Thursday, 3 July 2008


Pays de la Loire is a major fruit growing area. Not only grapes - the main vineyards are further south from us along the Loire Valley - but apple and pear orchards and red and black currants. In late August/early September there are always a large number of migrant workers who move into the area to do the apple picking. This is a back breaking job and not well paid. If you are lucky you will find work in an orchard that pays by the amount you pick. They have to guarantee the minimum wage but if you are quick then you will be paid a bonus accordingly. There are quality checks - they obviously don't want pickers who put in bruised or otherwise damaged fruit or fruit that is too small. A friend of mine makes her living picking apples and pears and each year brings me a huge bag of fruit that is not considered suitable for the market - of course, there's nothing wrong with it at all but it doesn't "conform" to the industry standard; and how stupid is that!

Last year the owner of one of these fruit farms called and asked her if she would work a week on the blackcurrant farm. She agreed as she realised he'd been let down but this is not a job she enjoys. Basically blackcurrants are picked by what could be described as a huge vacuum cleaner that is put over each plant and sucks the fruit off the tree. This then goes into the sorting area where people like my friend have to pick it over.

Of course it isn't only the fruit that gets sucked up, it's everything. She bought me a bucketful of blackcurrants last year and I went through it, berry by berry (can you imagine?!) to clean it. I'm not the fussiest person on earth and truly don't mind a bit of dirt. It's the frog's legs, slugs and snails that I object to. She said that they also have to be careful in case there are any snakes amongst the berries!

I was thinking about this as I picked the fruit off our two blackcurrant bushes this morning. It was a lovely sunny day and as we are away this weekend it was a job that had to be done. I've read in various books that if you prune out the fruit bearing branches as you collect the fruit it saves you a job later in the year. It also makes the fruit picking much easier! I was thrilled that I collected nearly a bucketful this year. It really has been a good year for fruit and veg - all that winter and spring rain I suppose!

I don't eat jam and so I don't make jam! Instead, I simmer the blackcurrants in a small amount of water and then sieve it to get all the larger bits out (stems and leaves that have got past the first pick over). I pour the resulting liquid concentrate into small aluminium ramekins which I freeze. I can then take out a small amount of concentrate as I need it during the year. My favourite indulgence is to mix it with cottage cheese for lunch but I also use it to flavour ice cream or to add a bit of variety to apple crumble. It's very strong though so you don't need much.

Please remember too, to wear OLD clothes as blackcurrant stains everything it touches! If you are working on a wooden surface you may want to protect this too - although I quite like the dark pink splashes of colour on the kitchen table and chairs!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Sex in the greenhouse

After the total washout of last year, when the only successful tomatoes in the area were the ones grown in greenhouses, I decided this year to do the same. It was partly because I had too many successful seeds and it just seemed to make sense to leave some where they were! So, I have six outside that I bought (Coeur de Boeuf), another four outside in a small corner of the veggie patch that I grew from seed, the three in the greenhouse and three more that I scattered around the flower beds because I had to take some of the seedlings out of the greenhouse and it seemed a pity to waste them. On the whole, I'm glad I did all this as the six I bought all seem to be in a bad way. I suspect it's either mosaic virus or some sort of wilt but I don't know. They all have tomatoes on them so I will wait and see what happens. The greenhouse seedlings are a mix of small salad tomatoes and larger standard ones (I MUST start noting the varieties that I plant!).

Anyway, what's this got to do with sex I hear you ask? When I started work many years ago I used to have lunch with my wonderful grandmother from time to time as she lived just round the corner. She lived in a very sunny flat and grew tomatoes on the window ledge in pots. One day I arrived and she was shaking them, albeit gently. I couldn't understand it.

"Sex darling", she said. I was fairly sure that she wasn't asking about my private life although she could be fairly direct. I asked her to clarify.

"Sex, sex - you know, they have to what's it called? Pollinate, that's it." Hmmm, still not quite there. More clarification please.

"Up here there are no bees to do the sex for them so I shake them and the pollen from the top flowers falls onto the ones underneath." Ah, right.

I don't know if there was any scientific truth in her theory but why not? Yesterday I was in the greenhouse and just thought I'd give it a go. But I sneaked a look around first to check no-one was watching!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

This week's harvest (so far!)

I'm a relative beginner at all this home growing. I've grown summer veg before - tomatoes and lettuce mostly - and of course we have fruit trees that just seem to do what they do, but really working it out and getting the most from the veggie patch is still new enough to make any produce look and taste REALLY good! Perhaps it wears off after a while but in the meantime this is some of what we've been eating during the past few days.

I have to admit that these cherries (there were three times as many) are not from our garden but from a friend. We have come to the conclusion that cherries belonging to English gardens in France have a certain "je sais pas quoi" and are irresistable to birds.

Not exactly a ton of broad beans but SO good and tender. The coriander self-seeded from last year.

These Mirabelles are the sweetest little things imaginable. In 2003 we had so many we just put a sheet on the ground and shook the tree. I think it's still recovering from such a vast harvest five years later as we've not had a particularly abundant crop since. They are delicious!

This garlic doesn't look like much (understatement!) but it just appeared in the garden. I planted some last year but it was so wet nothing really happened. Well, clearly it did because this is what has appeared this year.

A word about the Grand Gennetay Bookshop

If you look to the left you'll see a pile of unruly books and a link to my bookshop. This is run by Amazon but if you are good enough to click through via this link I will be sent a percentage of any order you make via the link. This includes books you find in my "store" plus any others you buy at the same time. It's commercial, I don't deny, but it really doesn't cost you any more and it helpsto put a few pence in the kitty.

The books I have listed cover several subjects; gardening is just one of them. Upholstery, beekeeping, books I've enjoyed reading, etc. If you would like me to list a book please send me the title and the author. If there is a book you want to criticise, please do so; I will publish your remarks and hopefully help other readers in this way.

There are other Amazon links on this page. These are books recommended by Amazon who somehow work out what my blog is about suggest books accordingly. Sometimes there are a few very surprising outcomes!

Thank you!


When I was a child there was a large (to me anyway!) walled vegetable garden and it supplied us with all the fruit and veg we could eat, possibly not all year round but most of it. There was enough left over for the surplus to be sold and people from the village bought a fair share of their veg from us. Those were the days!

My brother and I used to go into the vegetable garden after school and eat the strawberries. Of course, this was not allowed and one day we heard someone coming so we slid both ourselves and OUR BIKES under the netting. That of course was a disaster and presumably we were duly punished. It can't have been too bad though because I don't remember that part! Maybe no strawberries for a week.

One of my favourite jobs as a result of this garden was shelling peas. There is nothing more enjoyable than eating a handful of peas straight from the pod. Nothing sweeter. The taste seems to burst out of its skin and into your mouth.

My youngest son has a friend staying tonight and wanted to prove to him that the English CAN cook. I was given my supper orders: roast chicken, roast potatoes and peas... So this afternoon I braved the heat and picked a bucketful. When I got back to the kitchen I suggested to R that he help me shell them. I was astonished that during the following half hour (while he shelled one pod to every five of mine!) he didn't want to eat a single one. His mother was not quite so disciplined!