Tag Archives: rural French life

Courgette gratin and Java’s midnight garden

I love the summer, when the windows are left open for the night air to cool the house. And for me to escape through, furtively. Once everyone’s in bed, I creep past Hugo on the tips of my paws, jump onto the window sill, then spring over the rosebush to freedom in the shadowy, moonlit garden.

My first stop is the wise old boar who lives quite close by. He’s always good for dispensing advice on dealing with humans. His insight is surprisingly spot-on for someone who has virtually no contact with them. I don’t stay too long because, once he gets started on a subject, he tends to harp on a bit. I’m fond of the boar and his rough-skinned ways though, and we have a lot in common: we both love mud, will eat just about anything with gusto, and hate the sound of guns. In his wisdom, he tells me that it’s a good thing hunting rifles are so noisy, as it’s a warning to hide.

Giving Bertie the Badger a wide berth (he can be very bad-tempered), I make my way through the pine trees and over the bridge to the deer that live by the river. I admire the deer for their beauty, grace, agility, and speed; we have these traits in common. They tell me about the blackberries that are ripening in the late summer sun, and the best places to find them. I can see they’ve been gorging because their muzzles are stained purple. They know all there is to know about edible plants and shrubs due to their odd eating habits; who eats roses for breakfast? Certainly not me!

My last visit is to the mice, who I find nestling in the horses’ hay. On the way I make a detour to say ‘bonsoir’ to Minou, the cat. We chat quite amicably at night, when nobody’s looking, but make a pretense of being enemies in the day; it’s what expected of us. Mice aren’t very interesting companions to be honest — they’re quite inconsequential — but I do like the way they roll. They love to party and sometimes organise an illicit rave in the kitchen at night, fueled by the crumbs left on the floor. They let me gently chew their little heads. They seem to enjoy it — I suppose it gives them a head massage, a bit of relaxation after their high jinks.

When I see that dawn is breaking, I head back home. The hedgehog, rabbits, and stone martens will have to wait for my visit another night.

This recipe uses courgettes, which I don’t see the point of, and cheese, which I love.

Ingredients (serves 4)

750g courgettes (unpeeled, sliced and lightly precooked)

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 eggs

200g crème fraîche

75g hard cheese (I used Comté)

Seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Arrange the precooked courgettes and finely chopped shallots in a gratin dish. Beat the eggs, gradually adding the cream, cheese, and seasoning. Pour the mixture over the courgettes and shallots and bake for 15 minutes. Delicious served alone with green salad, or as a side dish.

French walnut tart and masking your confusion

A pair of goats turned up, quite unannounced, the other evening. Obviously visitors are always a welcome surprise, but I was a bit thrown by these; I’m not familiar with goat etiquette. Do you stick them in a grange and hope someone will claim them, or offer them dinner and send them on their way? I sent messages to all our potentially goat-owning neighbours, and the consensus seemed to be: ‘Not ours, but it’s hardly surprising they turned up — you run Club Med for animals’.

I have been trying out magnet therapy for my stiff neck. It’s supposed to be very effective for inflammation, and, so far it’s proving to be quite effective. Yesterday, while I was in the process of making dinner with a particularly sharp knife, my ‘phone rang. As I put the ‘phone to my ear, the knife sprang vigourously out of my hand, and onto the magnet on my neck, stabbing me the process. So, although the inflammation in my neck is quite a bit better, I’m now dealing with a minor stab wound.

I’m not really fit to be let loose in public: I keep accosting people I don’t know, and blanking people I do. I’m obviously not the only one to find masked faces a challenge though, because the doctor that jabbed me last week asked if I’d been on the operating bloc recently, as I ‘looked very familiar’. I know I’m a bit vague, but I think I’d remember being operated on so recently… I would, wouldn’t I?

A friend who visited recently made this for us during her stay. I loved it so much, I’ve made it quite a few times since.

Walnuts are full of vitamins and minerals, and are an especially rich source of Omega 3. They are a good source of copper, folic acid, phosphorus, vitamin B6, manganese and vitamin E.

Walnuts are also a rich source of phytosterols and antioxidants which help decrease inflammation. Consuming walnuts can enrich the gut microbiome, increasing good bacteria.

