Sunday, 31 August 2008

End of August / La fin d'août

It's the end of August, the end of summer some say, but summer will go on for a bit longer here. In spite of the theft of most of our pepper crop, we still found some good things to cheer us up in the garden today.

morning glory / ipomée

C'est la fin d'août, la fin d'été on dit, mais l'été durera encore un peu ici. Malgré le vol de nos poivrons, nous avons trouvé des belles choses pour nous remonter le moral dans le jardin aujourd'hui.

a climbing scented rose / rose grimpante parfumée

and another morning glory / une autre ipomée

and the wild clematis (Old Man's Beard) /
la clématite des haies:

MaryAthenes says that in Greece as soon as the summer holidays are over people wish each other a good winter. I think it's a bit soon for that, maybe a good autumn first!

MaryAthenes dit qu'en Grèce aussitôt que les vacances d'été sont finies, on se dit ' bon hiver'. Je pense que c'est trop tôt pour ça, peut-être d'abord 'bon automne'!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Stolen peppers / poivrons volés

I'm angry. And sad. Yesterday we had about twenty peppers (capsicums) growing, nice big ones which were turning red. I was leaving them to ripen. A few more days, I thought, and they'll be perfect. This evening they weren't there. Someone had climbed over our fence and taken them all. Just a few small green ones remain.

It seems a betrayal of the spirit of the gardens that someone could do this, although we know it has happened before to others


Je suis en colère. Et je suis triste. Hier nous avions environ vingt poivrons qui poussaient, des beaux gros poivrons qui devenaient rouges. Je les lessais mûrir. Quelques jours de plus, j'ai pensé, et ils seront parfait. Ce soir ils n'etaient pas là. Quelqu'un a sauté la clôture et les volé. Il n'en y reste que quelques petits verts.

This morning I used the peppers I picked yesterday as part of a giardiniera - Italian pickled vegetables.


4 small artichokes / petits artichauts

2 green or red peppers / poivrons rouges ou verts

8 long green sweet peppers / poivrons verts longues

2 red chilli peppers / piments rouge

1 aubergine

4 carrots / carrottes

1 courgette

12 cloves garlic / gousses d'ail

750 ml vinegar (preferably white wine vinegar) / vinaigre blanc

500 ml water or white wine

bay leaves, rosemary, thyme / feuilles de laurier sauce / romarin / thym

12 peppercorns / grains de poivre

12 juniper berries / baies de genévrier


50 g sugar

Remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and quarter. Leave the long green peppers, the chilli peppers and the garlic whole. Slice the other vegetables. Bring the vinegar, water/wine and sugar to the boil and add the vegetables and the herbs and spices. Simmer for about 20 - 30 minutes until the vegetables have softened but still keep their shape and crispness. Put in a sterilised jar. I had some dried cherry tomatoes so I added these to the mix in the jar. The pickles can be eaten straight away or can be kept for several months.

We tried some straight away and they were a nice sharp accompaniment for some aubergine fritters.

Enlevez les feuilles extérieures des artichauts and coupez-les en quatre. Laissez entiers les poivrons longues doux, les piments rouges et l'ail. Coupez les autres légumes en tranches. Faites bouiller le vinaigre, l'eau / le vin et le sucre et ajoutez les légumes et les herbes et épices. Faites cuire à feux doux pour 20 - 30 minutes. Mettez les légumes dans un bocal sterilisé et couvrez-les du vinaigre et vin. J'avais des tomates cerises séchées, donc je les ai ajouté au melange dans le bocal. On peut manger la giardiniera toute tout de suite, ou on peut la garder pour quelques mois.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

More tomatoes / encore de tomates

Another way of bottling tomatoes /

Une nouvelle façon de conserver les tomates

Halve 1 kilo of Roma tomatoes and put them on a baking tray with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bake in the oven at 170°C for 45 - 60 minutes. Put the tomatoes in a sterilised jar and cover with olive oil.

