I've had a forced vacation from blogging due to a hard disk crash and the slow rebuilding of my computer environment and virtual existence. If you've ever been through this, you'll know how maddening it can be. Suffice it to say, I'm glad to be back.
Our summer was glorious beyond all expectations. When it was still raining at the beginning of July, I began to get a little cranky. But the sun did come out and made up for lost time. We've had long warm and sunny days for weeks on end and I have been able to get my fill of summer. Now the weather has turned a little cooler and a hint of autumn is in the air. The beginning of another season I love.
We use a lot of jam in our Bed & Breakfast business. I made some last summer, but not nearly enough to get us through the whole year. This summer I was anxious to increase my production and put away as much as possible. Crates of peaches, apricots, nectarines and strawberries decorated our kitchen counters.
There is no comparison between jam you purchase at the supermarket and that which you can make at home. I learned that last summer when I discovered a marvelous recipe for jams. It's very easy. By cutting down on the amount of sugar and following a few simple steps, you can create an incredibly tasty jam in minutes which brings the taste of the fruit forward and retains its rich, bright color. One morning when we were making breakfast for clients, we heard the sharp sound of porcelain against porcelain and could not imagine what was being eaten in the dining room, as the food had not yet been served up. We discovered that our client had taken the freshly made apricot jam and devoured it as if it were compote! In fact the taste is so delicious and fresh that it is much more like a fruit preserve than a jam. The compliments have kept coming. I highly recommend the following recipe:
Cut any kind of fresh ripe fruit into small pieces and weigh them before placing in a glass or ceramic bowl (no metal) in layers, cover the fruit with 40% sugar (by weight). I use sugar made for jellies and jams which has a bit of pectin added. When the fruit is all cut up and layered with the sugar, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator at least over night and up to two days.
The next day, strain the juice which has formed out of the fruit, adding as much of the undissolved sugar as possible. Set the fruit aside and put the liquid on the stove in a large pot. Boil very gently watching closely, until the liquid has reached about 230°. The liquid can carmelize or boil away if it gets too hot or goes too fast. This step usually takes about half an hour. Even if I can't get my candy thermometer to register 230°, I put my fruit in after that amount of time.
Allow the fruit to boil in the liquid until you hear the steady sound of the boiling liquid become a bit more sluggish. It needs to get a bit thick. This also takes about half an hour at a soft boil.
Voila! That's all there is to it. Place the jam in sterilized jars and seal. It will keep for a year or so. Or if you just make a small batch, you can keep it unsealed in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. To some of the peach jam, I added a large vanilla bean. This gives a nice hint of vanilla flavor.
Life in the garden is winding down, but the end of the summer brings some very spectacular blooms. Our multi-colored morning glory came into its own and covered part of the back wall.
The sunflower seeds sent to us by a friend in California developed into large plants each with a different happy face.
Last week our friend Amy and her daughter Arwen came to stay at the Maison Conti for several days. We spent one day in the Loire Valley visiting several sites, including Chenonceau, undoubtedly the most beautiful of the big châteaus. The day was fine, and since we chose to go on a weekday after the kids were back in school, we didn't have a fierce crowd, as is often the case.
The interior of the castle is very attractive. There is a long history of women owning and occupying the château and therefore there is much soft charm and grace to the decoration. The gallery, with its black and white marble floors, which stretches across the river Cher, is a gorgeous room. During the war, it was a hospital for allied troops and more than a 1000 men lay on cots up and down the hallway. It seems like a very nice place to recover from the horror of battles.
Out every window are views of the river as it rolls gently beneath the building.
I have posted many photos of Chenonceau throughout the years I have been writing this blog, so I won't add too many more here. This time, however, I really focused on the flower arrangements which are among the most extravagant and beautiful I have ever seen anywhere. They grace almost every room no matter what the season.
They are not small little bouquets either, but arranged in huge pots, requiring an enormous number of fresh flowers. And of course they would have to be changed regularly to keep them looking good, which they always do.
I notice them every time I go and have often wondered who creates these luscious displays, which constantly change.
And how could they could afford so many flowers? I think there must be dozens of such bouquets throughout the house. Even if the arrangements are simple, their size is breathtaking. This is only the smallest sampling.
This year I got part of my answer. We have never before visited the little farm and garden tucked away to one side as you exit. I highly recommend it to you if you visit Chenonceau.
On the garden grounds thousands upon thousands of flowers grow on about an acre of land.
It is so pleasant to stroll through the grounds and enjoy the blossoms of many colors. In the castle kitchen was a beautiful arrangement of gourds and vegetables. There is a small edible section in the garden as well. It's hard to imagine a more wonderful job than arranging flowers for Chenonceau!