Saturday 12 October 2013

Nuts in May

Here we go gathering nuts in May?  I wouldn't think that's a particularly good time of the year to guarantee success, in the Northern Hemisphere at least! Yet another highly suspect nursery rhyme.

The recipe, for Apple Cake in a Nutshell as blogged about by Jean in Baking in Franglais, required four ounces of blanched hazelnuts. We have filberts, fresh from the tree. This calls for - a gadget!

What is it?

My dad's wonderful nutcracker, with its tiny ship's wheel that you wind to extend the clamp as gently as you please, guaranteeing an undamaged kernel. Four ounces is quite a lot of cracking, even with giant filberts, so that was an evening's entertainment.

Cracking a filbert with precision
Now blanching - the method I learned for almonds - three minutes in boiling water - just didn't work. After five minutes futile scraping I gave up. The internet came up with the addition of baking soda (Bicarb) to the water in the proportion of three tablespoons to two US quarts. I used two teaspoons to a UK pint, again boiling for three minutes, then rinsed them in cold water. The method then said to rub the skins off in a teatowel. I'm sure that would work, particularly with more than my four ounces, but having seen the rich pink colour the water had turned, the subsequent cleaning of the teatowel struck me as a problem. So I rubbed the skins off with my fingers, dipping occasionally in a finger bowl. Success! Clean as a whistle. Not so clean Tim's hankie with which he experimented on the liquid as a dye.

Almost gone....
 Finally, how to coarsely chop them... the blender just chipped a few bits off them... we gave away our hachoir because we never used it... drat... Tim chopped them with a ceramic-bladed knife. Somewhere no more than a mile from here, a prehistoric woman or man did the same thing, with a flint blade like the ones we dig up in the potager. I don't suppose they bothered skinning them. Sometimes the old ways are the best.

The finished cake - cooked for 20 minutes longer than the recipe said, with foil on top

Monday 7 October 2013

Beans, beans, good for the heart

Sunday was a gloriously sunny autumn day - a fine day for harvesting! We were greeted by the vanguard of our winter visitors - the lapwings, flying overhead. First a couple of trays of "Reinette Blanche" apples from our venerable tree - many almost too big to fit in the bag of the apple picker, and unfortunately many damaged by sharp little beaks. More compote de pommes (stewed apple) coming up, I expect! This is a prime opportunity to try different flavourings and sweetenings - the first batch was straight apple and a little sugar, the second batch apple and honey, for the third there's some grapefruit marmalade that didn't set...

Next, on to the beans! We grow most of our beans from our own saved seed for winter use, in soups, cassoulets, chilis etc. This means they have to be bone dry when they go into their storage jars. Due to the late spring, they were planted late and have only just begun to get that papery texture in the pods that tells us they are ready. The bean frame is presently flaming with Borlotti "Lingua di Fuoco" (fire tongue) climbing beans, just starting to turn the dull red and then indigo of the fully ripe bean.

The bean frame, an idea copied from Majorca


Borlottis with Nun's Belly Button below (naturally)

Surrounding the base of the bean frame, Tim planted a load of another favourite - the dwarf bean "Nun's belly button". The French name is "nombril de bonne soeur" - an exact translation, although the same bean is known in French as "Saint Esprit" and in English as "Soldier".

Nun's Belly Button beans
William Skyvington, an Australian expatriate in France, has blogged about them here, although as his post is dated April 1, I'm unsure how much of his tale is a leg-pull. Be that as it may, I see the nun, or the part of her visible, as definitely a redhead, and very hairy.

Whereas Tim sees the whole nun, the other way up. That's the soldier, an English redcoat.

Spot the nun (or soldier)
Spot the soldier (or nun)

In the immortal words of my old friend Liam D'Arcy Brown (no, not the Sinologist, the other one),
Beans, beans, good for the heart,
Beans, beans, they make you f*rt,
The more you f*rt, the better you feel,
Beans, beans, with every meal!