Ingredients (serves 6)

Pastry:

150g butter

270g flour (I used einkorn flour)

1 pinch of salt

Water

Filling:

225g walnuts

2 eggs

20cl fresh cream

Drop of vanilla essence

100g cane sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ginger and cardamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

To make the pastry, begin by cutting the butter into small cubes. Sift the flours and a pinch of salt together into in a mixing bowl, also adding the cubes of butter. Rub in and blend by hand until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the cold water, mixing rapidly with a spoon. Remove the mixture from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until you obtain a ball of pastry (if the mixture isn’t ‘sticky’ enough to form a ball, you may need a drop more water). Wrap in a clean cotton tea towel or some cling film and leave to ‘rest’ in the fridge for about two hours. This relaxes the dough and makes it easier to use.

For the filling, crush the walnuts and set aside. Beat the eggs, adding the cream, vanilla, and sugar and spices, mixing well. Add the crushed nuts and pour the mixture into the prepared pastry case. Bake at 180°C for 35 minutes. Delicious hot or cold.

Boulangère potatoes and man versus pigeon

It’s possibly not something you’ve tried, but it’s not easy to convince pigeons to move house. Especially if they’re luxuriating in the pigeon equivalent of a smallish, but charming château, and you’re trying to entice them into a one-bedroom flat with no balcony. Luckily, Luc loves a challenge, and we need their present accommodation to expand the wine-making cellar, so war has been declared. As Luc wearily explained to me that the pigeons were resisting the move, his hands were curled into determined fists, and he strode off punching the air and exclaiming ‘Je les aurai! Je les aurai!’ (I will get them! I will get them!)

Last week I received a copy of ‘International Hatchery Practice’ in the letterbox by mistake. At least I think it was by mistake. It is a very technical journal containing ‘practical information for better breading and hatching’. I thought that the article entitled ‘Chick Performance’ was rather open to interpretation, especially as it precedes articles about cockerels, fertility, and diseased eggs… Anyway, although it’s obviously quite gripping and very informative, I think I’ll resist taking out a subscription for the time-being.

Luc and a neighbour have taken to building and installing little wooden bridges everywhere (there were seven at last count). Although they are most welcome — they mean we can now cross our little rivers and streams without getting wet feet — I’m worried they might have become an addiction, as the last one crosses a dry ditch and is, as such, totally superfluous. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the rainy season when large puddles form; are they going to be able to resist temptation?

These potatoes are called bakers’ potatoes as, traditionally, they were given to the local baker to slow bake in his bread oven.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

800g potatoes, peeled

1 large onion

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

150ml chicken or vegetable stock

100ml cream

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Sprigs of rosemary

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a gratin dish by coating with the olive oil. Slice the potatoes fairly thinly. Peel and chop the onion. Arrange a layer of potatoes over the base of the dish, followed by some onion, garlic and seasoning. Continue to layer the potatoes, onion and garlic and seasoning, finishing with a layer of potatoes. Pour the stock and cream over the top and add the sprigs of rosemary. Cook for about an hour, until the top layer is golden-brown.

Broccoli with blue cheese and walnut sauce, dogs vs boars, and wedding anniversaries

There is a particularly grumpy, confirmed bachelor wild boar that lives in the woods not far from us. I think that he and Hugo are very alike and, as such, seem to annoy each other unreasonably. Whenever we go through the woods, either on foot or horseback, Hugo uproots the poor chap, who really wishes us no harm. I haven’t seen the boar recently; I think he’s probably in the market for a new home, with quieter, less disruptive neighbours.

It was our 20th wedding anniversary yesterday, and we went to an excellent restaurant in the grounds of a Bordelaise wine château for dinner. Léo graced us with his presence and, very sweetly and quite out of the blue, announced that now, after over 18 years’ experience, he had become immune to being embarrassed by us in public. I’m not sure exactly how we used to embarrass him, although when I look at the photos he took last night, I begin to understand. I always look a bit ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ in photos. Some people might say the camera never lies; I maintain it’s mean and unforgiving where I’m concerned.

Luc, who is not a lover of broccoli (what is it with men and broccoli? I don’t know a single male broccoli-eater!) approved this sauce, saying it made the broccoli ‘almost edible’. Not only does this sauce encourage men to eat broccoli almost whinge-free, it also packs a punch health-wise.

