Saturday, 28 November 2009

Walking to the garden on Buy Nothing Day again

Last year on this day we walked to the garden, having bought nothing but bread that morning. Today we did the same, although we also bought some ham for our lunch before we went. This day isn’t about essential food shopping, though, but about refusing the desperate celebration of consumerism that can happen at this time of the year. There are more details on the Buy Nothing Day website. The main aim of this day is to encourage us think about what we consume and spend, as the website explains:

Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of shopping. The developed countries - only 20% of the world population - are consuming over 80% of the earth's natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and an unfair distribution of wealth.

Our garden is about ten minutes’ walk from our house, on a hillside above the village in a group of gardens which have been there for centuries. In the centre of the village where we live the houses are too close together for there to be room for gardens. The oldest parts of the village date back a thousand years and it was built on the defensive circulade pattern with very narrow streets. The distance from the village means that the garden is very peaceful (until they start building the new houses nearby next year) and we benefit from two groups of neighbours – those at the garden and those near our house.

DSC00212 DSC00217 DSC00213

The main road looks bare now that the plane trees on one side have been cut down, but the remaining trees look beautiful against the blue sky and the old walls are still there, although tumbling slowly.

DSC00220 DSC00221

The path to the garden …

DSC00251 DSC00252 DSC00253

the garden at the end of November.

DSC00247 DSC00250
A picnic lunch and a coffee with a long shadow at this time of year.

Wintry light and ripening olives

DSC00203 DSC00231

Harvesting and clearing

While Lo Jardinièr cleared the aubergine plants, I picked the last of the green chillies. There may be a few more green peppers, so long as the nights aren’t too cold over the next couple of weeks. But we’re preparing the ground where we grew this years tomatoes, peppers and aubergines so that it is ready to put manure on in January.

Broad beans and peas

DSC00238 DSC00243 DSC00245
Broad beans, Spanish habas, mangetout peas and a second sowing of broad beans

The way home

DSC00255 DSC00256
past some of the other gardens
DSC00266 DSC00267

and back through the narrow old streets of the village.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Foire au gras and pruning the olive tree

The foire au gras this weekend in Roujan is the beginning of the Christmas season.  People here don’t send cards, give as many presents or shop as determinedly as those in other countries, but food, as always, is important.  The foire au gras (which translates into English as ‘fat fair’, but this doesn’t sound so good), is a chance to buy foie gras, cured duck breast, whole ducks, wine, cured sausages …. all the delicious foods that are part of Christmas meals in this area, and all directly from the producers.

DSC00099-1 DSC00092

The fair is held in the village hall and sports hall, a very modern setting for a traditional event.  Outside there were cheese, shellfish and vegetables stalls and amusements for children.  Inside there were rows of craft stalls and, most importantly, the wine and food producers’ stands.

DSC00097 DSC00095

We bought a duck and some foie gras from M. Gaubert of Camp Grand in the Aveyron, who was eager to talk about his produce and give advice about cooking and serving it.  We also tasted for the first time (and bought) some excellent wines from Domaine Bonian at nearby Pouzolles.  Some say that this is an expensive way to buy these products, but I would much prefer to pay a little extra and buy from the producers, talk to them and taste, rather than buying anonymously in a supermarket.

Some people, too, I know, have reservations about foie gras production, but I think that when it is properly produced it is not cruel, unlike the mass-produced battery-farmed chicken, eggs and pork which are eaten by so many.

Pruning the olive tree

A couple of weeks ago we harvested the olives from the older and slightly larger of our two olive trees.   This tree was one we bought without thinking too much about it, soon after we bought the garden, as we wanted to plant one as soon as possible.  It has always been rather straggly and was in need of a good prune, which I did this morning.  The aim when pruning olive trees is to have space in the centre with the branches spreading outwards and this is what I’ve tried to do.

DSC00125 Before pruning . . . DSC00127

. . . and after.

Pruning like this may mean a smaller crop next year, but it should make a better shaped tree for the future.

DSC00135 I’ve taken the fresher, newer leaves to dry because I want to try olive leaf tea.  The other branches will make a good start for the fire the next time we light the barbecue.

Today’s harvest

DSC00129 Tiny parsnips and carrots (some of which were given to us by our neighbours in exchange for some parsnips, which they’d never tried before), the last of the aubergines and, hiding behind the bowl, some radishes.  We’re also picking salad leaves almost every day now.



