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Tag: figs

S is for…

S is for…

September, of course. And the month has produced its usual harvest of figs which has meant, yet again, being in the kitchen and wondering what on earth to do with those left over from jam making and bottling. Nigel Slater’s fig and mascarpone tart has been baked numerous times, fig clafoutis, fig tartlets with goats’ cheese, figs in salads… luckily the chickens like them too.

Summer. Ha, well the temperatures shot up earlier this month, the first 16 days saw highs of over 30C. So we were able to watch the delayed Tour de France with the heat we usually associate with the sport. On 12 September it reached 37.9C.

Spring. Well, sometimes it feels like that too. First of all we’ve had a bit of rain, actually it thundered down one night as a tropical storm went over the house almost blowing over some of our young trees we planted a few years ago (they are now propped up with breeze blocks), and this has meant everything is slowly going green with little shoots everywhere. There’s a new emergence of wild flowers particularly autumn crocuses Colchicum autumnale (see top pic) and autumn snowflakes Leucojum autumnale. We need to look out for the lovely ladies tresses Spiranthes spiralis which also appear this time of the year. It’s the tiniest of orchids and we had some in the garden last year.

The birds have also started singing once more and our dog walks have become a musical affair. The robins, in particular, are trilling everywhere, a real delight.

Stinger. We have some water outside the house for the birds, always so nice to look up and see the splashing of a bird bathing, but we noticed that it wasn’t just our feathered friends appreciating the water. Asian hornets were also arriving and having a sip or two. Hmmm. They seemed to be arriving and leaving in the same direction which we decided to follow. Just around the corner the sound of insistent buzzing could clearly be heard from the middle of our willow tree. Rather nervously we got as close as we dared and sure enough the tree was swarming with a whole variety of flying insects including wasps and hornets, Asian hornets. So we took some photos and have reported them on a site dedicated to dealing with them. Quercus, the environmentalist group, has admitted though it has “lost count of the number of Asian hornets’ nests found in Portugal, but the number is already in the many thousands.” Which explains why they haven’t got back to us… we tried to find the nest but no luck. The hornets are causing 5 million euros a year in losses to the honey industry.

Skittle. On a more positive note we have let Skittle out to join his lady friends. We are so pleased that all their feathers have grown back and they all look healthy. Skittle was certainly pleased to start frolicking once more.

One slight downside is that Lacey, rather annoyingly, has decided to become broody again, for a second time this year. Not only does it mean she hogs the nest box (although there are two she is in the favoured one) it also means that Skittle only has five hens instead of six, and she is the only one (being the biggest) not to have lost any feathers. She makes the most appalling noise when you pick her up and collect the eggs.

Something brewing in the barn. Richard has no fewer than three types of concoctions bubbling away. First, another batch of beer. Apparently it’s a Brown Porter (whatever that is). Secondly, he went off scrumping and came back with a whole load of apples from the nearby fields and is having another go at making cider. He knows a lot more about the fermentation process now so we’re hoping for an even better batch this year. And thirdly, he’s collected all our grapes and yes, stood on them, and is making Vinho Tinto de Casa Azul, probably not a vintage. With all these percolating away it means he’s always darting in and out of the barn taking readings, making notes, stirring and goodness knows what else.

Singsong. Not to be outdone by Richard on the crafty front this is the name of my latest knitting pattern I’ve designed (on the left). It’s being tested now but I’m also working on yet another one, I have done well over 20 now.

Stalling. Sadly we have heard nothing at all from the Ponte de Lima council about our application for the house plans. Nada. They keep telling our architect they’ll be in touch but what with Covid… etc etc. A bit frustrating but we recognise how lucky we are being here. We continue to live in a sort of bubble really but today we ventured into Coimbra for a little shopping and lunch. We were very surprised by what we saw: the streets and cafés and squares were bustling with people and there was a nice atmosphere. There was an obvious lack of coach tourists walking up the main drag but despite that shops seemed fairly full, we think there were quite a few Spanish tourists making their own way across the border and of course the Portuguese are holidaying at home too. Most people were wearing masks, definitely in the shops (which is the law) but also in the street. We had a nice meal sitting outside, all the tables were taken by the time we had finished our café pingados. In fact they didn’t charge us for the coffees, I think restaurants are just so pleased people are frequenting them.

