Tuesday 24 December 2013

Soda bread - milling around

Dish of the day on Sunday featured Irish Soda Bread with St Maure de Touraine goat cheese and Forme d'Ambert blue cows-milk cheese. In photographing the various flours I used, I discovered I had flour from conventional mills, from a windmill, from a watermill and from an artisanal combimoulin.

Soda bread and cheese - a light lunch

To make the soda bread my starting ingredients were lait ribot, a Breton fermented buttermilk, and a coarse stoneground wholemeal flour from Mount Pleasant Windmill of Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire, "specially milled for soda bread". The flour was somewhat past its sell-by date, and featured the odd bit of stalk as well as grain, but it was still perfectly OK. I mixed it half and half with spelt flour, having learned from my long-ago efforts with wholemeal bread which could have been used to build walls.


The French equivalent of wholemeal flour bears the code T150, for farine de blé complète.  We have T150 flour from Le Moulin Boutard, the last watermill operating today in Bourgueil.

It is increasingly common to find artisanal flour at farm shops, farmers' markets and producer co-operatives like the Biocoops, and TerreyFruits in Descartes. In seeking to diversify, cereal farmers such as the DuBois family at La Ratinière, Civray sur Esves, are investing in a compact milling setup to produce their own flour. This is even more marketable if they have AB (organic) status.

Fresh flour stone ground on the farm

A "combimoulin" has a set of millstones connected to a flour grader. The model on the flour packet above is "The Villandry". The whole operation is so compact that the producer can take a complete working demonstration of their products to agricultural fairs, farm open days etc. We saw this one in action at the environment fair in Le Blanc this summer.

Back to the soda bread - did you know that it's not of Irish origin at all, but was first baked by Native Americans using wood ash as a source of potassium carbonate? It's in Wikipedia so it must be true.

The recipe is based on that in "Best Ever Baking" by Carole Clements. In this recipe, fermented buttermilk provides the acid that reacts with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to generate carbon dioxide bubbles that make the bread rise. The dough is kneaded before going into the oven. You're often told not to knead soda bread, as it knocks the bubbles out of it. This bread rose nicely and was still moist on the third day - all too often, soda bread resembles a sanding block after a day.

Spelt flour, if you can get it, helps any bread to rise well. If you can't, use ordinary plain flour. For a lighter texture, increase the proportion of spelt flour to wholemeal.

8 oz/220gm spelt flour (or plain flour)
8 oz/220gm coarsely ground wholemeal flour
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
1 oz /30gm butter or margarine, melted, at room temperature
10 fl oz/300ml buttermilk, or lait ribot (Breton: laezh-ribod), or tykmaelk (Danish) or runny yoghurt
1 tbsp plain flour, for dusting
Oven temperature 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
Lightly grease a baking tray.
Stir together the flours, soda and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the butter and buttermilk. Using a fork, gradually mix in the flour, working outwards from the centre of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated into a fairly soft dough.
Flour a work surface and your hands. Form the mixture into a ball and place it on the work surface. Knead the dough for three minutes, flouring the surface again if the dough sticks. Form the dough into a flattened ball and place it on the tray. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of the ball to divide it into four portions. Dust with a little more flour.
Bake towards the top of the oven for 40 - 50 minutes, until brown. Check that the loaf is done by taking it out of the oven and rapping it underneath with your knuckles. If it sounds hollow, it's done.

Well risen

Take a chunk

What's next, I wonder?
Have a good Christmas!

Saturday 21 December 2013

"La Tourangelle de Noël" - Christmas bière No.2

The second beer we tried was the Brasserie de l'Aurore's 2013 offering...

Brasserie de l'Aurore "La Tourangelle de Noël" 6.5% ABV

The head, as you can see from the above was thick and creamy...
the taste was smooth, burnt notes and bitterly hoppy.

The colour was dark... the beer rich in the mouth.

The nose... on pouring... for me, was almost absent.

Tasting it at cellier temperature it was smokey with a hint of orange...
with a long hop finish.
As it warmed... still smokey... more woodsmoke than burnt, more orangey...

I gave mine a ten second burst in the microwave...
not mulling it, just speeding up the warming process...
this brought out a hint of liquorice in the mouth.

The finish became more biscuity...
that hint of liquorice was there at the end...
and it still had a hop bite that lingered long.

The nose improved...
smokey, orangey and with a clear honey note...
that Pauline had been detecting since the start!

Not a beer to hurry...
it is dry, full flavoured but not overly spicy.
Will be nice to see how it compares with last years...

We had a Grimbergen "Brassin de Noël" afterwards which was notably sweeter, more spicey and somewhat thinner in the mouthfeel despite also being 6.5%ABV.
As we started with the "Brassin" it will be our point of reference for these tastings...

Additionally... we have now sourced the Leffe "Bière de Noël"...
just this year's Pelforth and PigeonNoël to find...
the hunt is still on!

Monday 16 December 2013

Colcannon....a taste of Ireland

...or possibly Scotland, as we will see.

We've grown kale for many years, long before it became fashionable. There are three basic kinds of kale: curly kale, known in the US as Scotch kale; Russian kale; and Cavalo Nero or Black kale. You will see some lovely pictures of curly kale here, growing just up the road in St. Aignan.

