Whilst we have had some sublimely sunny warm days here in Wales over the last week, there was an air this weekend that the weather was about to change for the cloudier and cooler...
Still, we could enjoy what was left of this balmy interlude and head outdoors to a wonderful place not far from here just across the border into England. Yes I know it can be scary sometimes venturing into another country but sometimes you just have to gird yourself up and go for it!!
So resolute, my good friend and fellow Blogger, Wobbly Mouse and myself set the faithful car across the old Severn bridge last Friday into darkest England...
And to get you further into the mood for this ‘herby’ post may I offer this musical offering-yes I know it is a bit corny but please indulge me as I am so pleased with my new skill!
Just 25 minute drive away from my village, is the most wonderful place to acquire herb plants from the queen of British herbs, Jekka McVicar.
Her organic herb farm is situated in village of Alveston, just outside Bristol. The farm itself is generally closed to visitors except for a few times of the year on her Open Days. I have been visiting these Open Days now for a good many years and have seen this magical place of hers, full of all kinds and numerous varieties of herbs, grow and prosper...and long may it continue to do so!
Jekka is a marvellous lady- very generous with her advice and time she gives to all her visitors. Amongst her fans are Prince Charles and Jamie Oliver. She mentioned to me on the day that currently she is also creating a new ‘Degustion’ Herb garden for a certain M. Blanc...and when I said that I would be there in a few months time on one of his Cookery Courses at Le Manoir, she told me which herbs to particulaly look out for including the Angelicas which I'm particulaly interested in cooking with this year.
The Herb Farm is very much a family business-husband Mac manned the gate that day and her daughter Hannah, a very talented artist who illustrates the catalogues, was on hand to help us all, together with the other members of her very, very helpful staff. Everybody, both staff and visitors alike were bound by a common interest in all these herbs either for decorative, culinary or medicinal use. The variety is truly amazing...about 650 varieties at the last count they believe...I’ll just take their word for it as I wasn’t about to start counting...
Want to know the best variety of Angelica for culinary use-just ask at Jekka’s...
You can taste the leaves of the different type of mustard plants to see which one you would like best to add to a salad...
Smell the huge variety of thyme –I lost count how many there were after the first dozen...
And hear all the fascinating stories and anecdotes about the herbs...
Jekka seen here identifying a herb from just a couple of leaves which someone had brought specially to ask her on the day.
The day was free-there is a £2 charge on the Saturday and Sunday and included a free short talk by Jekka in the morning and afternoon. At this she gave a very amusing talk including her own unique way of testing if the soil was warm enough for sowing herb seeds-let us just say not one to try out if the neighbours happen to be looking out of their window...
She also extolled the virtues of French Tarragon and it’s amazing flavour. Not to be confused with Russian Tarragon which tastes just like eating plain grass and which certain unscrupulous Garden Centres are trying to sell and pass off as French Tarragon due to this year’s shortage of real French Tarragon in the UK...
Lunch was lovely too, provided by outside caterers Berry Blue, whose food heavily featured herbs from the garden. Special mention to the baked camembert with Rosemary and the rather fab cakes-Lemon Drizzle with Lemon Thyme and a heavenly white chocolate bread and butter cake. Sorry no photos of lunch-we were just too greedy!!
All in all a wonderful day out and yes we came back heavily laden with herbs including a Red Orach which once it grows will be used like spinach in cooking,
Some Lemon Balm which is destined to be made into a Lemon Balm Cheesecake...
Some English Mace-a new one for me in the kitchen but Jekka recommends in potato salads, pasta and rice dishes.
