their land, they are fighting to stay alive, occasionally one or two falls but still keeps its roods deeply buried so they can survive.
Conifers hanging on the edge of this eroded land, in  La Trambalade 
This overhang had collapsed but some of the structure still stands, the tiles are almost completely covered in moss, evergreen and soft to the touch is a wonderful contract in the summer months when it is arid.

ever green moss

seeding before winter
 Here in SW of France, Hazelnut is everywhere and in our hedges there is plenty in abundance to feed those little creatures, what are they called....yeah squirrels and not only. There is something magical about the perfect trio cluster of hazelnuts



We didn't have much rain this summer but recently we had a really bad thunderstorm and lightning, yes scary stuff! It left some damage in its way as you will see in the pictures.


tree hit by lightning 
 The land and garden that came with the house about 1.5 hectares was very over grown, the last owner died in 1994 and since then no one cared for it. So when we did a lot of land clearing this summer to my surprise we discovered that we have a very old, yet productive apple tree.This is a pic of the wind fall apples as I found them sat next to each other.
Fallen apples
Apple slowly drying out on the branch

Ancient oak barn doors, fairly damage by time and weather but whoever said that aged oak is as strong as steel didn't lie. Overtaken by vegetation and ivy, these doors are full of character
Fairy door

Door to the underworld :)

Wild plant


 The nightmare plant for most lawn proud owners, dandelion:), whilst I am not fussed about the perfectly manicured lawn, I do like these small balls of fluff, soft at touch and lighter than a feather.

Dandelion fluff 
 If you ever wondered what happens to the stunning wisteria flowers, here is a glimpse of it, those flowers turn into these dangling very hard to open pods, usually have in them 2-5 seeds, well mine do, anyways....Yes you can use the seeds to start a new plant, I planted 3 last summer and they all took, by autumn the were about 50 cm high.

Monday, 28 November 2016

WhatMattersin1hr: Jam making experiments

WhatMattersin1hr: Jam making experiments: Summer has arrived  bringing with it glorious colours and flavours in the form of fruits, flowers and veggies. This year our allotment* has ...

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

How to make smooth, silky and citrussy rose hip jam

It is autumn again and at this time a year we usually prepare to make apple jelly, pear jam and carve pumpkins for Halloween, but if you have been for a crisp walk in the forest or along country lanes, you will have walked right past numerous bushes of wild rose which in the summer would have enchanted passers by with small pink flowers, but in the autumn those flowers have turned into a red oblong shaped hip...rose hip! usually a bush, which, depending on the size can give you about 1-4 kg rose hips.

Rose hip, autumn in a bawl!
get rid of bad fruit, leaves and tails

Rose hip was used in the old days mainly as dried fruit, a steamy brew. Rose hip was recommended in the winter months as it was believed to prevent flu, colds and bust the immune system, later scientists discovered that the wild rose hip has twenty times more Vitamin C than oranges.

These days it is considered a delicacy, but I suspect there are few places you can buy it from, it is fairly uncommon and can only be found in speciality shops in small quantities but I am delighted to see that it is also getting recognised by those interested in foraging, food explorers and alternative medicine.

raw inside of of rose hip

I have been making rose hip jam since I was a teenager, I remember  as child, me and my neighbours were sent out with 5 kg buckets to pick them from the edges around our gardens and country lanes around the neighbourhood and the edge of the forest which was only 500 meters away. It was a away to spend a couple of weekend days in the fresh air and we were being useful too! We used to muck about, play cowboys and Indians, climb trees and look for fox burrows, but we knew that we couldn't go home with empty hands.
raw rose hip sliced in half

Since we have been together, me and my husband often go for walks and usually we have a rucksack and  bags with us in case we see something worth picking. Well this Sunday, we came across two medium size rose hip bushes so we picked some of the fruit

Now if you do decide to adventure out to find rose hip and start picking, as winter is approaching and food will be scares for birds, be considerate and leave 1/4 of them on for the birds!

On with the recipe!

For around 2.5 litres of jam you need:

2 kg of wild rose hip
700 grams sugar
1 fresh lemon (juice only)
Jars, lids and labels

Cooking time 2 hr, prep time from 2-4 hrs.

Prep work

Washing rose hips
Wash the hips well and drain, cut the end and tail off, remove any leaves, otherwise the green tail and leaves might give it a bitter taste.

Now, cover with water, double the amount of water to the quantity of rose hips. Set to boil until they become mushy.

