Friday, August 31, 2012

In a pickle

So, it's that time of year when the veggies are a plenty. Too plentiful to be honest, if there is such a thing. All my feeding, pinching out and nurturing has paid off and now I am faced with a daily basketful of red and yellow marbles. Well cherry tomatoes actually. They are at their best in a salad, or just popped in the mouth whilst being harvested, but when it comes to preserving them, there is a dilemma. To roast, to freeze, to bottle, to...? Well, what about to pickle? Or to jam to be precise as tomato is a fruit after all.

Jamming the little red poppets provides the perfect solution to the glut. There is not enough flesh to pad out the waiting jars and I can't be doing with faffing about drying them so I have found a recipe that can be adapted depending on what else is available and this solves the problem. The bonus is that they don't have to be skinned which was also presenting various time consuming issues. Whack a bit of chilli in and you have something that will spice up a cheese sarnie or is a perfect accompaniment to a curry. Great with sausages and burgers too.

This is what I did to them...

Cherry Tomato Jam


  1. 2 tsp cumin seeds
  2. 2 tsp coriander seeds
  3. 750g ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
  4. 2 onions, finely chopped, (apples and courgettes optional)
  5. 2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  6. 5cm piece fresh ginger, grated
  7. 250ml white wine vinegar
  8. 300g soft light brown sugar
  9. 2 tsp soy sauce
  10. 2 large mild red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped ( optional)


  1. 1. Put the cumin and coriander seeds in a small frying pan and toast over a low heat for 1 minute, then crush in a pestle and mortar.
  2. 2. Put the tomatoes and onions (a couple of windfall chopped apples or courgettes can be added at this stage) in a wide pan with the garlic, chillies and ginger. Add the spices, vinegar and sugar. Bring to the boil, then simmer until reduced to a jam-like consistency - can take 3 -4 hours. Add the fish sauce and cook for 2 more minutes before spooning into sterilised jars.
  3. 3. Seal the jars while hot, then allow to cool completely before labelling and storing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wacky Races

         Close ups at Angouleme

The Circuit Des Remparts in Angoulême is one of only 2 street races in Europe ( the other being Monaco) and every September brings racing enthusiasts flocking to this part of South West France.

Commonly known as 'Monaco without the sea', the race offers spectators the chance to see, Bugattis, Rileys, Fraser Nash and MGs as well as post war Porches and TVRs.
The event has been running every 3rd weekend in September since 1939 with only a break during the war years and is a unique spectacle worth a visit simply for the atmosphere.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Island life

Ile de Ré is one of this regions real treasures. A small island tucked away off the coast of La Rochelle only reachable via the sweeping 3km bridge, it is a popular place for Parisians, many of whom have a holiday home here. It is fairly flat making it perfect for cycling and is only 25 km from east to west yet it has something for everybody. Picturesque fishing villages feature along the coast and the long, sandy beaches with gentle waves are ideal for families and of course there are plenty of stylish boutiques and restaurants.
The capital Saint Martin-de-Ré is a must for shoppers but the island is also steeped in history, being the scene of a famous siege in 1627. The charm of the island is hard to resist and we return again and again only to discover new delight and taste the fresh Ré air.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

La bonne vie

One of the best things about living in France is, yes, the weather!
Sunshine is plentiful in the Charente-Maritime and the mild climate, rich soil, and space afforded us here means that growing your own fruit and veg is a cinch.
All rural dwellers will boast a 'potager' usually consisting of, amongst other things, miles of leeks, lettuces so voluminous they would struggle to fit into your average supermarket bag and, without exception, rows of tomato plants laden with juicy, unlikely shaped fruit.
I am no Barbara, but a little bit of the Good Life has been created in my back garden plot whose petite size caused much mirth amongst the locals.
My 'skills gap' in home growing was quickly filled by my elderly neighbours whose welcome advice included 'grow what you eat'. Absolutely. No point in having 10 courgette plants each birthing at an alarming rate when you are the only member of the family that will go within a mile of them. OK, so I have made some mistakes as a novice and I have the jars of chutney to prove it. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall devotees will no doubt be familiar with his recipe for Glutney which is in fact the reason I DO grow one courgette plant every year. 
Tomatoes, however are a very different matter and are allowed to inhabit a much larger portion of the patch, having truly earned their prime, sun drenched position. From the misshapen ( read ugly) but stupendously flavoursome Marmande variety to the dainty 'bonbon' of the tomato world, the cherry. 
So what can't you do with a tomato? Not a lot, really. From soup to bolognaise, from pizza to pasta it has the versatility only matched by the potato. To achieve the elusive 5 a day for their picky children, many a Mum has blitzed them, sneaked them into and hidden them in dishes in a way that no other fruit or veg would forgive them for. A freshly picked tomato is poetical and must NEVER be kept in the fridge. It's why Cheddar was invented.
This roasted tomato salad by Delia Smith has long been a mainstay of our Summer barbecues and with a crusty baguette to mop up the juices, it is the food of gods.

Roasted Tomato Salad

8 large tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil

Skin the tomatoes, cut through the 'equator' and place the halves in a roasting tin (cut side uppermost). Season with salt and freshly milled pepper. 

Sprinkle over the chopped garlic,and drizzle with some olive oil. Top each one with a basil leaf, turning each one over to get a coating of oil.

Roast the tomatoes for 50-60 minutes at 200 c. Allow to cool. 

Transfer them to serving plates making sure you capture all the juices, then whisk together 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 of balsamic vinegar and drizzle this over the tomatoes. Garnish with some extra basil leaves.They will keep for a couple of days in the fridge but remember to always serve them at room temperature. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The old and the new

I stumbled across this unusual 'petite demeure' near Cognac and did a double take. This would have once been the gatekeeper's house for the beautiful lodge next door and a local architect had taken what was undoubtedly a rather forlorn looking building and transformed into an eclectic dwelling.

The typical Charentaise stone still forms the framework but with the addition of a quirky cladded roof it has become something that even Kevin McCloud would approve of. I did think it looked a bit like a mad hatter's house but would have loved a sneaky peek inside.