We grow the last two kinds as we like the taste, and we have found the deeply ruffled leaves of curly kale are impossible to clean properly. Russian kale has flat leaves with wavy edges, and Red Russian leaves are grey green with pink veins, shading to a purplish red at the edges. Graines Baumaux describes it as an American speciality. The plants are so decorative that they are sometimes included in floral displays. We found them in Bourgueil once upon a time in the municipal planters.

Red Russian kale - about to become Colcannon

Cavolo Nero is also known as Nero di Toscana, Black Tuscan, chou palmier, dinosaur kale and lacinato. The leaves are dimpled and netted (hence the dinosaur), dark green, long and straplike, with the edgesrolled so as to form tubes. The plant looks a bit like a palm tree (palmier). Last year Gamm Vert was selling them for 6€ apiece for your flower bed, a price which will get you 8 grammes of seeds, i.e. a couple of thousand plants, with 40 cents change.

Nero di Toscana - that's going in too

Given some leftover cooked kale and potatoes, my Scots-Irish ancestry decided I ought to make Colcannon. This name comes from the Gaelic cal ceannann which means white-headed cabbage. It is basically mashed potatoes mixed with kale or cabbage, and flavoured with leek or spring onions. There are dozens of tasty dishes called colcannon on the web, all different, occasionally wildly different, many claiming to be 'traditional'.

If you wish to start a lively debate between people with Irish backgrounds, ask them what they think should be included in colcannon, particularly with reference to bacon. Mary, former head cook at the West Riding on Dewsbury Station and a legend in her own lunchtime, once did this, as she was as confused as I am by the choice. One person said their mother insisted that you never put bacon in Colcannon. The second's mother insisted the opposite. The third's mother said no to bacon but their grandmother said yes. I reckon you just put into the pot what you had, and in many a family most of what they had would have been potatoes. All the odd spices and so forth amounts to bloggers and professional cookery writers trying to come up with something uniquely their own that won't infringe someone else's copyright.

The recipe that follows, such as it is, uses leftover potatoes and kale, since this is what we had. Made like this, the dish is known as Scottish Colcannon according to Wikipedia, so it must be true. It calls for a good floury mashing potato such as Stemster, Bintje, King Edward or Russet Burbank. Roughly equal weight of spuds and greens is ideal but it's just as good if heavy on the potato side. If starting from raw ingredients, I hope I can still manage to cookboil potatoes and cabbage without referring to a recipe. I could steam, stir-fry, microwave, pressure cook them, it comes to the same thing in the end. The spring onions don't have to be cooked, but I find that's rather indigestible. The only thing I insist on is that the potatoes are peeled, but that's just me.

Leftover boiled potatoes
Leftover greens - lightly cooked kale or cabbage, thinly sliced
A leek, white part only, finely chopped, up to you what you consider to be the white part. You could also use a small bunch of spring onions (scallions) or chives
A little milk or buttermilk or single cream
Some butter

Poach the leek or spring onions in the milk until soft (about 15 minutes for leek, 5 minutes for spring onions or chives).

Tip the potatoes into the leeky milk and add half of the butter. Stir well, bring the liquid to the boil again, and cook gently for 5 minutes with the lid on to reheat the potatoes. Mash thoroughly with a potato masher or fork.

Meanwhile, reheat the greens thoroughly, taking care not to let them dry out (I microwaved the kale on medium for three minutes in one-minute bursts, checking the temperature each time).

Mix the greens into the mashed potato and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. When serving, make a well in the middle of the mound of potato and put in the rest of the butter to melt.

Comfort food par excellence

Colcannon goes particularly well with boiled bacon or gammon, but could be served as an accompaniment to virtually any main course, carnivore or vegetarian. We had leftover beef, for which Tim conjured up a tasty sauce containing leftover squash puree.

Historical Footnote
According to some, Colcannon was traditionally used for predicting marriage on Halloween. Charms were hidden in the Colcannon and depending on what charm you found it was seen as a portent for the future. A button meant you would remain a bachelor and a thimble meant you would remain a spinster for the coming year. A ring meant you would get married and a coin meant you would come into wealth. In other traditions, an unmarried girl could put Colcannon (some say the first and last spoonful) into a sock and tie it to her front door handle. The first man to enter the house was her husband-to-be. She would at least have a good reason why her socks smelled of cabbage. And anyone choking on a charm would meet their maker in the coming year, or indeed in the coming few minutes. (All  right, I made that one up.)

How widely these traditions were practised is unclear, likewise how widely the mickeys of socio-ethnic researchers were taken. The web has spread these blagues across the world, and many think they are charming, but as Mary Bergfeld puts it in her blog One Perfect Bite, "Immigration statistics and the birth rate, all those years ago, lead me to believe this didn't work real well".

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Little Golden Apples

One of the highlights of the Tournon St Pierre "Foire aux Arbres" on 24th November each year is a stall run by the local Lions Club, selling nothing but Leonidas chocolates and home-grown pumpkins, in aid of children's health charities. This year we noticed a bucket of tennis-ball sized yellow things, and we asked what they were."Pommes d'or", explained the stall holder. "Délicieuses!"

Ever fools for an unknown pumpkin, we picked out a matching pair, and handed over a euro.

For a fortnight they sat on the stairs with the Crown Princes.

Two yellow hand grenades
Last Friday night we ate them - rather too rapidly to take any pictures! That golden skin proved to be rather tougher than Kevlar™ - don't try to peel one - and it took me five minutes to cut around the stalks, at grave risk to my fingers, to make hats so that we could stuff them. I scraped out the seeds to reveal stringy-looking flesh, perhaps a centimetre thick, or a bit less. Unpromising. But it smelt good.