Broccoli is packed with nutrients to support the liver and aid detoxification. It has high levels of isothiocyanates, indoles and dithiolethiones, which help protect the body from cancer by regulating the way the cells respond to environmental elements. Salads and green vegetables are always best when combined with oil or fat to help absorption of the nutrients.

Walnuts are also full of vitamins and minerals, and are an especially rich source of Omega 3. They are also a rich source of antioxidants and help decrease inflammation. Consuming walnuts can enrich the gut microbiome, increasing good bacteria.

Ingredients

25g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 heaped tablespoon corn flour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon of paprika

1 teaspoon mustard

1 clove of garlic, crushed

50ml plain yoghurt

50ml chicken or vegetable stock

50g roquefort, crumbled (you could use any blue cheese)

10 walnuts, shelled and crushed

Chopped chives to garnish

Cook the brocolli ‘al dente’ in salted boiling water for about 10 minutes. Better still, steam cook it. While the brocolli is cooking make the sauce. Place the corn flour and butter or olive oil in a saucepan over a gentle heat, and combine well to form a thick paste. Add the seasoning, mustard, garlic, yoghurt and stock and stir continously until the mixture thickens. Add the blue cheese and heat and stir until it melts. Finally add the crushed walnuts, mixing well. Pour over the brocolli, sprinkle the chives over the top and serve!

Yoga: A free trial class

I’m not a natural candidate for yoga: I’m easily distracted, tend to hyperactivity, and have a rather self-destructive affinity to dangerous sports. But these things actually make me a perfect candidate for yoga; virtually everyone is a perfect candidate for yoga! I started to practise on a regular basis when my love for the more high-risk sports caused my back pain to become debilitating, and, not only has it been a godsend, I have come to really enjoy it.

Tamsin runs an exquisite yoga retreat from her home in southwest France. She offers intimate, thoughtfully designed courses aimed to reset, balance and strengthen.

https://www.littlefrenchretreat.com/home

Tamsin also offers really excellent online yoga classes, and if you mention The Healthy Epicurean she will offer you a free trial class.

Give it a go – there’s something to suit all levels.

https://www.littlefrenchretreat.com/online-yoga-classes

Pear gingerbread and deerly-loved rosebushes

I have a food fight-related injury: Last night I sat reading next to Java’s food bowl, which was obviously a bad idea. Hugo appeared and, presumably deciding that her bowl looked more enticing than his, tucked in. Fourteen kilo Java immediately launched herself at 35 kilo Hugo, the force of which catapulted me out of the chair, and headfirst into a fairly substantial cactus plant. They both escaped intact — although I suspect Hugo’s pride took a kicking — and I ended up with blood coursing down my forehead.

On the subject of thorny shrubs, I planted a beautiful rosebush about a month ago. Its growth has been inversely proportional to the amount of time it has been in the ground. The reason for this was spotted last week: A baby deer breakfasts on the flowers every morning. It gives me such pleasure to see the fawn, that I’ve been Googling ‘snacks for baby deer’ for when the flowers run out!

Ginger is sometimes described as the ‘king of anti inflammatory foods’. It has been used in virtually every traditional healing system in the world for thousands of years.

The powerful essential oils that give ginger its spicy taste and aroma, zingerone and shogaol, are both powerful anti inflammatory agents, working in a similar way to COX-2 inhibitors in that they inhibit an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase, the enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain. Gingerols are also potent antioxidants, which increase its anti inflammatory action. This explains why, in recent years, ginger has emerged as a beneficial treatment for people suffering from arthritis.

Ginger is a very powerful circulatory stimulant. It acts by relaxing and widening the blood vessel walls, so it is also very effective for lowering blood pressure. It is also often used as a remedy for nausea. Ginger is also a powerful immune moderator; the gingerols interfere with the production of cytokines, helping to deactivate them.

Ingredients (serves 8)

150g molasses

50g agave syrup

75g coconut oil

1 egg

1 tablespoon yoghurt

175g flour (I used spelt flour)

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

250g ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced

50g fresh ginger, grated

Grease and prepare a loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Place the molasses, agave syrup and coconut oil in a saucepan and heat gently until the coconut oil has melted. Beat the egg and the yoghurt together. Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Combine all of the ingredients, including the pears and ginger, mixing well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf tin and bake for about 50 minutes, or until risen and firm to the touch.