Moroccan Mint-one of my favourite of the mint family and will be used extensively in cooking all kind of dishes,
These Open Days at Jekka’s are an absolute treat if you are into herbs. The next ones are in June and if you want further information about her wonderful Herb Farm I would suggest looking at her website
Today was spent in the garden-no surprise there...trying to decide the best places to put all my new plants. Interestingly Jekka recommended partial shade for the majority which suits my garden! Jekka also advised that they could stay in their pots until they get a little bigger and need re-potting. She did however very strongly recommend feeding once a week with an organic fertilizer as most compost will have run out of goodness for container plants after only 6-8 weeks. At the Herb Farm they feed on a Friday-F for Friday and F for feeding and then she said nobody can Forget...
For supper this evening I felt I really must start with using some of the delicious French Tarragon I bought. The leaves have an amazing liquorice like taste. Every time I passed by them I had a little nibble of a leaf. Plus I had some coriander growing abundantly on the kitchen window sill that needed using too...
So tonight’s humble herby offering is,
Coriander and Carrot Soup with French Tarragon, Carrot and Walnut Bread.
One of the definite pluses about blogging is that I am trying to be more self-disciplined about writing down my recipes. I have a habit of starting out to do one thing and then modifying it according to what ingredient I pick in the garden or have in the cupboard so that when people ask me for a particular recipe I am just a little vague...now I’m trying to record what I do each time. Though perhaps that mean I’ll have now have no excuse for being a bit vague at times...
French Tarragon, Carrot and Walnut Bread
This is yet another soda bread as I was in a hurry to make supper...A slight variation as I wanted a slightly bigger loaf and included the extra ingredients such as the grated carrot. I didn’t have enough Buttermilk so made up the liquid quantity with plain yogurt. I had also run out of Cream of Tartar so just used Bicarbonate of Soda which was ok but not great-it probably added to the herby ‘greenness’ of the bread though!
500g Welsh Oak Smoked Flour
140g grated carrots
2 TBSP of chopped walnuts
2 TBSP of finely chopped fresh French Tarragon leaves
400ml mixture of Buttermilk and plain pouring yogurt
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Preheat the oven to 210C.
In a large bowl add the flour, bicarb of soda, salt, grated carrot, walnuts, chopped tarragon leaves and mix well with a large spoon.
Add the Buttermilk and yogurt. Now a word of warning if you are following my recipe...I wasn’t concentrating 100% when pouring out the yogurt so the quantity may not be quite right-well my excuse was I was listening to a play on the radio at the same time...
The mixture was very sticky and I turned it out onto a well floured surface and simply shaped it into a round, flipped it over to shape it again but didn’t knead it at all. Due to its sticky nature I placed it on some baking parchment paper on a tray, dusted it with flour and made the obligatory slashes with a knife and popped it in the oven for 35 minutes. After said time, I had a nice hollow sound upon tapping its bottom and duly let it cool.
Meanwhile I had not been idle and had started with the soup.
Coriander and Carrot Soup
900g grated carrot
2 large onions roughly chopped
3 plump cloves of garlic-roughly chopped
1 TBSP ground coriander-lightly roasted in a dry pan to release it’s flavour and aromatics
2 handfuls of fresh coriander
25g plain flour
A little British Extra Virgin Rapeseed oil
1 litre of vegetable stock
200ml of Crème Fraiche
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Put the butter and a little rapeseed oil in a hot large pan and add the grated carrot, chopped onion and sweat with the lid on for 15 minutes.
Add the chopped garlic and ground coriander and cook for a further 10/15 minutes.
Add the flour and stir for 2 minutes to make a roux. Gradually add the vegetable stock, stirring all the time.
Turn down the heat and gently simmer for a further 30 minutes until the mixture is soft. It will need a stir every so often to make sure it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Turn off the heat and transfer in batches to a food processor or large blender and pulse and then blend the mixture.
Add the fresh coriander to the blender in one of the batches. Return all the batches now pureed down back to the large pan and bring back to a simmer.
Season to taste with the salt and pepper and turn off the heat before adding the crème fraiche and very gently stir through.
Reserve a little of the crème fraiche to stir into each bowl when serving to garnish and top with a little sprig of fresh coriander.
A lovely herby supper to enjoy after a delightful herby weekend!