June 26, 2015

Growing Fresh Herbs - Toolbox

Thyme in a pot

If you’ve ever liked the idea of growing your own food but are feeling a bit intimidated by it or don’t know how to go about it, growing fresh herbs/aromatics is a good place to start. There is no need to be an accomplished gardener or to have a lot of space available; a small pot or two on a windowsill or kitchen counter is enough to start with.

Fresh Mint Plant

Why grow fresh herbs?
There are many advantages to grow your own aromatics, but number one would probably be to have a fairly constant supply at your disposal to use in your cooking. Fresh herbs are sometimes all it takes to boost the flavour of a dish, they are very commonly used in cooking and for medicine use and they come with an array of health benefits, being filled with antioxidants and nutrients. When you know that half the nutritional value of herbs is lost within 30min of harvesting, growing your own will allow you to harvest small amounts only as and when you need them. You can also make sure your herbs are grown in a totally organic and natural way, without the use of any toxic fertilisers.

Growing your own is also a money-saving option, when you think of the price tag of fresh herbs at the shop.
Finally, growing your aromatics is fun, a great way to involve children, and will allow you to reconnect with nature and where your food comes from.

Basil seedlings in a zinc pot on a windowsill

How to grow fresh herbs?

First and foremost, you’ll need to choose which herbs you want to grow! There are many different types of aromatics available. Common ones include basil, parsley, chives, coriander, rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon, mint and dill. Depending on how much space you have available, you might pick only one or two varieties or decide to have a more comprehensive choice of herbs. My advice would be to grow herbs which you tend to use regularly in your cooking, in order to prevent waste. However, do not hesitate to get off the beaten track in terms of the varieties that you pick, and your taste buds will be amazed by what nature has to offer. For instance, did you know that there are over 600 different varieties of mint in the world?  You might want to give a try to Chocolate Mint, Bergamot Mint or Arabic Mint to name only a few...

Mint in a container

Planting & Care
You can then decide whether you will grow your herbs outdoors or indoors and in open ground or in pots. Starting growing herbs in pots is often the easiest way of having fresh herbs available year round, however, they will provide less yields than outdoor gardens.

Use organic peat-free soil-based compost, and place a small layer of clay balls or small stones at the bottom of the pot, if growing in containers, to help with drainage. If you are a beginner at growing your own food, buying already grown plants will be the easiest option. You can also grow them from seeds, following the instruction on the packet for when and how to sow them, but although I have found that some plants such as basil and parsley are pretty easy to grow from seeds, other such as thyme or tarragon have proven more challenging. Garden centres are the obvious place where to go buy your plants, but it is definitely worth considering other places too, such as farmers’ markets or plant fairs, where you might be able to find locally grown plants, a much larger choice of varieties, and most importantly will be able to get precious advice from the grower as for how to care for your plants. The internet is also a good place to get organic seeds, and you might even be able to find seed-swapping websites. When buying already grown plants, dip them (up to the rim of their pot) in a bucket of water for about 10min before transferring them to their container/soil. Then, when in place, water again.

Mint in a pot

Most herb gardens do not require the use of fertilizers; however, adding a small layer or good organic compost to the soil (when growing herbs outdoors) twice a year will provide a good amount of nutrients to the plant. Check whether your plants will need to be exposed to direct sunlight or not. Water them in the morning (ideally with collected rain water), when the soil is dry.

Some herbs are perennial such as rosemary, thyme, mint, marjoram or tarragon. It can be useful to cut the plants just above soil level in the late autumn, and they will start growing again fresh shoots in the spring. Other varieties such as basil, chervil, coriander or dill are annual and will need a new plant every year.

For specific instructions on growing different varieties of herbs, do not hesitate to refer to a gardening book or to get advice from an experienced gardener, as each plant has got specific needs.

Let me know if you grow your own herbs or have any tips to share and happy gardening!

Basil in a zinc pot

June 12, 2015

Black Cherry Scones

A circular scone cake, sliced

Going for a wander or a drive in the inland Basque Country, the chances that you will see a lot of cherry trees, wild or cultivated, are very high. Black cherries are indeed a local delicacy, and a village of the name of Itxassou has even made it its speciality, and is famous for its black cherry jam that locals enjoy with slices of ewe cheese.

A bowl of black cherries, on a bench

Cherries are a fruit which I affectionate a lot, a symbol of seasonal eating. Their season is short and roughly extends from May till early July, depending on where you live. The pleasure of biting into a plump and juicy cherry is one of life’s little pleasures which comes back as a delight every year. Cherries vary in colour, shape and taste, from tart to very sweet, and they go along savoury dishes as well as sweet ones. Cherries offer many health benefits: they are rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, iron and copper. They are also packed with antioxidants and fibres - a real powerfood!

Slices of black cherry scones on a wooden background

To say that I am slightly obsessed with cherries at the moment would be a bit of an understatement, but it is one of these foods which you need to make the most of during the short period of time when they are available. A fellow blogger posted a photo for cherry scones on Instagram the other day, and the photo couldn’t get out of my head...I had to bake cherry scones! This was easily done, scones being such a quick and simple baking project. They were at their best fresh out of the oven, smeared with a dollop of berry jam. I imagine that adding dark chocolate chunks would make a lovely addition too, but even without, this was a treat made in heaven!

Slices of black cherry scones and cherries on a wooden background

If you love cherries, you might want to check recipes from the archives such as Coconut Cherry Clafoutis, Chocolate & Cherry Muffins, Cherry & Rocket Salad with Ricotta or Wild Cherry & Fromage Blanc Verrines. Enjoy!

Black Cherry Scones – makes 8
Note: I used rice cream in my recipe, but you could very well use dairy heavy cream instead
•125g light spelt flour
•125g wholewheat flour
•2tsp baking powder
•50g unrefined sugar
•A pinch of salt
•2 handful black cherries, pitted
•125g ricotta
•125ml cream

1.Preheat the oven to 220°C.
2.In a large bowl, mix the flours with the baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the cherries, ricotta and cream, and mix until you obtain a dough.
3.Transfer the dough to a baking sheet covered with baking paper and flatten it into a 3cm-high circle. Cut 8 wedges into the circle. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20min until golden and cooked through.
4.Take out of the oven and serve while still warm.

Scones aux Cerises Noires – pour 8 scones
Note : j’ai utilisée de la crème de riz dans ma recette, mais vous pourriez très bien la remplacer par de la crème fraiche épaisse.
•125g de farine de petit épeautre
•125g de farine de blé complet
•2cs de poudre à lever
•50g de sucre complet
•1 pincée de sel
•2 poignées de cerises noires, dénoyautées
•125g de ricotta
•125ml de crème

1.Préchauffer le four sur 220°C.
2.Dans un saladier, mélanger les farines avec la poudre à lever, le sucre et le sel. Ajouter les cerises, la ricotta et la crème et mélanger jusqu'à l’obtention d’une pâte.
3.Transférer la pâte sur une plaque à four recouverte de papier cuisson et l’étaler en un cercle de 3cm d’épaisseur. Couper le cercle en 8 parts. Mettre au four pour 15-20min jusqu'à ce que les scones soient dorés et cuits.
4.Sortir du four et servir encore tiède.

A black cherry scone cake, sliced