We pre-cooked the squashes in a lidded Pyrex casserole in the microwave for 10 minutes with a little water inside and out, while Tim made a stuffing of leftover pot-roast beef, onion and celeriac. Then we stuffed and baked them for half an hour, and served them with Pink Fir Apple potatoes and chard.

They were, indeed, delicious - incredibly rich, sweet, creamy flesh with flavours of honey and chestnut. We scraped out the last of the flesh with teaspoons, The skins have gone even harder, leaving a solid cup which looks as though it is made of bakelite.  Later I found the recommended approach to be roasting them whole until soft(er) then cutting, or you could puncture them with a barbecue skewer or hammer drill and microwave them whole likewise. Other Pomme d'Or fanatics describe the skin variously as
"wickedly hard...like cut your finger off if you try to slice it hard"
"The Hardest Substance Known to Man".
They are perfect for sound effects of horses' hooves

I found several recipes specifically for Pomme d'Or on the web, logged by people who had much the same experience as me: struggle, followed by doubt, then inspiration and finally exaltation. In the recipe here the Pommes d'Or are halved (after pre-cooking) and filled with a risotto of wild mushrooms. I think they would be good with a cheesy filling, like this one. Tim suggests filling them with Spiced Pumpkin Icecream and freezing them, to serve up for special guests. For a main course, you need to allow two Pommes d'Or per head; one apiece for a starter or dessert.

Sunlight through squash skin

But that would mean getting a whole lot more. A little research informed me that all the seeds available commercially originate in France and are AB (organic). Germinance claim to sell their seeds at The All-Green Pea, but no, the Bio Co-op doesn't sell seeds, at this time of year at least. An alternative is to buy on-line from Germinance, from Ferme St Marthe or their partner the Organic Gardening Catalogue in the UK.

Apparently Pomme d'Or plants are gallopers capable of producing 20 hand grenades each. No wonder they were on sale by the bucket full! They can be grown as a climber - they won't like it, though.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Tail of a spoon

Having made a series of fruit cakes, I thought it was time for a change. Since we have a squad of squash and a plethora of pumpkins, I looked up a favourite recipe for pumpkin tea bread - a fine squidgy accompaniment for morning coffee or afternoon tea. My version uses a half pint of pumpkin purée, so I attacked a large butternut squash with - a gadget! It's the ideal tool for removing the seeds from a squash or a melon, and it's the only one in the world.

A keen edge

Every day, my parents made one or other of the great (nay, the only) British sauces - gravy and custard. Both require lots of stirring to incorporate a powder into a liquid - flour into stock in the case of gravy, custard powder into milk for the sort of custard my parents made. They always used the same saucepan and spoon. Over the course of fifty years, abrasion wore away the tip of the bowl, leaving a half-moon shaped curved edge as sharp as a razor. It's a perfect fit to the seed pocket of a squash. Thinks: the eroding metal must have been swallowed...

A speedy exit for the squash seeds

On the back of the spoon handle there are two stamps. one says "P.A&S" with a shield bearing a mailed arm holding a pennant; the other says "ASHBERRY".

Mark of Philip Ashberry and Sons, Sheffield.

The spoon is made of EPNS - electro plated nickel silver

These marks indicate that the spoon was made by Philip Ashberry and Sons of Sheffield, now part of the Spear and Jackson group. The P.A&S stamp was used by Ashberry between 1880 and 1935. My Dad would have been 15 years old in 1935. He and Mum were married in 1948 and started married life with a new set of Viners EPNS cutlery. Knowing my Dad, he never wasted anything. Of course he'd use an old spoon to make the gravy! And I used one of the Viners forks to mash the steamed squash. So it goes...

Many thanks to Giorgio B. for this information from his web page BRITISH ELECTROPLATE SILVER AND SILVER PLATE MARKS, which is just one of 1000 pages of A Small Collection of Antique Silver and Objects of vertu, an extremely modest title for an enormous work of detailed research.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Wines are not the only fruit... Les bières de Noël

A selection of local micro-brewed Christmas Beers.

One thing that Pauline and I like are dark winter beers...
and the Christmas beers always seem to fit the bill...
often superb with fruit cake, they can be enjoyed sitting in front of a nice open fire...
or, if your agent deliberately ignores the fire on your design....
in front of the television...
with the "open log fire" DVD running...
[choice of real log fire sound.... or Classical musak!].

With food at mealtimes, they readily accompany...
roast meat, be it winged or hooved....
especially game...
also sausage... be that with mash...
or dried and sliced with a strong mustard and some wholemeal bread.

Normally spicy, they also withstand "mulling"....
if you pop half a pint in the microwave for 10 seconds...
or 20 on low power...
much easier.. and nicer than sticking a poker in the beer...
it warms it up enough to release more of the spice notes.
In the UK, Daleside Morroco [5.5%ABV] fits the bill for a mulled winter brew....
although it is not a Christmas brew as such.

Bieres de Noël have, however, a strong tradition on the continent...
Pelforth in France....
and both Leffe and Grimbergen in Belgium...
are readily available commercial varieties.
But you need to be ready to grab them when seen, as they are "limited editions"...
and therefore only on the shelves for a short while.
Not "real ale in a bottle", these will keep for only a couple of years at most...
and certainly will not mature in the bottle.