Coupez en deux 1 kilo de tomates Roma et mettez-les sur un plaque de four avec du sel, de l'huile d'olive et du vinaigre balsamique. Faites-les cuire au four à 170°C pour 45 - 60 minutes. Mettez les tomates dans un bocal sterilisé et couvrez-les de l'huile d'olive.

We had a few tomatoes left over that wouldn't fit in the jar. I arranged them on plates with little goats' cheeses, added some oregano leaves, salt an pepper and a little olive oil. It made a delicious first course.

Il y avait quelques tomates qui restaient. Je les ai mis sur des plats avec des petits pelardons de chèvre, des feuilles d'origan, sel et poivre et un peu de l'huile d'olive. C'était une entrée delicieuse.

It was market day today and as usual we went to the fish stall. We bought pageot (pink bream) for Lo Jardinièr and squid (encornet) for me. I made aïoli (garlic mayonnaise) to go with them.

Mercredi, c'est le jour du marché à Gabian et nous sommes allés comme d'habitude au marchand de poisson. Nous avons acheté des petits pageots (dorades roses) pour Lo Jardinièr et des petits encornets pour moi. J'ai préparé l'aïoli pour les accompagner.


1 egg yolk / 1 jaune d'œuf

2 large cloves garlic, peeled / 2 grosses gousses d'ail épluchées

salt and pepper / sel et poivre

a squeeze of lemon juice / un peu de jus de citron

300 ml olive oil / huile d'olive

Crush the garlic with the salt. Add the egg yolk and lemon juice. Pour the olive oil very slowly onto it while whisking until it has all emulsified.

Pilez l'ail avec le sel. Ajoutez le jaune d'œuf et le jus de citron. Versez l'huile d'olive peu à peu, très doucement, en le battant au fouet pour émulsionner l'œuf et l'huile.

pageots - encornet - aïoli

And some friends had given us some lovely fresh figs -

Et des amis nous ont donné des belles figues fraîches -

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Le blog bilingue / bilingual blog

J'ai remarqué qu'il y a quelques lecteurs français de ce blog, donc dès aujourd'hui j'essayerai de le traduire pour vous. Ne quittez pas . . . la version française arrivera très bientôt! Je m'excuse à l'avance de mes erreurs de grammaire.

I've noticed that there are some French readers of this blog, so from now on I'm going to try to translate it for you. Don't go away . . . the French version will be here very soon!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Summer's ending?

The sun is still shining from a cloudless sky, but the air feels different at the end of August. There's a coolness in the wind and a slight chill in the shade. I always feel a bit sad at this time of the year because summer is my favourite season - I love the heat, the light, swimming in the sea and the river, and all the summer vegetables. But when you garden there's always a new season to prepare for and look forward to. We're sowing radicchio, turnips and lamb's lettuce for the autumn and winter, and soon we'll be able to grow lettuces again. In the heat of the summer here we find they go to seed too quickly, but they grow well throughout the winter.

One feature of the climate in this area is the wind - the air is rarely still. Our friend Pascal came past yesterday and stopped to talk about the different winds and their names. There's the mistral from the north-east, the tramontane from the north-west, the Grèque (Greek) from the east, the Narbonnais from the south (the direction of Narbonne) and the marin or maritime from the south-east which comes over the sea. These winds are a mixed blessing. The ones that come from the north and east are cooling in summer, but icy cold in winter. The southern winds, especially the marin, are warmer and bring gloomy cloud but also much-needed rain. As Pascal says, we have a perfect climate here in which you can grow anything, so long as you protect delicate plants from the very occasional frost in January. I asked him what I should do with my lemon tree which is in a pot and spent last winter sheltered on the balcony, but has grown so much this year in the garden that I'd like to put it in the ground. He said it should be OK so long as it's sheltered from the north wind and wrapped up in very cold weather. I have a few months to decide, and maybe to persuade Lo Jardinièr to build a wall to protect it in a sunny spot.

One nice thing about late summer is that we have a good crop of peppers / capsicums. The red ones are so delicious and sweet that we like to eat them simply, brushed with olive oil and grilled, or sliced and eaten raw.

