Even before moving to France I was well into ‘real’ food. In fact it started when I lived in Scotland, way way way up in the highlands, where the nearest supermarket was an hour away. If you wanted meat, you went to the butchers, where you chose your piece from a hanging half a cow, or a hanging braise of pheasants (in season). And vegetables? At that time, France was buying from Scotland, the home of all those miniature, great for looking good on a plate veg. Okay and they tasted good too.
Scotland was also where I learned to take time (as there wasn’t a lot of choice on that front); time to plan my meals, my shopping, take time with my cooking, and take time to ripen under ripe food. (Seriously, those solid under ripe tomatoes, just put them on a windowsill for a week or so. Delicious!) I learned that good food, real food, food with not just an actual taste, but a delicious taste, was something you needed to work at.
Consequently, I had been itching to grow my own vegetables and herbs, but with a flying winemakers lifestyle this was always sat on the shelf. Until we came to France. We are so very lucky in where we live, not only the French weather and terroir, but in that we have an amazing herb garden and orchard, and I have finally had the opportunity to grow our veg.
As a garden virgin, I have had the freedom to try anything and not been bound by too much knowledge. I have had the chance to see what fails, what succeeds, learn what we like to eat, and what we aren’t in fact fond of, and then build on it all. I have given up on cauliflower as the worms like it more than we do, and have thrown seeds down willy nilly and then manically thinned as they sprouted up. I am trying not to learn too much, as for me the joy is in the simple act of trying.
Now David (our Pumpjack to my Piddlewick) is a great forager. He loves nothing more in the autumn to go mushroom foraging in particular. His mantra is that you take the time to learn about only 1 or 2 mushrooms you like. You focus on these so you learn them well and there is little danger in the foraging of the wrong type. The danger comes from foraging what you don’t know.
From him I learned to broaden my scope beyond our vegetable garden to encompass the whole area as a potential for food. This lead to walnuts, hazelnuts, dandelions, wild asparagus, and St Johns Wort, to name must a few.
Like Real food, we like Real Tea, and by real tea I mean loose leaf tea, tea with substance, not just dust, and consequently tea with wonderful flavour. Tea that times to make, and enjoy. It seemed a natural progression to consider making our own tea.
It was the St John’s Wort that had me really thinking about tea. In our first year here we started making St John’s Wort Oil and Tincture (which you can also put in tea) from the flowers, but I hadn’t thought to dry the flowers to make actual tea. Consequently, I had to wait a whole year for more flowers. This past spring I harvested again, but this time with my eye towards making tea. I also planted Camomile in hopes of making camomile tea, and turned my thoughts to other herbal tisanes. I regularly dry rosemary, sage, thyme and bay leaves for cooking, so I looked into which of these would make a good herbal tea. I discovered Sage tea is particularly good for ‘women of a certain age’ (c’est moi).
I found recommendations on the best way to dry flowers. I tried hanging, but personally found this made herbs and such quite brittle. The method that worked best for me was taking the flowers, or leaves, and laying them on one of those frying pan, keep the fat from flying, (clean, or better yet never used for frying) mesh lids. The mesh is fine enough that little gets through, but air can circulate nicely. I put it on the windowsill, not in direct sunlight, for about 2 weeks, until the flowers are nicely dry and slightly crumbly. Then, once you are sure they are completely dry, store in a clean, dry jar with a good lid.
My camomile was very limited, but oh my the fragrance and taste. I was hard put to make this into a tea for our shop, but needs must. I found tea bags I could fill myself (not an easy find in our area of France), and set about creating individual, upcycled envelopes for the tea bags. I found lovely little quotes and soothing sayings, wanting to add to the event of making and enjoying a cup of tea.
Please visit the Oils Tinctures and Teas section of our Pumpjack & Piddlewick store on Etsy if you would like to buy any of our teas, or more. Custom orders are always welcome.