Even rarer are the offerings from the micros...
our local micros are no exceptions...
Brasserie de l'Aurore used to offer Tourone de Noël [6.5% ABV]...
but this year the name has changed to La Tourangelle de Noël [6.5% ABV].

2012 on the left... this years on the right.

Simply Market in Liguel stocks these Cormery (37) beers...

and has the Christmas offering on the shelf at the moment.
Our Tourist Office in le Grand Pressigny also sells the Aurore beers...
very convenient!!

Brasserie Pigeonelle at Céré la ronde (37) offers Pigeonoël [x% ABV]...

difficult to find this one, try LeClerc at Loches.

Finally, a little further afield...
is the offering from the Brasserie de Bellefois [Neuville de Poitou (86)]...
simply named Bière de Noël [5.6% ABV]....

available from SuperU in La Roche Posay.
All these brews are on the yeast, mature in the bottle and will keep happily for a few years...
so shove some in a cool, dark place for comparison with the next offering.

If there is a "winter" brew of any sort from the Brasserie Sancerroise [Sancerre (18)]...
we haven't come across it! [And I cannot find mention on their site, either.]

We've also found in the Biocoop two other Christmas ales....
the Brasserie "La Goule" [Foussignac (16)]...  Bière de Noël [6% ABV] and...
from Brasserie du Val de Sèvre [Pamproux (79)]... La Belette de Noël [8% ABV]...
the latter in a style unusual for France...
a Rauchbier... a German-style smokey beer using both torrified and smoked barley malts...
that is going to be a nice contrast...
and will most certainly suit a meal of cold meats and sausage!!
With a strong mustard... and grainy bread!
Both of these are also quite close by....
being from the Poitou region.

La Belette is a Weasel

We will be posting on each of the beers as we try them.

Not yet having sourced the Leffe and Pelforth offerings for this year,
we are starting with the Grimbergen "Brassin de Noël" [6.5% ABV]...
rich looking, with a good head as I poured this out into an old late 30s "Pelforth 43" glass.

Almost as poured... I very nearly forgot to take a picture!
But only a few sips gone...
Pelforth 43 was a Scotch Ale
[ie: a Heavy or 90/-... rich, brown and well flavoured]

All the dark beers benefit from the use of a goblet style glass...
the warmth of your hand holding the bowl helps release the "notes".
I poured at the temperature of our cellier [pantry]...
currently 15°Centigrade...
to be honest, that was a bit cold!!
The beer improved as I held it,
Pauline found the same with hers...
served in a Carlsberg "Imperial Stout" glass I spotted at a vide grenier.
[Carlsberg "Imperial Stout" [8.6% ABV]... if you can find it]
There were no serving temperatures mentioned on the bottle...
however, it said 8°Centigrade on the cardboard pack! 
But all dark ales are NOT destined to be served from the fridge!!

Way too cold... these are room temperature beers.

Most notable to me were cinnamon and burnt toffee on the nose...
and blackberries, nutmeg and ginger and caramel in the mouth...
with a none too punchy, hoppy head.
Definitely a "sipping" beer, the flavours lingered on the tongue for a long time.
Complex, these flavours came at different times... and the head kept very well...
I let it warm up in the room for about an hour after pouring, taking a sip every so often...
large traces of the head stayed right to the end.
Likely "mulling" candidate...
Altogether, very tasty!!
First time of trying...
probably buy a pack next year, too!


Links to the local microbreweries...

Brasserie de l'Aurore
Brasserie Pigeonelle
Brasserie de Bellefois
Brasserie Artisinale "La Goule"
Brasserie du Val de Sèvre 
Brasserie Sancerroise

Please note:
LIDL do a Christmas Beer...
this is the Watneys of the style...
not worth the effort lifting the pack!! 

Monday 2 December 2013


Once again La Nouvelle République has produced a fascinating back-page article, this time in response to Marcel B. of Glenouze, Vienne. He writes,
"At the edge of our communal road there are some walnut trees, whose nuts fall onto the road and are crushed by vehicles. I am authorised by the mayor to collect them, even from the communal roads. But, normally, who do the nuts belong to? And gleaning of wheat, sunflowers, maize - is it allowed?".
Gerroffa moi nuts! Walnut trees by the D103, Le Grand Pressigny

Gleaning (le glanage) - the practice of collecting fallen grain and other crops after harvest - is at least as old as the Bible story of Ruth, and probably goes back to the first cultivation of cereals, fruits and vegetables in the Neolithic period. When you don't have enough to eat, every grain counts.

Christophe Boutin's article of 29th November begins:
In these anti-waste times, gleaning and salvaging are beneficial, not to mention ecologically sound. On condition that rights are respected, and these can differ from one commune to another.