Cauliflower in turmeric chickpea batter and flights of fancy

About seven years ago, Léo found an abandoned baby turtle dove under an oak tree. I have fond memories of him/her sharing our mealtimes, sitting and pecking in a cardboard nesting box on the kitchen or terrace table. Léo fed him different grains, but he had a particular penchant for couscous. The baby dove grew big and strong (all the couscous), and upped and left us in September to migrate with his family for the winter.

Turtle doves come back to their birthplace, and every Spring I imagine I see our grown-up baby, especially when one approaches the house. Today I’m pretty sure my wishful inkling is spot-on; this lunchtime, while we were enjoying lamb tagine on the terrace, a very self-assured adult dove perched himself at the end of the table and looked pointedly at my plate. It was a look that definitely said: ‘and where is my couscous?’

The Bells, Edgar Allan Poe

Turmeric (more information here), or Indian Solid Gold’, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 4,000 years for its wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties. It is prevalent in Indian cuisine and is believed to be one of the reasons that cancer rates in India are significantly lower than in Western countries.

Curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, but research show that cooking it in liquid, with added fat and black pepper facilitates absorption.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

150g chickpea (gram) flour

1 pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (or better, crushed fresh turmeric root)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

150ml lukewarm water

4 medium-sized cauliflower florets

Olive oil

Sift the flour, seasoning and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl, and add the water, mixing well to form a batter. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes. If the mixture thickens too much, add more water.

Rince the cauliflower and slice into pieces roughly 4mm thick. Coat well with the batter and fry in olive oil until golden.

Whisky and ginger marmelade and indigestible books

Following my previous blog post, I had a message from somebody irked by my flippancy, with recommendations for, amongst other things, dog training books. Many years ago, when I got my first labrador puppy, Loulou, I bought a book called ‘How to have an obedient dog’. As it turned out, I should have bought the sequel too: ‘How to avoid having books chewed to pieces as soon as you buy them’. So no thank you, I won’t be going down that road again.

Loulou the book chewer

I think for many people, myself included, trying to see the funny side of things is a coping mechanism. And let’s face it, life is a bit of a shit show at the moment. Also my sense of irony is often directly proportional to my back pain. For example, when I wrote this post, I didn’t know whether I was going to walk again properly.

So now we’ve cleared up the fact that I’m not a sociopathic monster, just a bit ‘bantery’ and immature, on to the marmelade.

While citrus peel provides many of the same nutritional benefits as the rest of the fruit such as antioxidants, vitamin C and polyphenols, it also contains provitamin A, B vitamins and calcium. The essential oils in the peel contain high levels of limonene, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps ease heartburn and reflux, and reduce anxiety and stress. In addition to this, it helps maintain a healthy metabolism and lower high blood sugar levels.

Surprisingly enough, whisky too is a good source of polyphenols, the antioxidants linked with multiple health benefits. Whisky is also purported to help clear the mucous and congestion caused by colds. As with all things, to be taken in moderation…

Ingredients (makes about 5 jars)

1kg Seville oranges

1 lemon

2cm piece of fresh root ginger

1kg sugar

250ml whisky

Wash the fruit well as you won’t be peeling. Cut into quarters, and place in a food processor, along with the ginger. Blitz until you obtain the desired texture. Transfer the chopped mixture to a large non-stick saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until you reach the required texture. Add the whisky at the end of cooking time, stirring well. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to sterilised jars.

Rosemary and black olive Fougasse and sausages for officers

Last week Luc admitted to a hunter friend (who has eight obedient beagles) that we had ‘issues’ with our dogs. We hit a new low recently; we have to barricade the doors at night with chairs to send the message that we don’t provide a 24/7 service, and it’s NOT OK to wake us up at random just because you fancy a moonlit stroll in the garden. The friend wasn’t overly sympathetic and seemed to suggest that in our case, the ‘obedience ship’ had set sail long ago. He trains his dogs as puppies (like most sensible people), but I just can’t get my head around the idea of disciplining a puppy. Or any dog, if I’m being absolutely honest.