Green peppers are good in tomato sauce for pasta or stuffed with either a vegetarian or a meat stuffing. Tonight we're having vegetarian friends to dinner so I've made them without meat.

Stuffed green peppers

(serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a first course)

4 green peppers

1 sweet onion

2 cloves garlic

breadcrumbs, made from about 4 cm of baguette

150 gm feta cheese, cut in small dice

50 gm raisins or currants

50 gm pine kernels

fresh thyme, chopped

salt and pepper

olive oil

Cut the peppers in half lengthways and remove the stem. Put the bread / breadcrumbs in a mixer with the sweet onion and garlic until they are all finely chopped. Add the cheese, pine kernels, raisins, thyme, salt and pepper to the mix. Fill the pepper halves with this and put in an oiled oven-proof dish. Pour a little olive oil over them and bake in the oven at 180°C for about 45 minutes, until the peppers have softened. Serve hot or cold.

More tomatoes

The tomatoes keep ripening, although at a slower rate than a few weeks ago. I've roasted and bottled some of them. I cut them in halves or quarters, depending on size, and put them in a roasting dish with olive oil, unpeeled garlic cloves and some salt and a few crumbled bay leaves. I roasted them at 180 degrees C for about an hour, then put them through the mouli légumes to remove the skins. I brought the juice and pulp back to the boil then put it into sterilised jars. It tasted wonderful and I'm looking forward to using it in sauces during the winter.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Why do we garden?

I was sitting in the garden at midday, in the shade but looking out at a perfect late summer day with a cloudless sky and a cooling north wind, contented with what we have there. Lo Jardinièr was lighting the barbecue, I was preparing freshly picked vegetables for him to grill. As I sliced aubergine and pepper and wrapped goats' cheese in vine leaves, I started to think about what we are doing in our garden. I suppose you might call it our philosophy - the ideas and aims which run through our life and our gardening. These can be summed up in answers to the questions 'Why do we garden?' and 'How do we garden?'


1. Enjoyment

This is the most important. We love being in our garden. We enjoy working in it and, even more, we enjoy relaxing in it. We're lucky that we live in a place where the sun shines for 300 days of the year (although it seems a bit less this year) and where we have days throughout the year when we can sit in the sun in the garden. We enjoy cooking and eating there, entertaining our friends and family or simply being on our own there. We love good food and for us the best thing about having the garden is growing our own delicious food - we like it when there is as short a time as possible between harvesting, cooking and eating - preferably just a few minutes.


2. Organic gardening

We believe that vegetables taste best when they are grown organically and that all our food should be as natural as possible. We add compost and manure to the soil to improve it. We use no chemical pesticides or herbicides, only occasional applications of Bordeaux mixture, which is acceptable in organic gardening, and soapy water against black fly and other insects when absolutely necessary.


3. Gardening with the environment

We are trying to grow plants and varieties which are suited to the climate here. Vegetables will always need a lot of water, but we are trying to ensure that all our ornamental plants are drought-resistant, once they are established. This means watering new plants for the first year or so but after that they survive on their own. The plants that grow well here include cistus, oleander, aloe vera, prickly pear and palm. We have planted an apricot tree and two olive trees which need watering only in extreme drought conditions.

aloe vera

4. Conservation of water and other resources

We are trying to water the vegetables as efficiently as possible and we have installed drip-feed systems and the terracotta pot system in order to save water. We also save water used for washing vegetables, etc. to use in the garden. As far as the global environment is concerned, we try to damage the planet as little as possible. We don't fly, ever. We have a small car and don't travel far in it. We go on holiday by train.

5. Eating local food

We try to eat only food from our garden or from within a 100-kilometre radius of Gabian. We buy almost all the food that we don't grow ourselves in Gabian, in local shops and in the market, and we buy local wine (this is easy since it grows all around us!). The only food items which travel any distance to get to us are coffee and the Spanish olive oil which we use for cooking. And very, very occasionally we eat steak. When we eat meat, like most people here, we usually have pork or chicken, reared fairly locally and which, I read in the Guardian today, take less water to produce than cheese.