He continues...
Gleaning is an ancestral right which has gone through a number of changes (see Case Law, below). The civil code (Article 520) is drawn up on the principle that "harvests of standing crops are biens immeubles (fixtures) and fallen crops and leavings are biens meubles (movable property, furnishings)". [The distinction between biens immeubles and biens meubles is fundamental to French property law, not least when it comes to inheritance.] However a meuble on a private property belongs a priori to the proprietor. Nothing entitles you to help yourself to it or to enter the property when it has fallen to the ground. By contrast, apples from your neighbour's tree that have fallen onto your land belong to you. But only if they are windfalls. If they fall in the street, picking them up in a public place is not an issue.
Jerry gleaning for windfall apples. There's one behind you...
In fact the law of 9 July 1888 (Article 19) gives the right to municipal authorities to forbid gleaning. If there is no such bye-law, then it is allowed, during the hours of daylight ("in sight of everyone"), on a piece of land that is cultivated but not walled off, that has already been harvested. Gleaning must be done by hand (without tools, and in limited quantities). One particular local code stands out: in Franche-Comté, fruits, vegetables, cereals and other crops are considered to have been abandoned by their proprietor if they have not been harvested by 1st November. Any remaining fruits and crops then belong to whoever collects them.
By day and without tools, gleaning is widely tolerated in France. It is distinct from three other practices: "maraudage", "grapillage" and "râtelage". The first refers to helping yourself to cultivated fruit and vegetables when they are still in the ground. The second is picking, after the harvest, what remains on fruit trees or vines, which could form a second harvest. The third uses tools such as rakes (râteaux) for "harvesting".
Gleaning on the French coasts concerns items thrown up by the sea, seaweed and driftwood. Often polluted, unfit for consumption or impregnated with salt, these "gleanings" would require precautions and restricted use. As with sea angling, this harvest is strictly regulated and limited to specified zones. Respect for local practices and the environment implies taking local advice.

Not that the modern harvest leaves much grain to glean (except on the road)

En savoir plus...

Ancestral: the right to glean is based on a royal edict of 2nd November 1554 "the right to glean is authorised to the poor, the unfortunate, the underprivileged, the elderly, the disabled and little children. On another's land, it can only be undertaken after the harvest has been removed, and by hand, without the use of any tool".

not much here...

Case law: "Gleaning is closely linked to local customs and is only allowed within that framework" (verdict of the Court of Appeal of Montpellier, 21st June 2007). "The collection of unharvested potatoes from cultivated fields constitutes gleaning" (verdict of the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence, 20th November 1991).

Too late now...

Reading: see "Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse" (1999) by Agnès Varda. "Gleaners both male and female, salvagers, skip-divers and freegans, whether by necessity, by chance or by choice, are all in contact with the leavings of others. Potatoes, apples and other foods thrown away, ownerless objects and clocks with no hands, that's the gleaning of our times".

Just remember:
  • Every year in the UK 18 million tonnes of food end up in landfill.  (Food AWARE)
  • Figures from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers show as much as 2bn tonnes of food never makes it on to a plate. (The Guardian, 10 Jan 2013)
  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. (World Hunger) 

Saturday 30 November 2013

Fruit cake - melting method - update

Having blogged about my old Stork recipe here, I thought it was time actually to bake it. I couldn't resist a few minor changes - the dried fruit included chopped crystallised ginger and sliced dried apricots, I used tea instead of water, and I sprinkled a handful of flaked almonds on the top for the look of the thing. I used a teaspoon of baking powder with my plain wholemeal flour, as I didn't have self-raising. I cooked it for an hour and a quarter which was less than the minimum time in the recipe. This is the result.

Fruit cake by the melting method

It's definitely overdone, by at least a quarter of an hour. I would say start testing after 45 minutes. The mixture was very stiff, which may be a result of the ginger and apricots absorbing more of the water, and a couple more tablespoons of water would make it more workable.

We sampled the cake, and Tim thought it was excellent, but I thought it rather too sweet for my taste. The moist fruit means that the cake is not too dry. The fruit certainly did not sink!

Just a small slice please!

Wednesday 27 November 2013

The All-Green Pea

... is the name of the new Bio Co-op, Le Pois Tout Vert, in Châtellerault, in English translation.

Come inside!
Rather a meaningless name, n'est-ce pas? Not in French. Châtellerault is in the département of Vienne (no clue there) in the region of Poitou-Charente (aha!) and in the ancient province of Poitou (doubly aha!). Le Pois Tout Vert = Le Poitou Vert soundalike - another example of the French love of puns. The All-Green Pea means Green Poitou. They have three stores in Poitiers as well as the one in Châtellerault and you can find their web site here.

The store has all sorts of produce on display - fresh vegetables, preserves, cosmetics, teas, flour, beer... a terrible temptation! There's a good range of gluten-free products too. I particularly like the 'en vrac' facility where you can serve yourself with as much or as little as you want of all sorts of things like cereals, dried fruit, spices and detergent. The dry goods are numbered and you fill a paper bag, put it on the scales, type in the number and get a price sticker.

BioCoop itself is a cooperative project run by its members, and links together more than 335 organic shops across France, including l'An Vert du Panier in Chinon and BioCoop Salut Terre in Tours. More puns! L'An Vert = l'Envers meaning the Other Side [of the Basket]; Salut Terre = Salutaire meaning Healthy or Beneficial.

So here come still more puns! Chat-en-Oeuf = Chateauneuf = any one of thousands of lieu-dits across France, including the farm just up the road we call "Grundys'". It is also the name of a British importer of rather good wines from Languedoc, with a very slick website. Their label is simplicity itself, and a triumph of graphic design.

Wine Design of the Year 2007

And then there's a firm that specialises in fitting out lorries as mobile shops, such as Outiror (the Tool Drawer). It isn't compulsory to buy something every time the Outiror wagon pays a visit, but they do have some good stuff, and their free gifts are nearly as good as Damart.

The Outiror wagon in the market place, Le Grand Pressigny

Everything in a lorry... cinemas, medical units, displays, team support vehicles ... so what's the pun here?