Léo and five friends celebrated the end of exams last week in true Bordeaux style with copious amounts of food, wine and noise (gatherings of up to six people are allowed in France). They were just tucking in to a second ‘dinner’ at three in the morning when the police knocked at the door. The noise was such that the gendarmes had called in reinforcements, and were accompanied by a heavily armed military squadron. They were rather taken aback when they realised that the impressive commotion was coming from just six boys, although the fact that several of them were Basque went some way to explaining things (Basque fiestas are notoriously loud). Realising there was no pressing need for mob control, they laid down their guns but, slightly bewildered, graciously refused the offer of sausages and chips. Way to avoid a hefty fine.

Fougasse is a flatbread that was traditionally baked in the ashes of the hearth. It is really a primitive form of pizza, without the tomatoes.

Ingredients

250g einkorn flour (normal flour is fine)

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon bread yeast, mixed in a little lukewarm water

8 black olives, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

Fresh rosemary, removed from stem

Water

Sea salt to sprinkle on top

Place the flour in a bowl, add the salt, olive oil, yeast, chopped olives, shallot and rosemary. Add the water, little by little to form a smooth ball. Knead for a couple of minutes and then flatten to form an oval shape a couple of centimetres thick. Decorate with the sea salt.

Leave to rise in a 30°C oven for half an hour, then increase the oven temperature to 200°C and bake for 25 minutes.

Cep sauce, dogs in therapy, and therapy dogs

Hugo is not feeling the love for Lockdown Strikes Again. I’m pretty sure he has PTSD following an intense two months in the Spring with eccentric humans and flamboyant and immature fellow animals. Hugo, like many great intellectuals, is a bit of a loner; company 24/7 leaves him frazzled to say the least. When Léo left to go back to Bordeaux to school last weekend, Hugo commandeered the front seat of his car and nothing would make him budge. He thought that Léo’s company, albeit in a city, was preferable to what we had to offer.

Luc is currently spending most of his waking hours scaling the roofs. He has become a fanatical adversary of skulking moss, to which he lays seige armed with a rock climbing harness, knives and poison. Apparently he finds moss assassination cathartic, which is unfortunate because seeing him on the roof does nothing for my serenity. In twenty years’ marriage I had never realised what strong feelings he had on plant fungus.

My thyroid has gone haywire which leaves me burning up like a furnace, insomniac, and putting away teenage boy quantities of food. Dogs really do have a sixth sense, and every time I sit down, Java climbs up to ‘comfort’ me, which is very sweet and definitely more therapeutic than scaling the roof.

Ceps, once cooked, are rich in anti-oxidants which help support the immune system. They are also a good source of vitamin D; a single serving can supply about 30% of your daily needs. Ceps contain high levels of folic acid and vitamin B12, and help detoxify the liver. And finally they contain a good amount of potassium which contributes to cardiovascular health.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

10g butter

75ml dry white wine

75g fresh ceps (or dried and soaked)

2 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons Armagnac (or Cognac)

1 teaspoon chicken or vegetable stock, diluted in 5 ml water

2 tablespoons crème fraîche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently brown the shallots in the for a couple of minutes. Add a drop of white wine and then add the ceps and garlic. Leave to cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring often. Add the remainder of the wine, the Armagnac and stock and then the cream. Season and leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes, or until thickened. May be liquidised for a smoother sauce.

This sauce makes a great accompaniment to steak, or any red meat. It’s also delicious on pasta.

Cock~a~leekie, mugger ponies and cocky pheasants

As always seems to be the case in October (mushroom season), everyone is acting randomly. I was mugged by a pony yesterday morning: Our neighbour’s Houdini pony who spends more time out of his field than in. The little sod ran off with my cross-body handbag that I had used as a makeshift halter trying to put him back in the field. It was a great photo op., but of course he had my ‘phone.

We are slowed down leaving the house in the car since a cock peasant moved in, with his harem of hen pheasants, to the woodland in our driveway. He insists on walking directly in front of the car all the way down the sandy track that leads from our house to the road. He’s either graciously escorting us to the road, or he’s a nutter control-freak – I haven’t decided which yet. It might be more beneficial though to channel his energy into his chaotic home situation; his wives spend their time in noisy squabbling which results in feathers flying everywhere. Maybe I could try to sort them out with my handbag too.