Whilst you are waiting for it to boil, get your recycled jars and lids cleaned with soapy water, rinse really well and put on a tray with the opening facing up ready to be sterilised, more on that later as we get closer to the fin time.
Cleaned with warm soapy water, labels removed,  these recycled jars serve a great purpose 

Check the hips by picking one and let it cool the attempt to squish it between your fingers if it breaks and has a mushy texture( not the pips, they will continue to stay hard :) ), then they are ready.
boiled rose hip 

Basically, not it will be the time when you start doubting whether you should have started this at all and will there be any jam at the end of the day?  Bare with, stay positive, it will happen, I promise!

If you have a strainer attachment to your kitchen robot you are in luck because it saves you about an hour, I din't so I had to do it almost the old fashion way.  I say almost because I used the blender to mush them rather than the potato musher
You can see here, I added some to the blender then added some water from the pan too, otherwise the blender will not work, few seconds and the skin is separated from them pips.

Once all blended you can start straining it, first get rid of the pips through a strain, now you need to get the muslin bag, cloth or sieve and start straining several time, washing the muslin and sieve in between. I have done it 6 time to be sure that there is  little or no hairs, they can irritate the mouth and digestive tract if ingested.

Now you should have a orange red, smooth liquid of single cream consistency and you are ready to start making the jam, yeye! Put it all in a non stick pan or two and get it boiled to half until you have a yogurt like consistency.

When it gets to the right viscosity you are ready to add the sugar, and the lemon juice( its a must if you want the colour to stay vivid, otherwise you will get a red brown colour) stirring continuously until the sugar has melted and the colour has changed to a deep red. From here is just like an other jam recipe.

At this point you need to get the jars and lids in the oven to sterilise, preheat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius and put in the oven for about 20 min, try to time it with the jam.

Continue to boil on medium heat, stirring every couple of minutes of so until the composition reached the texture of thick cream, it should take you about 30 min from boiling point, time is indicative only. You can always test on a cold plate, when it is cooled down on the plate it should have a slight movement, you don't want it so hard because when it cools down completely it will be hard to spread. I prefer mine more a thick sauce viscosity so I took it off the heat a few minutes sooner. Oh come on if you are making this whilst reading this blog, I know you have been trying it, or shall I say licked the spoon repeatedly, but that is ok because it is more ish!

and the rose hip jam is bottled

Get your jars out of the oven whilst nice and hot and start pouring the jam up to the neck (where the lid twists). Holding the jar with a tea towel, tighten the lids on the jars, this is very important as the steam will create a strong bond and the jam will last until next autumn or longer.

don't fill the jars to much

Cover up with a few towels or a fleece like me to allow that jam to cool down slowly, after at least 12 hr you are read to label and store it. of course don't forget to save some on the side to be eaten on the day, as you will feel like you deserve it after all  work! I made pancakes, all  can say is yum yum!

needed testing

Friday, 14 October 2016

Quick gluten free, butter free, easy to make healthy walnut sponge

Quick gluten free, butter free, easy to make healthy walnut sponge
As the title says, this is one of my favourite low calories, easy and fast walnut cake sponge to make
You can add walnut, other nuts, fruit, cocoa powder or any of your fave flavourings. 
Can be used as base for most sponge cakes, roulades or tortes 

Note: Same recipe work with normal flour, same rations, less the xanthan gum.

Prep time: 5 min 
Get your ingredients handy, mill the walnuts
Make: 5 min
Bake: 20-30

You need:
  • 4 medium eggs, separate the yolk from the whites
  • 6 spoons of sugar
  • 5 spoons of gluten free self raising flour
  • 200 grams of ground walnuts
  • 1/8 of a tea spoon of xanthan gum(has the same properties as gluten, gives elasticity and locks the moisture into cakes and sponges)

The butter, baking powder, cocoa and flavouring are for display only
Whisk 4 egg whites until stiff, gradually add 6 spoons of sugar and whisk until the sugar has dissolved

Incorporate the egg yolk by gently hand whisking
Mix 200 grams if milled walnuts with 5 spoons of self raising gluten free flour and 1/8 of a tea spoon xanthan gum
Fold in the dry mixture, gently not to beat the air out, until completely homogenised
Prep your tray with non stick backing

Spread it slowly without pressing to firmly
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius, bake for about 20 min until golden, the colour is more important than the time.
You can get the top smoother than mine!
Let it cool

Fill it, roll it, layer it,  eat it as is, dip it in chocolate ganache or cream,up to you
I covered mine in chocolate buttercream but the mice :) eat it before getting a chance to take the final pic!

Hope you found it easy to make, don't forget to share, leave a comment.