We’ve been here in Navarra for a month now, and Casa Los Fueros is already referred to as ‘home’ – with only the slightest of hesitation. The hire car – a Seat Leon – we picked up on our way here, at Bilbao airport, has been handed back (with scraped rear bumper) at Pamplona (in Europe, 31 days is the maximum duration for car rental), and a Seat Arona collected for the second month.
A good point to take stock – photographically.
Benbecula – Flight to Glasgow
Edinburgh Airport – Control Tower
Daughter Catherine and Grandson Enaut
San Martin de Unx
Rio Salazar – Foz de Arbeyún
San Martin de Unx – Boyeral
Santa Crix, Roman settlement – near Eslava
Casa Los Fueros – DIY fit-out of wardrobe
Sierra de Guerinda – Molino de Olletta
Casa Los Fueros – DIY installation of external light
San Martin de Unx – Calle San Salvador
San Martin de Unx – Jonathan in the Boyeral
Casa Los Fueros – The first frost, and snow on the mountains
Casa Los Fueros – Our terrace garden starts thus
Wild-grown figs – so juicy and tasty!
Wild-grown grapes – astonishing flavour
Casa Los Fueros – view towards Ujué
Bardenas Reales – Acequia de Navarra
Bardenas Reales – Autumn Crocus
Bardenas Reales – Camino signpost, Embalse Ferial
Bardenas Reales – El Castillo de Tierra
Above Arnadillo, La Rioja
Arnadillo, La Rioja – House sales have hit rock bottom
We started growing cardoons, here in the walled garden, just last year. It started as an experiment driven by curiosity, and a desire for a wider variety of interesting plants in the garden – especially productive plants. We certainly love the flower heads! (We learned the knack of cooking and eating the sepals … and the heads make a beautiful room decoration.)
It was when, last autumn, we first tried adding chunks of cardoon stem to a lamb casserole that we realized how useful in the kitchen and how delicious this plant can be.
Just a few months later, in November last year, we made our first visit to Navarra (an autonomous province in NE Spain) – to see our daughter Catherine and her family – including our brand new grandson, Enaut. Exploring the lanes and groves around San Martin de Unx, we soon found the village’s allotments – along a narrow valley leading up towards Ujué. As it was already almost winter, the allotments were largely bare – except for some hardy vegetables. We were intrigued as to what the tall plants were – with thick stems tied up – like celery on steroids! Catherine’s partner Ion was with us: he said they were el cardo – the cardoon! No wonder we didn’t recognise them : they didn’t have flower heads at that time of year, of course, but the chief difference was that these cardoons were 6ft / 2m tall – twice the height of ours – and stems twice as thick, too!
Our cardoon comparison resumed in the supermarket, where we discovered that cardoon is as much a staple of Navarrese cuisine as carrots or parsnips are in the UK : there you can buy cardoon stems fresh in season, and at any time of year in large jars or cans, the various brands and jar/can sizes occupying a lot of shelf-space! When we bought them we noticed about their cardoons – compared to ours, was how the stems were so light-coloured and tender. The secret to that, Catherine explained, was the blanching.
Blanching Cardoon stems. San Martin de Unx, Navarra
Blanching Cardoon stems. San Martin de Unx, Navarra
This year, in our own garden back in Uist, it became clear that there was no way that we could leave it until November to tie up and blanch the stems, as the autumn storms would destroy the plant long before then! So, we’re making our first experiment of blanching our own cardoon stems by tying them up in late summer, wrapping them in hessian, with a length of steel rebar (which we use during the summer for our tomato plants) to prevent them being snapped like matchsticks in the wind. We’re unsure how this is going to work, as there’s nothing in UK gardening books that helps us much with Hebridean conditions. We’ll try opening up one of these before we set off for Navarra at the beginning of October. We’ll leave some to try when we get back at the beginning of December.
We planted our first redcurrant bushes soon after moving to the walled garden, so most of the bushes are about 14-15 years only. Until now, though, we”ve never had the satisfaction of harvesting any redcurrants.
Not because they haven’t fruited : they first bore fruit in their second summers, and by from four years old they’ve fruited heavily. The wild birds that frequent our garden can testify to that!
Our first significant harvest of redcurrants.
The frequently wild weather makes normal fruit cages impracticable, and anything that could be dismantled for winter would be too flimsy to cope with a summer gale, and anything substantial enough to survive a winter would not let through enough light.
This year the bushes were fruiting very heavily, and every time we approached the bushes, there was the rustle of leaves of birds scuttling for cover – into the darkest recesses of the bushes : if we got too close or investigated, a veritable United Nations of birds broke cover with a frantic flapping of wings and a good few squawks! It had been the same every year : No matter how frequently we checked the bushes, there was never any fully ripe fruit – but always plenty still yet to ripen! Each year, we vowed to find a solution … but there was always higher priorities.
But, this year, J had a plan!
We’d acquired a roll of the lightweight nylon mesh used for those rather tacky plastic-framed fruit cages promoted in gardening supplies brochures. I cut off a length and simply draped it over a bush. Despite the dire warnings in gardening books about not leaving even the smallest gaps, as birds would be sure to get in, there was no way we could pin the edges down to the ground and deliminate all gaps without wrecking the bush and the fruit along with it. So I simply draped as best we could, and packed up the tools for the day
Surprisingly, though, this rough-and-ready protection worked – in some degree, at least. Over the next few days we found that great trusses of berries were ripening fully without being snatched by birds. Only one problem, though : removing the mesh enough to pick the berries was a bit of a kerfaffle, and so we waited until there were enough fully ripe berries to justify picking all the berries, so not all we picked was fully ripe.
The seed-tray full of berries in the photo here are those from just that one bush we draped with mesh. And the Redcurrant Jelly D made from this fruit? No, not these three jars ; but another three as well – six jars in all. Mmmm!
Redcurrant Jelly. The Big Garden, Isle of South Uist
Redcurrants – at last! Or, rather, Redcurrants for us – at last! And Redcurrant Jelly just for us, too : those greedy birds can make their own!