Last of all, the humans, who are frankly no better. I don’t think there’s anything that makes the rural French as fiercely competitive as mushroom season. On my way to the main road through the woods yesterday, I was trapped by a car blocking the path. It was very inconvenient – as there wasn’t room to turnaround, I had to reverse down a narrow sandy path with trees on each side. Sweating and cursing, I came across six or seven people scattered around the woods, eyes manically fixed to the ground, and I asked each of them if it was their car blocking the path. Nobody admitted to it, but each one gave me advice on how to deal with the rogue car owner. The advice ranged from calling the police or leaving a vindictive note to puncturing his tyres or smashing a window. I assume this advice was so generously given on the basis that it would result in one person fewer to share the mushrooms with…

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 chicken, jointed into pieces

4 carrots, chopped

2 sticks of celery, chopped

2 leeks, rinsed and cut into rounds

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 glass of white wine

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs of thyme

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Fry the chicken pieces in batches until golden brown, then remove and set aside. Add the carrots, celery leeks and garlic, and fry for five minutes until everything turns golden brown.

Add the the wine and bring to the boil. Return the chicken pieces with the herbs and seasoning and add enough cold water to cover. Slowly bring to the boil, then simmer for 40 mins until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken and leave to cool slightly. Pull the meat from the chicken bones and tear into large chunks. Return to the saucepan and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Plum jam and a cast-off animal sanctuary

Four pigeons have found themselves a new home, and we’ve once again struck gold in the animal lottery. Apparently word is out that we’re a dumping ground for problem animals, and we’re so grateful to the hunters that arrive bearing ‘gifts’. I think. Java, bless her little heart, was given to us because she was ‘destabilised’, by which I mean completely off her trolley in terror, by guns. Not ideal when you’re a gun dog. And Hugo came to live with us having been found roaming the streets of Dax aimlessly like a yobbo.

We have an awful lot of resident toads as well. We have become the destination of choice for amphibians: Club Toad. And bizarely, my husband has an absolute passion for them, something that I’ve only recently become aware of after 20 years. He talks to them, strokes them (although I’m not sure that ‘stroke’ is the right word for a toad), comforts them, and helps them out of the pool when they get marooned. Should I be concerned?

Back to the pigeons. The hunter that arrived with them in a cage earlier this week felt ‘they would be better off with us’ (they had been squatting and squarking outside his bedroom window). This was a polite way of saying that they were doing his head in and could we take them off his hands before he shot himself.

I’d never really thought about just how annoying pigeons are. I grew up with the pigeons in London (just to be clear: I lived in a house with my parents, not perched on the edge of the fountain in Trafalgar Square), but country pigeons are a different kind of annoying. Town pigeons spend their time pacing up and down streets, accompanying people here and there, and being totally unable to fly. Not so with country pigeons, who are unbelievable noisy, messy, hyperactive busybodies. I have to admit though, when I count only three of them eating breakfast with the horses, I find myself worrying about where the fourth has got to…

Ingredients (makes 6-8 pots)

1.75kg red plums

500g greengages

600g black grapes

400g fresh figs

1kg cane sugar

1 apple, grated

20g fresh ginger, grated

1 lemon, juiced

50ml dark rum

Cut the plums and greengages in half, remove the stones and place in a large pot. Rince the grapes and figs and add to the pot. Add the grapes and the figs and then the sugar. Last of all add the grated apple and ginger, bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Once cooked, add the lemon juice and rum. Liquidise according to taste and transfer to sterilised jam jars while still hot.

Plums are full of nutrients: One medium-sized fruit contains over 100mg potassium, which helps manage high blood pressure and reduce stroke risk. They are also a rich source of vitamins C and K as well as manganese, magnesium and copper.

Plums are rich in antioxidants, which are helpful for reducing inflammation and protecting your cells from damage by free radicals. They are particularly high in polyphenol antioxidants, which have positive effects on bone health and thanks to their ability to increase levels of adiponectin in the body, they are also a delicious way to manage blood sugar levels.