This entry is in memory of Araucaria, the great compiler of crosswords and puzzler of monkeys like me, who posted a notice of his terminal illness as a crossword solution. The Reverend John Graham, who died on 26th November aged 92, RIP.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Crown Prince becoming a Rarity

The last of 2012's Crown Prince, unblemished and still perfectly edible, became Spiced Pumpkin Ice Cream at the end of October, 13 months after it was picked! See below for the recipe.

Banana Split with Spiced Pumpkin Ice Cream, Crème Crue and Marrons Glacées
The harvest at the end of September stimulated the Uchiki Kuri and the Butternuts into further action! The incredibly late autumn meant that we had to balance the fact that the fruit were still swelling against the preparedness of the slugs and snails to attack them.

The additions bring Uchiki Kuri to seven fruits averaging just over a kilo, and the two varieties of Butternut to 22 fruits apiece, averaging 750 grammes (Harrier) and 830 grammes (Hunter). Harrier's batting average was distorted by the last two fruit, at 182 grammes apiece. The plants averaged seven fruits each, which is not bad at all. We have a total of 71 kilos of pumpkin and winter squash, 61 fruits altogether.

From the top - Uchiki Kuri, Sweet Dumpling, Crown Prince and Pomme d'Or from Tournon Fête aux Arbres

Some of my 2014 seed order has come from the Organic Gardening Catalogue. As a member of Garden Organic I get a 10% discount on my purchases. The bad news is that their advertised Crown Prince is actually a different F1 hybrid variety called Rarity. Some web searching indicates that Rarity produces smaller fruit (2 kilos instead of 3 to 4 - good) but that doesn't have so much flavour (bad). Compare the rounded smooth squashes in the picture below with the male flowers at top right to get an idea of the size, and with the lumpy, flattened, much bigger beasties on the stairs.

Rarity (the only picture I can find)
The OGC told me that their supplier maintained that Rarity is the same as Crown Prince, which clearly it isn't, though whether it is an improvement or not remains to be seen. They are reimbursing me, and I have ordered a replacement from King's Seeds (after telephoning them to make sure I wouldn't get Rarity again).

Spiced Pumpkin Ice cream
from Ices - the definitive guide by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir
375ml / 12 fl oz milk
3 egg yolks
200g / 7 oz light brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground pepper
250 ml / 8 fl oz thick pumpkin purée e.g steamed Crown Prince or Butternut
185ml / 6 fl oz whipping cream
2 tsp brandy
Makes about 1 litre / 32 fl oz.

Make a custard with the milk, egg yolks, sugar and spices, by your favourite method - for example see here
Allow the custard to cool completely, stirring occasionally.
Beat in the pumpkin puree and the cream. Add the brandy, taste and add more spice if preferred.
Cover and chill it in the fridge. It can be left overnight at this stage, if necessary. Pass the mixture through a sieve to remove odd lumpy bits of pumpkin (if you’re fussy).
If using an ice cream maker, set it going and pour in the pumpkin mixture. Freeze to the consistency of softly whipped cream. Scrape into plastic boxes, cover with greaseproof or waxed paper and a lid, label and freeze.
If you don’t have an ice cream maker, follow the standard ‘still freezing’ technique.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Boiled fruit cakes and things

My first shot at a Porter Cake led to a discussion on the origin of the method of cake making referred to as "boiled" - British, Australian? This procedure starts by boiling sugar, fat (butter, margarine or shortening), dried fruit and water (or dark beer) in a saucepan for a few minutes, cooling the mixture, adding a little bicarbonate of soda and eggs, stirring in flour with spices then baking in a lined tin for a good long time in a moderate oven. Sometimes the wet ingredient mixture is added to the dry mix, sometimes it's the other way round, and sometimes the bicarb is part of the dry mix, but the boiling bit is always the same.

The Porter Cake came from the BBC Good Food Cakes and Bakes recipe book (thanks again to Jean for this). It was published in the BBC Good Food magazine but is no longer on the web site. Lynn Burns's Fruit Cake is the only version I can find on-line. Needless to say it is wonderful. My dried fruit consisted of sultanas, giant golden raisins, currants and diced crystallised ginger. I reduced the sugar a little as the ginger was quite sugary. Like everyone else, I found that the cake needed another quarter of an hour to cook through.
To add my five penn'orth to the discussion, I recall my parents, not the most adventurous of cooks normally, making a boiled fruit cake in a state of high excitement, to an American recipe in a women's magazine (or the Radio Times perhaps). This would have been in the sixties, probably. Referring to my cooking bible (Good Housekeeping Cookery Book, 1966 edition) I find no recipes for such a cake. Indeed the gingerbread recipe states that the sugar and butter should be carefully melted together without allowing the mixture to boil.

However in my 1963 copy of the Stork classic The Art of Home Cooking there is a recipe for Fruit Cake (melting method).

Make that fifty years' service - we've knocked about a bit!
Cook books of this era tend to be rather less discursive than modern books of the Celebrity Chef era (although Celebrity Chefs existed in the 60s, such as Fanny Craddock, but does anyone remember Philip Harben? My first skillet, aka lidded frying pan, was Harbenware, one of the earliest non-sticks, and a real innovation in 1969). Anyway, there is no indication of the origin of the boiled cake in the Stork book. I reproduce the recipe as it stands, just with the addition of metric measurements.


