a french garden


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Persimmon Sorbet

Persimmon flowers

The persimmon fruit starts its life as very discrete white flower about the beginning of June.

persimmons and asian hornet

By the middle of November some are starting to ripen and being burst open by birds, and in 2015 being feasted on by the glut of Asian hornets (Vespa velutina).

Persimmon and Great Tit

This poses a problem as the Persimmon ripen slowly and if left on the tree very little whole fruit will be left to harvest.

At first we were reluctant to gather unripe fruit but we have since discovered that they will happily ripen indoors and maintain their flavour.

The Kaki or Persimmon is not well known in this area but we have now successfully converted a couple of friends who, much to their surprise, discovered that they too enjoyed this sweet winter fruit.  Nevertheless, this year we had an exceptionally large crop and had to leave a box of unripe fruit while we visited the U.K. at Christmas.  I quite expected to return to a box of mushy rotten fruit but all the Persimmon had ripened with no spoiled exceptions.  However, there were too many to deal with in the immediate so I decided to experiment.  I gave them a wash and then packed them individually into the freezer.

defrosting Persimmon

The frozen Persimmon retain their shape as they defrost and the frozen flesh, though slightly softer than the fresh, is almost the same texture and just as sweet.  We can enjoy our defrosted Persimmon as a fruit on its own or add it to yoghurt as a dessert.

Persimmon sorbet

Flush with the success of my freezing experiment, I decide to try for a sorbet.  I treated three Persimmon to a mix with the hand blender and poured the result into the ice cream maker.  The resulting sorbet has a beautiful colour and was ready to eat.  I do not have a very sweet tooth as far as desserts are concerned, so for those that like something sweeter I would recommend the addition of a sugar syrup which would also keep the sorbet softer if re-freezing.

However, for me I was pleased to have discovered another way to use the fruit of the garden without adding additional sugar.

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Apricots harvested

All the apricots have been recovered from the trees, well actually tree, the one in the front garden gave virtually no fruit.  The one in the back garden gave us only about 5 or 6 kilos.  This year there was no problem with what to do with them.  A split with our neighbour Annie giving us each a nice bowl to eat.

Apricot blossom

I took this photograph on the 20th. of March and the tree was covered with blossom.  There was no shortage of bees in the garden although they were more attracted to the willow and plum which were also flowering.  The apricot flowers early and yet is sensitive to the cold.  A cold spring and late frosts can leave you with no fruit.  I cannot recall a particularly cold period after the apricot flowered this year but the year has veered from high to low temperatures in rapid succession which probably was enough to disturb the fruiting.

Prunus armeniaca ‘Rouge du Roussillon’

The variety we grow is Rouge du Roussillon which gives large sweet fruits which are very good to eat raw and also excellent to make into jam and compote and tarts in the years when the harvest is plentiful.  It is also a very decorative tree in its own right with the beautiful blossom in the spring and in the autumn the leaves turn beautiful shades of golden yellow and red.

Apricots in hiding

There are always more than you expect hiding away behind the leaves.  Last year we were taken by surprise by the quantity that we were able to take off the two trees.  We were able to collect several orange boxes of fruit to share with friends who like us had plenty to eat and also to make into jam.

The apricots are the first fruits we have from the trees and in some ways I am secretly glad I do not have to worry about making jam or preserving them in some way.  The jam etc. will come soon enough, the plums are on the way!


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Broad beans, for the love of baghali polo

The vegetable patch in the garden has been planted to provide us with some of the vegetables that we use a lot, or are more convenient to have close at hand, or are difficult for us to buy locally .  I plant broad beans because I can never  find broad beans which are sufficiently large in the shops in France.

The broad beans are planted in the autumn here and overwinter happily as they can take the short periods of cold that we get in the winter.  They then take off rapidly in the spring and you can gather them before they get attacked by black fly.  2011 was so mild that I decided to plant a second crop in the early spring but despite constant treatment with soapy water the second sowing was ravaged by black fly and I swore, never again.

This winter brought unprecedented snow and sub zero temperatures in February and the broad beans were frozen and as limp as lettuce kept in a freezer.  I was definitely not going to replant in the spring so once the weather improved I clipped off all the slimy leaves and left them alone.  Some actually regrew, perhaps 40%.

The plants were healthy but it was not a heavy crop.

My desire for broad beans is to make a favourite meal.  This requires not only shelling the fluffy outer coat of the beans but slicing each bean in two to remove the bean coating leaving the broad beans shiny and bright.

This is the total of my garden produce of broad beans for this year.  Not a lot but a whole lot better than none.

Also I grow dill, primarily for my boghali polo which is a traditional Persian dish.  The prepared broad beans are layered with the chopped dill and steamed together with rice, the mixture of flavours is superb.

Just before serving I decorate the rice with saffron, this time the saffron was also home grown (see my blog “I’m just mad about saffron”).

