Sunday, 1 April 2012

Herby, Herby Goodness...

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 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
25g butter
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!

Goodnight all...


  1. Thoroughly enjoyable visit! I am just turning my mind to planning a herb garden so the timing is great. Lovely supper.

    1. Hi Elaine,

      Great to hear from you! If you need any information on different varieties of herbs you can download her catalogue from the website. Her books are also a very good read-if you have any room left in your bookcases!!

  2. "Some Lemon Balm which is destined to be made..."

    Ha! That's so weird - as soon as I saw the post title I started looking up lemon balm (I only know the name of it in Swedish - "Citronmeliss" - from watching Swedish cookery shows with my wife) and had no idea what it was called in English but I'm really interested in trying it - I don't think I've seen it in France before :(

    1. Hi Charles,

      The smell of fresh lemon balm is wonderful and attracts bees and other pollinating insects so is a good one perhaps to put on your balcony next to any veg plants that need pollinating...

      Just don’t cook it as then it smells and tastes like over-boiled cabbage...unless you are into that of course!!

  3. I could use those advises on how to plant a herb garden as all my poor plants tend to die very quickly with me (never knew why..). I like the idea of adding fresh tarragon to the bread, should give nice freshness to it!

    1. Hi Gourmantine,

      Many thanks indeed for stopping by-so nice to see a ‘new face’! All the best with your herb plants this year-hope they do better for you...

  4. What a great day out. That would be interesting and fascinating. I would love to have a wander around and arrive home with a boot load of new treasures. Those herbs are amazing and I love the variety.

    1. Welcome and thanks Charlie for stopping by-I would certainly recommend a visit there if you were passing but it ‘might’ be a touch too far for you!!

  5. I love tarragon and like the idea of using it in a bread. The only non meat/fish dish I use it in at the moment is potato salad so this recipe is a lovely addition. I do hope you post a recipe for lemon balm cheesecake - it sounds delicious. Jealous of your trip to Jekka's herb farm - I really enjoy the book I have of hers.

    1. Hi Liz-good to hear from you.

      It’s funny but I used to think I didn’t like Tarragon but now think it’s lovely...

      The Lemon Balm Cheesecake will (hopefully) be made over the Easter weekend so you won’t have long to wait!

  6. Quite an outing you had there.
    I would have such a grand time touching and smelling all those herbs.
    After the trip then home to do planting and still have energy to make such a meal, all in one day, wow!!!!!

    1. Hi Norma,

      It is a lovely place to visit. Have to say though the visit was one day and the cooking the next!

  7. There was a time when my garden (in a different property) was devoted almost entirely to herbs. It was shady, and veg did not thrive, but I had a collection of about 60 different types of herb, which did really well. We use a lot of herbs in cooking - though Coriander (to which I am allergic) and Tarragon (which Jane dislikes) are not amongst them! My favourites are thyme, mint and oregano.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Wow you had a lot of herbs. I haven’t counted all of mine but I don’t think I have anywhere near that many!

      Sorry these recipes probably didn’t appeal to you and Jane-I’ll try and do better next time!!

  8. Oh I wish I could have joined you on this journey, I know I would have loved it. I miss many of my herbs, esp. lemon balm, lemon verbena and fennel and know I would have come back home with loads to fill up the new garden space. So thanks for sharing yours and wobbly mouses lovely day out. x

    I love your breads green dragonette, and this is one I truly want to try. I will have to check out the welsh oak smoked flour. I developed a likign for smoky flavours in the last few years or so, so I can see me liking this.

    1. Hi Shaheen,

      We will probably go to another one of the Open Days in June and you would be very welcome indeed to join us-could pick you up at Newport station on our way!

      So glad you liked the sound of the bread-I’ll probably add more walnuts next time. The oak smoked flour and the other flours they do are all available from Waitrose in Cardiff now. I know what you mean about smoky flavours- I’m thinking about getting a little smoker-quite fancy trying to smoke some of my garlic this year...

  9. How wonderful, I can't believe you can visit Jekka McVicar's farm! I have several of her books, and really didn't think of her as a real person before this, much less someone you can buy herbs directly from. Thanks for sharing your trip and your herb choices. It's too soon here to plant herbs, but not too soon to start planning...

    1. Her books are great aren’t they! She is a lovely lady-so knowledgeable and very helpful with advice. I love visiting and can’t wait for the next Open Day in June which will probably have many, many varieties of basil by then if the weather is kind. I’ve already started a new lit of what I want to get then...

  10. What a lovely blog you have. I so enjoyed reading about your visit to the herb farm. I hope I might find something similar near me here in Massachusetts. Your recipes looked delicious.

    1. Oh thank you for stopping by my blog and kind words. I love reading your blog too about life beyond your kitchen window in Massachusetts!

  11. A delightful post! I think I have some lemon balm in my garden but I am going to get someone to verify! Have a lovely sunny Easter weekend in Wales! Ren x

    1. Hi Ren,

      Thanks so much for stopping by! Oh I do hope you do have some Lemon Balm-the aroma is wonderful...Fingers crossed for a sunny Easter-or at least a snow free one! Hope you and your family have a great Easter too!

  12. thank you so much for sharing this! Gosh, I'm still so new to herbs! Must admit I've never heard of them all. I have heard of mint, but moroccan mint? nope, wonder how different it tastes from your usual mint? And the great herby ideas too. I love carrot with coriander, find it almost difficult not to use the two together!

    1. Hi Shu Han,

      Once you get into herbs you will find it delightfully addictive! Moroccan mint has long been my favourite both in cooking and raw. I knew I wanted to get a new one when I visited Jekka’s but had been smelling all the different ones without really looking at the names when I found the one I really, really liked and when I looked it was my old favourite-Moroccan!!

  13. Thank your for finding my blog! I'm now following you back! English bloggers always have the best garden advice and I always seem to learn something from my friends across the pond! I wish I could have hopped on a jet to go to the herb farm with you. I love herbs. I usually plant new herbs every season! I'm trying to start some from seed, wish me luck! There was an herb farm that I used to like to visit in Maine but sadly they don't exist any longer.

    Have a lovely Easter!


    1. Hi Mary,

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog too! Herbs can be so unassuming in the garden but rightly take their place centre stage in the kitchen I feel.

      Don’t know about giving garden advice though-I’ll leave that up to other bloggers who are far more expert than me-I’m just a plodding amateur!!

  14. What a delightful day you had. Where would we be without herbs - love them. We've been growing Orach for a few years now and it's wonderful, it just seeds all over the place, so we never have to sow any and it's so tasty and productive. I didn't realise you were so close to the border. We're about the same distance to the English border ;-)

    1. Hi Choclette,

      Glad to hear you enjoy the Orach-do you have the green or the red variety. I tasted both and preferred the red in its raw state. The green I know, spreads like a weed and grows in the wood below me.

      So you are close to the ‘English’ border are that the Tamar?

  15. was a brilliant day out, my garden is greatly enhanced by all the gorgeous smelly herbs, i can't help but touch them or eat a bit every time i go by. Thank you for a lovely day x

    1. It was a great day out-and even better to share it with a great friend!


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