100g/4 oz. Stork Margarine [other margarines are available, but it was propaganda for Stork!]
100g/4 oz. demerara sugar (4 rounded tablespoons)
200g/8 oz. dried fruit (currants, sultanas, raisins, etc.)
150ml/¼ pint hot water
200g/8 oz. self-raising flour (8 heaped tablespoons)
½ level teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
½ level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 egg (beaten)
Pre-heated to moderate (gas 4, 360°F, 180°C)


  1. Line a 20cm/7-inch cake tin.
  2. Put the Stork, sugar, mixed fruit and water into a medium-sized saucepan. Stir over a low heat until the Stork has melted and the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and simmer for three minutes. Remove and allow to cool to luke-warm.
  3. Sieve the flour, nutmeg, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl.
  4. Make a well in the centre of the flour. Pour in the cooled mixture and the egg. Stir quickly together, mixing thoroughly.
  5. Turn into the prepared cake tin and smooth the top.
  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1½ - 1¾ hours 45 minutes - 1 hour.
  7. Test [with a skewer] before removing from oven. Leave in the tin for 2-3 minutes. Turn out; remove paper and cool on a wire tray.

Let's travel forward in time from 1963 to the wonderfully-named Modern Fruit Cake from Baking with Stork (such exotic fruit! milk, not water! two eggs! but where's all the sugar?). Then back in time to Jean's 1940s  War Cake, a luxury at a time of rationing (so much sugar! lard! and water! no egg!). Then further back to 1920s Depression Cake, also called "Milkless, Eggless, Butterless Cake" and yet further to 1860s Civil War Cake. That refers to the American Civil War, 150 years ago. Yes, it's an American cake...or maybe German? Or Italian? The trail goes cold!

Many thanks to Susan for Daisy's Best Boiled Fruitcake (an Australian version).

Saturday 23 November 2013

Minted Apple Relish

In searching for ever further and different ideas for using apples, I turned once again to one of my favourites, Sensational Preserves by Hilaire Walden. She is a prolific author mainly of cookery books and many of her books are available in France - see Priceminister for more.

The French edition of "Sensational Preserves" - cover photo by David Gill

We brought two mint types with us from the UK - black peppermint and a particularly good strain of spearmint which we found originally growing on the side of our allotment manure pit! For this recipe I used the peppermint, which is extremely poky, although apple mint, which grows wild here, would provide an interesting combination.

The principle of the recipe is to brew up a poaching liquor using spiced vinegar, sugar and extra seasonings, to poach sliced apples in the liquor and to layer them in jars with the chopped mint. As there was a teeny quantity of mint to quite a lot of apple, Tim had the brilliant idea of mashing the mint with a couple of tablespoons of the poached apple. This extended the mint considerably and made it much easier to spread. The quantities below made two Le Parfait 350g terrines plus another small jar - you will need wide-mouthed, straight-sided containers, plus a selection of rubber spatulas to spread out the layers. You get a more even result if you work on two jars at a time.

Minted apple relish

225g/8oz onions, sliced
2 teaspoons English mustard powder (make sure this is 100% mustard and no other ingredients)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, cut in half (use a hacksaw with a new blade and cut up a batch)
¼ teaspoon ground mace (macis en poudre)
1 teaspoon salt
225g/8oz sugar
300ml/10fl oz spiced vinegar
675g/1½lb sharp apples,  peeled, cored and thinly sliced
15g/½oz fresh mint, finely chopped.

Put everything except the apples and the mint in a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer gently for ten minutes. Add the apples, return to the boil and cook gently for a further ten minutes or so until the apple slices are tender but not falling apart. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool completely.

Place three scant tablespoons of apple mixture, including some free liquid if there is any, in a small bowl with the chopped mint. Blend the mint with the apple until an even mix is obtained. Spread a layer of apple mixture in the jar. Rap the jar smartly on the chopping board to eliminate air pockets. Smooth the surface of the apple mixture with a rubber spatula. Don't press hard! Spread a thin layer of mint mixture over the apple. Repeat alternating layers of mint and apple until you run out. Seal the jars and leave in a cool dark place for a month before serving. The green unfortunately goes brown very quickly - you could add a drop of green food colouring to the mint mixture if that bothers you.

Serve with smoked chicken or smoked pork. Or use it as a stuffing for a boned shoulder of lamb. Or make a rather fine potato salad with it. Lamb for Christmas dinner anyone? Doesn't do much for the Christmas imagery, I'm afraid...

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Les Graineteries RIP

One of the features of Le Grand Pressigny is the Graineterie in the Grande Rue, where you could buy anything in the "growing it / killing it" line from a hosta to a hen (point of lay) to a hunting knife. We've blogged about it previously here. We have bought many a plant there, and it was possible to buy young lettuces or cabbages by the half dozen, a most convenient quantity for the two of us when an individual cabbage weighs in at over a kilo.

Savoy cabbage (Chou Milan) from a Graineterie seedling
The store was run by a man-and-wife couple and at times their children, and she was their Interflora florist, Tim earned the gratitude, and hence recognition, of the proprietor by rescuing a bidon (jerry can) that fell off the back of his truck and returning it to him.

Then not long ago a sign went up indicating that the shop was closed for refurbishment.

Alas, now the graineterie windows are whitewashed, with a sign announcing "fermeture définitive" (closed for good and all). According to the rumour mill, there has been a family bust-up, someone has done something unforgiveable which they now regret bitterly. Everyone hopes it may reopen under new management, but meanwhile it's yet another empty shop.
Fermeture définitive
I can find no pictures showing the graineterie in better days, though thanks to Susan I did locate two postcards of Grande Rue, one showing a beast market in the Market Place in about 1906, and another from about 1950 judging by the clothes and the car. Both show goods outside the graineterie, in the older probably hunting clothing and chicken coops. The double doors in the archway post-date both postcards - they show an archway leading to a loading yard. Does anyone else have any pictures? I'd love to see them!