6. Community

When we bought our garden we found ourselves part of a community of gardeners, many of whom had inherited their plots from their parents. We're lucky to have their advice about gardening here and we enjoy sharing ideas, plants and produce with them and our other friends in the village and the surrounding area. And since beginning this blog earlier this year I've found people all over the world with similar ideas to ours and we've become part of that community too.

7. Living with the land

This really sums up all of the above, as well as many of our other beliefs. People who have lived here all their lives have a special relationship with the land, its produce and the landscape, which goes deeper than the surface beauty. The Mediterranean offers an environment which provides all human needs, so long as it is treated well in return. We're newcomers here, but we try to value its harshness, its dryness and its occasional extremes of heat and cold - to live with the land rather than work against it.


Monday, 18 August 2008


It was cloudy again this morning with rain threatening. We had one errand to go out for - our regular wine run the few kilometres through vineyards of ripening grapes to Domaine Estève at Roquessels for our favourite Faugères red wine, but the rest of the morning seemed a good time to do some more preserving.

Dried cherry tomatoes

Several blogs recently, including Jardim com gatos in Portugal and MaryAthenes in Greece, have suggested drying cherry tomatoes rather than larger ones as they take less time to dry. Last year I sundried some of our tomatoes, but they need 3 - 4 days of strong sunshine. Since the sun isn't reliable at the moment, I dried some cherry tomatoes in the oven yesterday:

Halve the tomatoes and put in an oven-proof dish or tray. Sprinkle with salt and chopped thyme. Leave in the oven at 100° C for 2 ½ - 3 hours. If you use bigger tomatoes, quarter them and leave them for longer in the oven. When they are very dry - they will have shrunk to about half their original size - leave to cool. Put the dried tomatoes in a sterilised jar and cover with olive oil.

Griddled aubergine slices

Thinly slice 3 (or more) aubergines. Sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander to drain off some of the liquid for 20 minutes or so. Brush the slices with olive oil and griddle until lightly browned. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Layer them with fresh mint leaves in sterilised jars. Cover with olive oil. We did this last year and during the winter, during an aubergine-drought, we fried the slices again to eat as a tapas or meze. They were deliciously crispy with a wonderful mint flavour.

oven-dried tomatoes and griddled aubergine
in olive oil

Friday, 15 August 2008

Harvest updates

This summer continues in its strange way - the really hot weather which usually lasts two to three months has lasted only about six weeks. This week we've had thunderstorms, heavy rain, drizzle and now a cold north wind. Maybe summer will return, but at the moment it feels like autumn. The tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are still giving us more than we can eat - one day last weekend we picked our biggest ever single day's harvest of tomatoes:

We're unlikely to pick this many in one day again this year, but we have plenty to fill the store cupboard with jars of passata for winter and to make fresh sauces and salads. One Coeur de boeuf tomato made carpaccio of tomato (thinly sliced tomato drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and basil) for two:

Today I picked the first haricots verts (French green beans) from the plants which I sowed around the terracotta pots - there are plenty more to come! Thanks for this watering idea, Kate! It has worked very well.

In spite of the rain we've had since I hung up the strings in the garden, the aubergine slices have dried and are ready to store. I shall use them in sauces during the winter.

And the grapes are ripening. Ours are quite small, but sweet. The variety is Cardinale which is grown here as a table grape and is perfumed as well as very sweet.

The wine grapes are ripening too and soon the vendange (grape harvest) of the white grapes will begin, at night to keep the grapes cool. The red grapes will be harvested at the beginning of September. This strange summer which seems to have delayed vegetable harvests doesn't seem to have had any effect on the grapes, which are ripening as usual at this time.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Lantana montevidensis

I've noticed other bloggers celebrate Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day with a flower picture on the 15th of each month, so this is my contribution, from a pot outside our front door. All the garden bloggers' bloom posts are listed each month on Carol's blog at May Dreams Gardens

Monday, 11 August 2008

Melting ice

When I was a child living in North Africa we didn't have a refrigerator - it was the 1950s and in spite of the hot climate such mod cons had not yet reached that part of the world. Every day a horse and cart would deliver a large square-cut block of ice which would be put in the top of the ice-box and would gradually melt over the next 24 hours. We always knew that another one would be delivered next day.

