Category: Blog

Comforting Cassoulet

It’s horribly cold here at Castle Farm, deep in the depths of Somerset. The wind is battering the house and however many pairs of socks I put on and however close I snuggle to the AGA I am still freezing. One might argue that this is just the time to turn up the thermostat but I am blessed with oil central heating.  Cassoulet

Back when I lived in civilisation and had gas gushing into the house I would happily switch the boiler onto constant and revel in the warmth not thinking for one moment about the bill coming my way. Now I have an oil tank that I have to refill I can see the levels dropping day after day as we literally burn through the cash.  This motivates you to hardiness, to eating your lunch in your coat and sleeping in two jumpers.

As energy prices rise I am rather thankful for my oil tank.  Not only are you more cautious about using energy but each time you fill the tank you can haggle and barter yourself to a good deal by playing the local suppliers off against each other. If only it were this easy to drive a deal with the Big 6 we would all have a lot more money in our pockets.  The Blonde and I have quite heated debates about the rights and wrongs of privatisation of the energy supply market but rather than bore you all with that here, can I offer another suggestion of how to keep warm as toast as we march into winter?

Cassoulet is rich and warming comfort food at it’s very best.  Originating in Southern France this delicious sausage delight is named after the pan it was traditionally cooked in. After a long hard day beating off the cold in the garden this is the perfect treat for all the family.  It’s best eaten with chunks of home-made bread, perfect to dip into the steaming sauce.


  • 250g of mixed beans
  • 800g of tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 400g of sausages
  • a good squeeze of tomato purée
  • 1/4 pint of stock
  • 2 teaspoons of Herbes de Provence
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • splash of vegetable oil


  1. Soak the beans in water overnight.  Drain and then boil vigorously for 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Chop the onions and garlic
  3. Melt the butter with a splash of oil in a medium sized casserole dish on the hob.
  4. Fry off the onions and brown the sausages in the casserole.
  5. Add the garlic and fry off but don’t let it burn.
  6. Add all of the remaining ingredients.
  7. Bring the Cassoulet to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  8. Transfer to a medium oven and cook for at least 75 minutes.

PS – I nicked this photo from Delia as I’d eaten ours before I remembered to take a picture!


The Delights of Autumn

The 90’s were a very good decade for teenage smugglers such as myself. Fashion thankfully favoured voluminous Laura Ashley ball-gowns which provided a cavernous space to hide the quarter bottles of vodka you’d shoved into your pants as you struggled from your parents car to the door of the house or hotel in which you’d spend the next few hours bopping away at a Young Farmers Ball or an out of control 18th birthday celebration.   VERBENA  Bonariensis

As we got older we no longer needed to smuggle the alcohol in and the dresses thankfully became far more elegant but the excitement of getting dressed up in our finery and dancing the night away didn’t diminish. It seemed to me this morning as I walked along the Somerset lanes that the gardening year has much in common with these parties.

Spring sees us getting all excited at the prospect of the party.  Hair is put up, make up carefully applied and we pre-load with a few glasses of champagne to make sure everything will be perfect.  Summer is when the party is in full bloom, everyone’s looking quite beautiful and women attract men like butterflies to the sweetest of roses (whether they want the attention or not!).  Autumn comes and everyone’s looking a bit bedraggled. Stockings are laddered, faces shines where make up has worn away and we’re weeping with tiredness and just a little too much wine.   Winter is  the joyous moment when the survivors breakfast arrives. We’re allowed to snuggle up under blankets, take off our shoes and tuck into enormous plates of bacon and eggs all the while discussing when we’ll meet again.

This year rather than rejecting the dismal end-of-the-night autumnal feeling I decided to embrace the season and to carry on dancing with my garden.  I started to notice the roses that are still gainfully in bloom and the verbena that are shaking their hips in the wind.  The cutest of cyclamen that are fighting for their place amongst the falling leaves and the autumn flowering viola that are bringing  a splash of beautiful ultraviolet colour to the terrace.

The long summer has meant that the dahlias have been given a reprieve and are still acting like the aristocrats of the flower garden drooping their beautiful heavy heads in disdain at the rest of the plot.

This year rather than wishing for winter and the feast to arrive I’ll be collecting chestnuts, playing conkers with the boys and enjoying the burst of colour from the leaves as they turn from glossy important green to the most vibrant of reds.

I almost forgot Halloween and Bonfire Night.  Toffee apples galore!

Marvellous Myrtle

As the days of our first summer here at Castle Farm are coming to an end, I was feeling more than a little sad at the demise of the sweetpeas and the other glories that have filled my garden.  That was until the marvellous myrtles that ring the house started to come into bloom and what a show they’re putting on. Delicate, white, fluffy flowers have emerged like pom-poms lending their delicate scent to the first days of autumn.  Myrtle tree

The myrtles here have been trained to trees and we have lines marking the edge of the main boarders in the cottage garden as well as a couple of stunners either side of the main entrance to the house.    I’m utterly converted to this bushy evergreen and hardy shrub.  Their glossy pointed leaves give off the most amazing rosemary like fragrance when you brush against them and they are just so damn pretty!

They first arrived in Britain from Spain in 1585, imported by Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Carew and the across the years the leaves have most commonly been dried and used for potpourris.  I’ve also read that you can use them to flavour pork and game dishes, as you would bay.

These shrubs need to be protected from very cold weather but other than that are pretty hardy little things.

If you’d like a little more information on how to grow and care for this shrub then please click here.

If you fancy a few of these stunners for yourself you can hop on over to Crocus.

A Sweet Pea Odyssey – My first buying expedition

This weekend saw Taunton hold it’s annual Flower Show.  Remarkably this is the oldest flower show in the country and as such is a must (I’m led to believe!) on the competition trail.   So, the boys and I braved the thunderous showers this Saturday in search of inspiration and advice.

kerton sweet peasWe were all horribly distracted by a stunt motorcycle team who were entertaining the crowds in the main arena but when we’d had our fill of petrol fumes and terrifying acrobatics we hit the tents.  The boys, as to be expected, weren’t as awe inspired as me and to the ringing tones of Mummy-can-we-leave-yet I made a mad dash around.

For some reason I’d limited myself to seed buying only on this trip and having rejected some quite stunning lavenders I ended up at Kerton’s Sweet Peas.  The smell was breathtaking.

Kerton Sweet Peas was established over 20 years ago by Phil and Joyce Kerton when they were asked to grow a heady, fragrant, lavender-coloured sweet pea called Marion.  A Gold Medal at this year’s Bath and West Show and a Large Gold at the Royal Cornwall are testament to their skills and I was immediately hooked.  I managed to get my mucky paws on a mixture of seeds from their listed varieties but also Ripple and Fancy – the most beautiful striped and marbled flowers with a deep fragrance.

Having taken a great deal of advice from the lovely Phil about bringing on the seedlings I came home with my precious parcels amazed that so much beauty could be contained within a couple of manilla envelopes.   Not known for my patience the waiting until next summer will be pure torture  – I guess I should have taken the lavenders too!  The boys having been pacified with ice-cream also declared the afternoon a great success, the power of sugar is never to be under estimated.

To buy from Kerton Sweet Peas you can visit them at

To find out more about Taunton’s Flower Show click here