The sad fact is that the big garden centre chains, such as Jardiland in France and Notcutts in the UK, are killing off their rivals with a larger range of products (tho less quirky) and longer opening hours. These stores are in both countries at the forefront of the Sunday Opening movement, now almost the norm in the UK and increasing in pressure in France.

One of the highlights of my journey to and from Primary School four times a day was passing The Corn & Seed Stores, at the Yew Tree, Yardley, Birmingham. The array of brightly coloured flowers almost always on display played no small part in my love of gardening. That store is mentioned by name in Kelly's Directory of 1950 and must go back to days when "this was all fields" i.e. before the 1930s when the estates of semi-detached houses were built. No sign of cornfields nowadays for miles in any direction.
The former Corn & Seed Stores

It became the Pets & Garden Centre while my Dad was still living in Yardley and was still flourishing in July 2012 according to Google Earth. I idly googled it and found that it too had gone under, sold by auction at Aston Villa Football Ground with vacant possession on 23 October 2012. It feels like I've lost another old friend.

Monday 4 November 2013

It's an apple year

When we bought the house, we spotted the old fruit trees in the back garden - several neglected plums and a big apple tree, almost swamped by tamarisk.

Jerry under the apple tree
The Touraine Apple Munchers Association (les Croquers de pommes de Touraine) identified our apples as Reinette Blanche, an old variety suitable for both eating and cooking.  The ripe fruit is a lovely primrose yellow, sometimes flushed with pink, and with russet patches and/or nets of fine speckles. According to Orangepippin.com, it is also known as Reinette Blanche du Canada, Reinette du Canada and even just "Canada", and it is widely grown in France.

A windfall

Unfortunately, it's not a great keeper thanks to the birds and insects that constantly attack the fruit. No sprays, of course - even if we wanted to spray, the tree is next to the millstream and sprays are banned close to a watercourse (not that it stops the farmers mutter mutter....)

Last year, the year of no fruit, it bore nothing at all because an ill-timed frost wiped out the flowers here and in almost every orchard in the district. The tree is making up for it this year - the fruit are not overly numerous but they are extremely large, some specimens weighing over 350 grammes. Let's say 200 apples at 250 grammes apiece, about 50 kilos, that's a lot of compote. So far, only those apples receiving direct sunlight are ready to pick. One low-hanging fruit, sheltered by leaves and branches, is my barometer. I keep giving it the twist and flip treatment but it's holding on tight at the moment.

Low-hanging fruit

So far I have made and bottled mincemeat, three flavours of compote (plain, with grapefruit marmalade, and with honey), made cake, baked apples, eaten the things raw, grated with cereal, in slaw... Can't even give them away as everyone with an apple tree is doing the same. People seeing you approaching with a bag of apples tend to turn smartish in the opposite direction, or pretend not to be at home. One approach is to hang the bag from a door handle (house or car) and run for it. Could just work... bother, they spotted me!

Sunday 3 November 2013

Apple whisky citrus mincemeat

A British Christmas wouldn't be the same without mince pies. Once upon a time these would actually have contained minced meat, with fruit and spices to disguise the fact that it was salted months earlier. Today mincemeat still contains suet, which is fat from around the kidneys of a cow (there is a vegetarian version, ptui). It is possible to buy fresh suet in France, which comes in lumps from the butcher (if he knows you he will keep some) for nuppence and can be grated. This is fine for a suet-crust pudding but I wouldn't like to use it for mincemeat.

Apple whisky citrus mincemeat ready for potting
Here's a recipe from Hilaire Walden's Sensational Preserves which combines a whole lot of lovely flavours. It needs at least six weeks to mature, so make it now in time for Christmas. These quantities yield five jars of standard jampot size, though where the pack size of the ingredient meant that there was only a little left, I lobbed the lot in. And of course I used our own filberts and apples.

At the beginning...Reinettes blanches
550g/1¼lb cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
15g/½oz unsalted butter
4 tablespoons water
85g/3oz almonds, blanched and chopped
85g/3oz hazelnuts, blanched and chopped
115g/4oz currants
115g/4oz cut mixed peel (aiguilles de citron /d'orange, chopped)
115/4oz dried apricots, chopped
225g/8oz raisins (I used jumbo golden raisins, which are gorgeous)
225g/8oz sultanas
115g/4oz suet
225g/8oz dark muscovado sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch of nutmeg
150ml/5 fl oz whisky

Put the apples in a pan with the water and butter. Cook gently with the lid on for 20 minutes then stir to make sure there are no lumps. If the resulting purée is runny (i.e. you've used Bramleys), turn up the heat and cook, stirring all the time, until the mixture is quite stiff and all free liquid is gone. Allow to cool completely.

Mix all the other ingredients together in a large non-metallic bowl then stir in the apples. Mix until thoroughly blended and leave, covered of course, overnight.  At this stage, a gadget! The lid of this plastic bowl projects over the lip, sealing it completely. Thanks again LIDL!

Not that terrifying, surely?
Pack into clean dry jars, ramming down well to avoid air bubbles, and seal in the usual way. Store for at least six weeks before using.
What's the post called again?
Serve as a dessert with poached orange slices, or in pastries.