I was reminded of these blocks when I watched a video on the Guardian website - here - which shows a gigantic ice shelf breaking away from the Antartic, 160 square miles (257 square kilometres) of it since February. Scientists had believed it would be another 15 years before this ice shelf broke up. The huge straight cuts and the dark sea look beautiful, but their message is terrifying. Climate change is happening and it's happening much faster than was previously thought.

An article in yesterday's Observer - here - claims that the North Pole could be free of ice in five years' time, not the 60 years which scientists had predicted - the melting process is speeding up. This is such an important issue for every single person on the planet that I cannot believe it is not headline news everywhere. The article quotes reputable scientists: one from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre says: 'What is happening now indicates that global warming is occurring far earlier than any of us expected.' Another, from Cambridge University, says that 'the Arctic's summer ice is going to last for only a few more years'. This will have serious consequences for the climate and global warming - many of which are probably not yet properly understood.

Individuals do what they can and they must continue to do so, but politicians have the power at least to slow what is happening. Unfortunately, most are concerned only with the next election and are afraid of alienating voters by bringing in the measures which are necessary because they may limit the consumerist lifestyle to which so many in developed countries have become accustomed, or addicted. Perhaps, now that scientists are talking of five years rather than fifty - in other words the lifespan of a government - they may be willing to do something before it is too late. I hope so. There will be no new delivery of ice for the Arctic and Antarctic once it has melted.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Lazy Sunday

Our favourite way of spending Sunday is in the garden, with friends, family or on our own, cooking and eating a long slow lunch and doing a few of the jobs that need doing - watering, harvesting, nothing too strenuous. This is what we did today.

Sundried chilli peppers and aubergines

I threaded the ripe chilli peppers onto two strings, as I did last year, and hung them from a beam in the sunniest place in the garden. This beam is intended to support our grape vine when it grows a bit bigger, but in the meantime it's a good place to dry vegetables. The chilli peppers should take about a week to dry - some of them are quite big. We're only just finishing the ones I dried last year, so they keep well for at least a year.

Today I decided to try drying aubergine, something I haven't done before. I sliced an aubergine thinly, into slices about 2 mm thick, laid them out on kitchen paper and sprinkled them with salt. Twenty minutes or so later the salt had drawn out a lot of the moisture. I threaded the slices using a needle and thread, tying a knot around each one to keep them apart and hung the strings from the same beam as the chillies. A few hours of hot sun later and they were already quite dry - I expect them to be completely dry in a day or so.

Threading the chillies and aubergine slices takes quite some time, but it seemed a nice restful job for Sunday in the garden and I enjoyed doing it. I hope drying the aubergine works as it will be a good way to store them.

There are many Spanish people living in Gabian - in fact when you go to the shops or the market you're almost as likely to hear a conversation in Spanish as in French - so we're lucky enough to be able to buy paella rice, Spanish white beans, paella spices and so on in the little local shop just round the corner from our house. For lunch today I made a paella:

Chicken Paella

(for 4 people)

Chicken pieces (I used the large chicken legs we can buy in our local shop, poulet fermier or free-range chicken, cut into smaller pieces)

1 large courgette, roughly chopped

1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped

green beans

1 large onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

some small pieces of chorizo

100 gm cooked white haricot-type beans (optional)

a few threads of saffron (I cheat a bit and use the sachets of Spanish spices we can buy here, which contain saffron and powdered rosemary, but I add rosemary from the garden too)

2 sprigs of rosemary

1 large cup of rice

the juice of 1 lemon

2 tomatoes, chopped

salt and pepper

Fry the chicken pieces in olive oil in a large frying pan or paella pan for about 40 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the pan. Sauté the onion and courgette until soft. Add garlic and chilli pepper for a few moments and put the chicken pieces back in the pan with the vegetables. Add the spices and the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Add water, lemon juice and chopped tomatoes - there should be about three times the volume of the rice, but you may need to add more water later if it evaporates. Add the green beans cut into short pieces. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer. Unlike risotto, paella must not be stirred. When the rice is almost cooked add the pieces of chorizo and the white beans. When it's ready put the pan on the table and let people help themselves.