Sunsets, which come earlier and earlier. I put the chooks away around 9.15 in the summer but now, at 7.30, it’s time to lock them away. We hope everyone else is well too.

The spice of life

The spice of life


It’s the end of September, and it should be feeling like the end of the summer, but we have returned from our annual holiday to hot, sunny days with temperatures over 30C. The mornings are certainly indicative of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness but come mid-morning it’s back to the heat and the flies.

Autumn chores are calling nevertheless: leaves need to be raked up, beds dug over and composted, and logs cut up for snuggly winter evenings ahead. Richard has dug up and divided the irises and the rosemary, lavender and santolina have had a trim.

There are four main harvests this time of the year. Just as we were leaving for our Andalucian adventures the figs were plumping up nicely, both green and purple they are soft and honey sweet. There were plenty enough left though on our return to make fig and sesame seed jam plus some fig chutney (with green toms from the garden and scrumped apples from local orchards).


This year a change from the cinnamon and ginger spice route, this time it’s cardamom and coriander seeds. I love cardamom. Earlier in the year I came across a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for plum and cardamom ice-cream never dreaming anything would taste as nice as vanilla but it is divine. We often have it in our morning coffee (cardamom not ice-cream), a reminder of our Jordan days.

sep7Also included of course some of our chillies. They have done really well again this year. The coriander seeds are easy ‘to grow’ too, our plants readily turn to seed. I shall see if it’s possible to grow cardamom here 🙂

Meanwhile the walnuts, harvest number 2, have been plentiful this year. It’s both relaxing and frustrating shelling them, I spent half an hour sitting in the sun getting walnuts for some home made bread and managed to get 50g! Richard has since had a good bash at them, luckily they’ll keep for ages.

Next up is the quince harvest, quince jelly is probably my favourite – quince and cardamom, perhaps?

Finally, after a non-existent harvest last year, we are hoping to have lots of olives. There are certainly plenty on the trees but not as fat and as juicy as we’d like but that’s not surprising after the soaring summer temperatures and one of the worst droughts the country has seen. Cardamom flavoured olive oil?

Sugar and spice…

Sugar and spice…

…and all things nice. It’s been a good September looking back. The welcome rain is now with us which means not only is the garden and veg patch being watered but time inside to deal with the autumn fruit crops. First up the figs.


Enormous, plump, honeyed, delicious, it’s a great year for the figs. There are loads of trees near us, green and purple, we are spoilt for choice. So fig chutney tick, fig and sesame jam tick, fig cookies tick, fig and oatmeal flapjack things tick, fig and vanilla tart tick, and soon roasted figs with crème fraîche not forgetting Nigel Slater’s wonderful fig and mascarpone tart. We also have pears, not enormous and plump. Small, hard but perfectly formed, just right for poaching in red wine and spices. Then the limes, loads of limes, from our little lime tree in the courtyard.


So lime marmalade and, when the chickens start laying again, key lime pie (although I always think of mojitos when I smell them). There’s blackberry and apple jam in the pantry too, plus a freezer full of apple cake. Finally, there’s a handful of stanley plums. These I may well bottle with brandy and allspice for a winter treat with ice cream.

Along with visitors and lots of days out we also managed to get away for a week – a wonderful road trip north to Porto, Santiago do Compostela, Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima and then on the last day Figueira da Foz. A trip about seafood, swimming and sight-seeing.


And not a dog on the back seat! We found a great couple to house and dog sit through and can’t recommend them highly enough. Our first real holiday in four years! Now it’s time to plan the autumn sowing and planting, but maybe another cup of tea and cake before heading out…