Trish Deseine plants herbs to use in drinks and dishes
In the end, the voles ate all the new potatoes. For my first attempt at growing my own food I was sadly oblivious of the long-toothed, underground menace, unwittingly enabled by slotting the garden patch prettily into a hedge-backed corner of the garden (aka L’Hôtel Vole). Happily, as is the case for so many of us beginners, the tomatoes were a triumph and I felt not too much of a failure. My water bill, however, soon demolished any sense of achievement, and the following year, the vole playground veggie patch lay fallow.
My new, much smaller and more manageable village garden looks like a large allotment, long and slim, edged with lovely old stone walls and overlooked by the pretty church bell tower and abandoned village priory next door. It is completely private, with a super-shady, overgrown tangle of shrubs at the far end, ivy and wisteria curling around the terrace, and a lawn-ish area between the two, made lumpy by the roots of a small catalpa tree (not voles!) plonked bang in the middle. Ignoring the fact it may once have been part of the village graveyard, a little snippet the exowner revealed just as I had signed the contract chez le notaire, I consider it all an exciting canvas. In just three or four years, it feels like the rules for outside eating and entertaining have been turned on their heads by the Covid/climate change cocktail and we’re all eyeing up our gardens as high-potential extra rooms. The French seem easily to have embraced their now unheated terrasses. Over the winter, in Paris, Bordeaux, Limoges or Angers, people were quite happy to wrap up warm and tuck themselves in for the afternoon or the evening, and even the most modest cafés offered plaids for chilly shoulders. Meanwhile at home, installing a barbecue is slowly morphing into designing your outdoor kitchen with a new world of workstations, mini fridges, wood-burning cookstoves, canopies, parasols and cute lighting opening up as we hit the stores. I for one am counting on my terrasse becoming my main dining room right through to autumn, and can’t wait to see how the space reveals itself with the changing light and shade through the seasons.
I have simply dotted my four raised beds with classic perennial herbs…
In Ireland, I think the trick is to embrace a mix of pragmatism and gratitude. As no country is spared climate chaos, let’s no longer idealise faraway sunnier places, or mimic their lifestyles by setting up your outdoor spaces for the short time our summer feels like Paros or Corsica. Instead, maximise shelter and warmth for our relatively mild shoulder seasons, too. We’ve all become much more used to fresh air socialising, it feels natural and healthy, if bracing at times. But this year, who cares if Bray is not Cannes or Ardara Capri? It feels fatuous to grumble too much when the real risk is that some day in the not too distant future, those types of temperatures are indeed heading our way.
As for my plantations, once bitten, twice shy. Inspired by visits to French herb gardens or jardins des simples, like those in Château de Villandry in the Loire Valley, where plants were grown by monks and nuns for culinary and medicinal use, I’ve eschewed planting vegetables for now, and have simply dotted my four raised beds with classic, perennial herbs for my kitchen, the bees and the butterflies. All the usual suspects are there – fennel, oregano, celery leaves, parsley, sage and thyme – making such a difference when incorporated freshly picked into summertime dishes and cocktails, and handily, mostly ghost-repellant! I’ll plant the annuals next: basil, coriander and shiso (a sort of Japanese basil) rocket and perhaps a few cherry tomatoes for old times’ sake. I’m hoping, at last, to be self-sufficient in at least those this summer if my collected rainwater supply holds out.
World-renowned herbalist and author, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, known as Juliette of the Herbs, is well worth reading if you want to dabble in some mild witchcraft as well as adding flavour to your drinks and dishes. Juliette always includes southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) a lovely-looking plant, which will also grow well in Ireland, in her gardens. Not only does it aid digestion when infused in tea, but keeps moths at bay in drawers and wardrobes. @trishdeseineencore @TrishDeseine
WATERMELON, LIME, GIN AND THYME COCKTAIL
3 minutes preparation
1 measure gin
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
1 dash of watermelon, raspberry or lime cordial
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 or 5 cubes of deseeded watermelon
Chilled soda water, sparkling water, prosecco or champagne
Mix all the ingredients, apart from one of the thyme sprigs and
watermelon, in a shaker.
Pour into a tall glass with fresh ice, garnish with the watermelon,
fresh thyme and top with soda water or other bubbles.
BEEF ROLLS WITH SHISO AND MISO MAPLE SAUCE
What a pleasure to bring together these two together – tasty miso and smooth, sweet maple syrup. Shiso (Japanese basil) leaves are as good as they are pretty. If you can’t get your hands on them, just use basil.
20 minutes preparation
For 20 rolls
20 small slices of beef carpaccio (200g/250g)
20 purple and/or green shiso leaves
3 or 4 carrots, peeled, cut into very thin sticks
20 or so radishes, topped and tailed, cut into thin strips
3 tbsp red or brown miso
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 to 2 tbsp lukewarm water
Season the carrot and radish sticks and beef slices very lightly with
salt and pepper. Wrap the carrot and radish in the beef, then wrap
the small packets in a leave of shiso.
Whisk the syrup, miso and warm water together and serve in a
bowl for dipping.