I cooked this over a charcoal fire on the barbecue. It can be cooked on a wood fire or on a gas or electric hob too.

Terracotta pot update

The haricots verts (French beans) which I sowed around the terracotta pots are growing well. A couple of weeks ago I was worried that they were only producing leaves, not flowers, and that maybe they were getting too much water! Now, though, they are flowering well and we'll be picking beans from them in a few days' time. The plants are much bigger than the previous row we sowed and watered in the conventional way - I'm sure this is due to the terracotta pot system, which really seems to work.

Ananas tomatoes

This year for the first time we've grown a variety of tomatoes called Ananas (pineapple). The fruits are very big. They're a bit mishapen but inside the flesh is deliciously sweet, mango coloured with flecks of red. It looks - and almost tastes - like a fruit salad!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Summer suppers

We're still trying to find as many ways as we can of using the courgettes. The plants are carrying on producing much later than they did last year when they seemed to get too hot at the end of July and died however much water we gave them. A small courgette one day, if left on the plant, will turn into a huge one a day or two later, but even when they're quite big they are still very sweet and tasty.

Courgette soup

I've made courgette soup: roughly chop two or three large courgettes, add a finely chopped sweet onion, water to cover, salt and pepper, any herbs you have, and simmer in a large pan for about 10 minutes. Blend, then serve hot or cold with a swirl of yoghurt or crème fraiche. We ate this in the garden one evening with friends and added an ice cube to each bowl of soup to chill it.

The tomatoes are ripening faster than we can use them now. We bottled 16 kilos of them, reduced down to passata, the other day and we'll have to do the same again very soon. I picked out some of the best-looking ones to stuff:

Stuffed tomatoes

4 large ripe tomatoes
400 gm minced pork / sausage meat (this must be 100 % meat)
2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
1 large or 2 small onions and 3 large cloves of garlic chopped very finely
in a food processor
herbs - I used thyme and rosemary
salt and pepper

Mix the stuffing ingredients. Cut the tops of the tomatoes and remove the pulp and seeds. Fill the tomatoes with the stuffing - use too much rather than too little as it shrinks when cooked. Put the tops back on the stuffing. Put the tomatoes into an oven-proof dish with some olive oil and bake in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 50 minutes. They are best if you eat them cold the next day when the flavours have had time to develop, as we did in the garden this evening.

The sky as we left the garden tonight

Monday, 4 August 2008

August harvest

August is such a wonderful time of the year in the garden. The tomatoes, peppers and aubergines are all established and growing well. They need to be watered every day, but otherwise the main work is the harvesting. Our friends arrive to spend their holidays with us and we spend hours, long evenings, lazy lunchtimes eating meals in the garden with them. We've set up our various irrigation systems so that the garden is watered while we do other things - like eating. So the following is just a taste of the last few days here.


On Sunday we went to Salasc market and bought olives, pickled garlic and tapenade from this lovely stall:

Seafood paella

We ate seafood and green pepper paella cooked over charcoal in the garden: encornets (squid), onions, sliced green peppers, garlic, sautéed in olive oil. Add paprika, saffron, rosemary, salt, pepper, paella rice, lemon juice, chopped tomato, water to cover. Simmer in a wide paella pan until the rice is cooked. Add mussels for the last couple of minutes.

Aubergine dip

Another evening I made an aubergine dip:

Bake a whole aubergine or two small ones in the oven until soft. Peel and put the flesh in a blender with a spoonful of honey, garlic, paprica, mint, salt, pepper and olive oil, until smooth. Add lemon juice and serve with slices of cucumber, green pepper or other raw vegetables. We opened a bottle of chilled muscat sec from Domaine des Pascales in Gabian to go with this.

And every day we pick more than we can possibly eat, of tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, cucumbers, courgettes ....