Baghali polo goes very well with plain yoghurt and can be served with either roast lamb or roast chicken although on its own it makes a good vegetarian dish served with yoghurt.

So this is why I grow broad beans.  They take a lot of time to prepare like this but they freeze well.  There are short cuts that can be taken.

When I lived in the U.K. I used to buy my broad beans and invite my sister over to watch Wimbledon on the television (she does not have her own).  She would then sit and do the beans while she watched.  She fell for it every year.  Some people sip Pimms and eat strawberries and cream when they watch the tennis, others shell broad beans.


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I love my quince tree.

One of the first trees we planted was a quince, quickly followed by a second one just in case the first did not make it.  I am particularly fond of the first one.  It is a more compact little tree with round fruits.  The second quince is a different variety with a more elongated shape and more elongated fruits.

These are real quince trees Cydonia oblonga.  They are in their glory now.  Unlike the apricot, cherry and plum trees their blossom is preceded by the softest green leaves.

This year we were lucky with the weather and the blossoms opened in the warm spring sunshine.

The buds of the blossom are a darker pink but are a perfect match for the downy green leaves.

The petals of the open flower are veined with a darker pink.


The flowers are not in clusters like cherry blossom but are the perfect size for a bumble bee to curl up in.

The edible quince flowers later than the flowering quince, Chaemomeles .  Shrubs of the  Chaemomeles family produce a small fruit similar to the much larger edible quince which are edible but rarely used as they tend to be to small to use conveniently.

They give a much more flamboyant blossom of dark pink and are often prized in a garden as they flower so early in the season.  My neighbour Annie’s flowering quince produced blossom at the end of March.

We had huge bouquets of these beautiful flowers in jugs in our houses which were an absolute picture – but it comes at a price.  They can be very invasive shrubs and difficult to keep within bounds in a small garden.  They are extremely thorny whereas the edible quince has no thorns.

I think I have been traumatised by a flowering quince that I inherited in this garden.  It had been allowed to take over a large area of the front garden.  It was not as simple as removing all the branches above the ground with a chain-saw.  The roots were so compact that they formed a huge trunk-like mass that continued some distance under the ground and was extremely difficult and time-consuming to remove.  In addition, the residual roots managed to sprout new growth every spring for several years which I cut off assiduously, in terror that the thing might re-appear and flourish anew.

However, the bees love the flowering quince which provides them with much needed nourishment at this early time in the year.

I am just glad it is in Annie’s garden and not mine.

A large part of my decision to plant a quince tree was for their fruit.  I love quinces but they are not always as easy to source as many other fruits.  They are also generally under appreciated.

I love to see the yellow fruit with its downy coat hanging on the tree in autumn but I do not eat it raw.  My quince are too hard and tough.  That is not to say there are no varieties that can be eaten raw.  I have eaten a raw quince in Isphahan, Iran which although very firm was fragrant and delicious but the quinces of Isphahan are famous and quinces probably originated in Iran.

I use my quinces to make jelly,  jam and compote.  The quince jelly can be eaten like a jam but also marries very well with savoury flavours such as meat and cheese.  A cheese plate can be given an immediate upgrade by serving it with a splash of home made quince jelly.   I also make a Persian  lamb sauce with quince and serve it with steamed rice.  The quince segments can be blanched in the autumn and frozen for use later in savoury dishes.

At the end of this month I’ll be putting up my coddling moth traps, lured with pheromones.  Unfortunately, it is not only me that enjoys the quinces and the fruit is attacked by these moth larvae which bore right into the core leaving an ugly brown trail through the flesh.  I was pleased with the result last year and hope it will work as well this year.  I am not too precious about any damaged fruit and would prefer to cut away damaged fruit than have perfect fruit all of the time at the expense of using systemic pesticides or spraying indiscriminately.

I love my quince tree.


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Last persimmons of the season

Khormolu side

The fruits of my labour in the garden are an incentive whether they are a vase of flowers or new potatoes from the potager.  They also maintain a connection with the changing seasons.

Today I noticed I was down to my last eight persimmons.  These amazing fruits ripen as winter is coming on and in our area of the Charente Maritime there are huge trees in gardens that look as if they are decorated with red Christmas baubles.  Many local people are completely unaware that they are edible and are highly suspicious of these beautiful red fruits.

I had a good crop that I took in before Christmas –still largely unripe- and kept in my unheated utility room.  They had the convenient ability to ripen at different speeds and could be sorted, the ripe ones being eaten and the others left for later.  My fruit has lasted until February, as long as my Golden Delicious apples – but that is another story.
Kaki leaves  30 Oct 2011

In addition to the crop of delicious fruit in the winter my kaki tree decorates the front garden giving us shade in the summer.The leaves change into varying hues of red and soft orange in the autumn as can be seen from the picture taken at the end of October.

Kaki 1 Nov 2011

By 1 November the fruits are yellow and will take another month to turn red attracting the attention of the local birds.