DSC00133 And what is this doing here?  Anemones aren’t supposed to flower until the spring, but this one seems to have been fooled by the warm weather we’ve been having lately.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Autumn vineyards near Roquessels


Taken yesterday on a trip to buy wine from Domaine d’Estève, about 7 kilometres away.  It’s still definitely autumn here, with the leaves on the plane trees just turning brown and the temperature up to 16 degrees even on a cloudy day like this.  The vine growers are beginning to prune their vines.  This takes a long time – all winter for those who have large vineyards – as it all must be done by hand with secateurs.

DSC00063 DSC00060

The vines in the foreground in the pictures above are the ones I photographed last month – here – which have now been pruned ready for next year’s growth.


DSC00053 DSC00054

The dark green foliage on the hillside to the left is mostly evergreen arbutus and holm oak.  There’s some nice old terracing in the photo on the right.  I wish the sun had been shining, but we’re having unusually cloudy weather this week.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Olive mill

From now until January, depending on the variety, is the time when the ripe black olives are harvested for oil. Sixty or seventy years ago there were three olive mills in our village, one of these in the same place as our house, and other villages would have had their own mills. But gradually these closed and in recent years the nearest mill has been the cooperative at Clermont-l’Hérault, about 25 kilometres away – quite a long way to transport small harvests of olives. Now, though, we have an olive mill in the village, Le Moulin de Casso, opened last week by three local olive growers to press their own olives and those of other growers in the area.

We visited the mill today and saw the brand-new machinery working, olives being delivered for pressing and people picking up their oil after pressing. It’s very exciting to see it all. We tasted two different oils, one unfiltered with a wonderful strong taste and another filtered one with a slightly more delicate taste. The mill isn’t yet registered to sell oil so we shall have to wait until next year to buy this local oil.


The approach to the mill, lined with olive trees, and with a view of the village in the background.
The olives are washed and any leaves removed (into the sack in the foreground).

The olives are taken to the machine which turns the flesh and stones into a pulp.
The pulp is mixed before going to the centrifuge which extracts the oil.
The oil comes out of the centrifuge and is filtered before being put in containers for collection or storage.

DSC00048 DSC00049
The waste pulp from which the oil has been removed is piped outside.

There was a wonderful smell of olives and olive oil in mill. It seems very popular as many local olive growers have already started bringing their olives here for pressing. It takes a tonne of olives to produce 110 to 120 litres of oil, depending on the variety, and this takes a day to process.

Last year in November I posted an ‘Olive Week’ series and I wrote about the olive mill we visited at St-André-de-Sangonis – here – le Moulin de Casso isn’t as big, yet, but it’s very exciting to have it here in the village.

My other Olive Week posts were about the origins and history of the olive tree and wood, oil and war, on the products and uses of the olive tree and, finally, they way in which the trees are destroyed in Palestine by the Israeli army as a way of suppressing the Palestinian people, something which still continues, tragically.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Planting garlic

According to the calendar of the moon, last weekend was a good time to plant garlic, but we missed it, so we did it today, in a bed which we put a lot of goat manure in last winter.

DSC00108 DSC00159

Some of the garlic we bought in Villereal market when we were there in September – we bought 5 kilos, so we haven’t eaten it all yet!

DSC00156 DSC00160

We’ve put a drip-feed hose along the middle of the double row so that we can water the garlic easily in the late spring and early summer when it needs a lot of water. After planting the cloves about 7 or 8 cm apart we covered them with straw to conserve moisture and to try to stop the birds pulling them out before they root.

Our leeks are growing well and we pulled the first two today. We’ll eat them tonight sautéed in butter with pancetta.

DSC00155 DSC00164

DSC00166 Since we’ve had some rain and the ‘second spring’ has begun, the oregano has started to grow again, so I’ve cut some leaves to dry and store for the winter.


There are a few small aubergines still growing – we barbecued two for lunch today, with a sweet onion. The aubergines should carry on growing slowly until the first frost which could come any time now, but isn’t forecast for at least the next week.

There’s still a lot of colour in the garden – roses, especially, and the leaves of the cherry tree in the garden next to ours:

DSC00090 DSC00093
DSC00094 DSC00153

And we’re still harvesting green chillies although they won’t turn red at this time of year. I picked one today – there are more, but we don’t eat many hot peppers so I’ve left the rest for another time.