A French country party

It rained and rained for a fortnight, or it nearly did on my birthday! At last the sun came out and the day began….. Continue reading


Let them eat cake at Bonsall Open Gardens

Each summer, many of the villages in Derbyshire open their gardens to the public. It’s a chance to wander around behind the scenes, collect ideas and eat cake! We opened our garden this year for the first time and became quite obsessive about preparing for it in the lead up.

More lovely cakes......

More lovely cakes……

No need to guess which was the most popular cake…the chocolate one went immediately

Last of the chocolate cake

Last of the chocolate cake

Thanks to Bern, Kev and Hilary for their weeding, planting and cake baking skills…..

Kev holding back the crowds...

Kev holding back the crowds…

Also on locally was an evening of opera with two professional opera singers Meeta Raval and Oliver Gerrish who have formed the New Georgian Opera company. http://www.newgeorgianopera.co.uk

The Bonsall Opera ticket

The Bonsall Opera ticket

Meeta and Oliver sang highlights from a variety of operas, they enthralled and at times left the audience gobsmacked at the sheer power, volume and sweetness of their voices. If you get a chance book your tickets well in advance for next year – this is an event not to be missed.  Check out Facebook.com/bonsallopengardens, http://www.bonsallopengardens.co.uk Meeta and Oliver were helping to raise funds for the Bonsall Field Barn Project. This project aims to save and restore the 115 little limestone field barns around Bonsall. http://www.bonsallfieldbarnproject.org

More cake

More cake – and scones!

Locals enjoying tea and cake

Locals enjoying tea and cake

It was a really lovely weekend. Some people make a proper weekend of it and do all the gardens, attend the Bonsall Opera and do one or two other villages at a time and stay over in a local pub. Here’s a link to find out when they are all open: http://www.opengardens.co.uk/open_gardens_in_derbyshire.php

Here's the link to find out when all the Derbyshire gardens are open: http://www.opengardens.co.uk/open_gardens_in_derbyshire.php

Here’s the link to find out when all the Derbyshire gardens are open:

New Year’s day lunch at Jollity farm…

Pears with black pudding

Pears with black pudding

It was minus 5 degrees here in the shade of the stable this morning and we had to break the ice in the water troughs for the horses. We gave all the animals extra hay to eat as the fields were frozen.

For lunch we’re having black pudding and pears. The French often pair black pudding with apple, but here’s something a bit different. When our friends (and what great cooks they are) Stuart and Sonya were staying here recently, Stuart cooked spiced pears with the black pudding. He fried the pear quarters in butter and chilli and served them with the fried black pudding. He removed the skin of the black pudding before frying so it’s extra crispy. I shall always cook my black pudding that way now – delicious!

H A P P Y    N E W     Y E A R!

Beautiful Bordeaux wine……Domaine de Bertin Cotes de Duras

Jackie Bertin-Manke wine grower extraordinaire

Jacqueline Bertin-Manke wine grower

Since we’re in Bordeaux it’s time to say a bit about the wine in this region. We sought out this independent wine grower as we’d sampled a bottle of her family’s wine in a local shop and really liked it.  Jacqueline is holding the sweet white wine they make but we bought a case of their local red. Very full-bodied and fruity, just what you’d expect from a Bordeaux wine. The grapes, are picked and sorted by hand and are a mix of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. http://www.lesbertins.fr

The vines

The vines in winter

This area the –  Cotes de Duras – between Bordeaux and Bergerac is a mix of rolling countryside full of vineyards, plum orchards and sunflowers. Pity we’re not here to see all the blossom and fruits as it’s deepest winter and not a leaf to be seen. Lots and lots of independent wine growers – you could have a very nice holiday travelling around sampling all the wines. DSC_0061Plum trees and vines in winter on the Domaine de Bertin estate.

What I bought at the market today….

Ingredients for leek vinaigrette with poached egg and bacon

Ingredients for Leeks in vinaigrette with poached egg and Jambon de Bayonne – use whole grain mustard in the vinaigrette

We went to the big local market on Saturday at Sante Foy Le Grande on the banks of the River Dordogne in the Gironde Department. It’s a really good local market, we were told it was the best in the area. It was a bit chilly that day, luckily there were a number of second hand clothing stalls so we were both able to buy a few jumpers for a couple of euros each!  At a second hand book stall I found Rachel Khoo’s ‘Little Paris Kitchen’ – so I was set up for the day and knew what to cook.

I found ‘Poireaux vinaigrette avec oeuf poché et jambon de Bayonne‘ and was able to get all the ingredients at the market. Jambon de Bayonne is named after the city in SW France. It goes through a number of processes of salting and spice rubbing and air drying to bring out the sweetness. You could use Parma ham or Serrano ham too. Unfortunately I asked for ham ‘épais’ (thick) cut and not ‘mince’ (thin) cut. Never mind, it turned out fine in the end, apart from the poached egg being overcooked that is! But hey, I’m not on Masterchef!

Washed down with some lovely local white wine Cotes de Duras.

Route de la Noix – Perigord, near Sarlat, Dordogne

Sorting walnuts on the conveyor belt

Sorting walnuts on the conveyor belt

We were driving through the Perigord region of France a few weeks ago and realised we were on the ‘Route de la noix’. It was a lovely golden coloured day and walnut trees covered the fields on either side of the road.  Walnut orchards are an important part of the Perigord landscape. Walnuts have been cultivated in the Perigord for centuries – back to to early modern humans, 43,000 years ago. In this area the process of cracking the nuts and harvesting the kernels is called the ‘Denoisillage’.  In the old days, the walnuts were cracked with a boxwood hammer in front of the fire by the older women.

We stopped at a farm to buy some fresh nuts and were lucky enough to be able to  watch the whole process of sorting, drying and dehusking of the nuts.  ‘La Grandjean’, la Corne, and ‘la Franquette’ are the three authentic walnut varieties grown here and have the AOC label of ‘Noix du Perigord’ to protect the quality. Although this looks like an industrial process it really is on quite a small scale – and as the farmers above said, no-one gets rich growing walnuts. A beautiful area and worth visiting.

Walnuts with their green husks

Walnuts with their green husks – this machine dehusks the walnuts

We bought 5 kilos of lovely big Grandjean walnuts – only to discover the walnut season had also started in our area of SW France.  Our neighbour’s grandfather planted walnut trees on the perimeter of his fields and she invited us to come collecting nuts with her. So now we’ve got walnuts coming out our ears. Her walnuts are smaller and a different variety and have a slightly different taste.

Walnuts that have been dehisced

Walnuts that have been dehusked

The route is a fascinating meander through the walnut orchards of the Perigord area and there are lots of lovely places to stay and eat http://www.fermedupech.com/index.html

More info on the route here http://www.noixduperigord.com/gabarre.html

Collecting walnuts  - ready for the industrial dryer

Collecting walnuts – ready for the industrial dryer