Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Camargue and an olive mill

We treated ourselves to a couple of days in the Camargue, staying at Aigues-Mortes, a fortified town which was a port until it silted up and the sea moved out to Le Grau du Roi, about 6 kilometres away. We were hoping to see flamingos, and we did but the weather was so grey and misty that I couldn’t get good photographs of them.


The canal at Aigues-Mortes


A gloomy sky at le Grau du Roi

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Bulls at a manade, where they are raised for the courses camargaises, the non-violent form of bull-fighting in which young men attempt to retrieve a rosette or ribbon from the head of a bull – more dangerous for the man than the bull!


An egret perched on the back of a horse.

Domaine d’Oulivie

On a detour on our way back from the Camargue, up a rough track near St Gely du Fesc (north-west of Montpellier) we found this olive mill, museum and shop surrounded by a huge grove of lovely mature olive trees.

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We tasted the range of olive oils produced here and bought bottles of two: the single-variety Lucque oil and a special oil made by milling the olives with thyme and rosemary (rather than infusing the herbs after the oil is made). Wonderful flavours with which to end the year!

A l’an que ven! (Occitan for see you next year!)

Monday, 28 December 2009

Last days of the year

The weather has become much milder than it was a couple of weeks ago and the days are getting longer. This evening it was just about light until about 5.30 p.m. There’s a chance that the plants in the garden, which have been in a kind of suspended animation for the past few weeks, will begin to grow again. We still have work to do – clearing the last remaining pepper plants and getting the ground ready for the goat manure we hope to collect during January.


Even in the very cold weather we’ve been picking leeks and salad leaves, and this cauliflower.

The sea

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On Saturday at Le Grau d’Agde the sea was grey and cold. The statue of a woman represents the women who wait and watch for the fishermen to come back to port. She had no need to worry this time because all the boats were in the harbour. Going through Roujan we were amused to see this large olive tree on the back of a lorry ahead of us. A nice late Christmas present for someone?

Sunday sunset




From near Roujan we could see as far as the Pyrenees and Mont Canigou (above), which is 2,784 metres high, and the sunlit trees looked golden against the dark sky.

And our Christmas day lunch …

We’ve had to postpone our family mid-winter festivities because of travel problems last week, but even though we were on our own on the 25th, Lo Jardinièr and I had a good lunch!


Apéritifs in the garden, with some of the olives from our own tree.

DSC00746 DSC00745 Lo Jardinièr opening oysters (left) and beating the chocolate fondant mix (above)

DSC00750 Foie gras with salt, red and black peppercorns and a glass of Cartagène. DSC00752 Oysters gratinées
DSC00755 Leg of lamb slow roasted in wine with garlic and rosemary, with leeks from the garden. DSC00754
Potatoes dauphinoises
Chocolate fondant.
And, finally, cherries in Armagnac with our coffee.

We didn’t eat anything else until the next day!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Season’s greetings



Season's greetings!

Cyfarchion y tymor!

Joyeuses fêtes!

Polidas fèstas!

The plane trees in the village are wrapped in lights and the vineyards have been trimmed back to bare winter sepia.




We hope everyone enjoys the holiday!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

After the freeze

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We’ve had some very cold nights with temperatures down to minus 3 C on the balcony and, apparently, minus 6 C in the countryside around the village. Even during the days and in the sunshine there have been icicles on the fountains.

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In the garden, the artichoke leaves (above, left) have been affected but they should recover, the habas and the second sowing of broad beans (centre) look completely unaffected while the first sowing of broad beans (right), plants which had grown to around 30 cm tall, have flopped a bit but should recover.


We’ve had bright, clear sunlit days with a cold north wind turning up the lovely silvery undersides of the olive leaves.

Milder weather is forecast for the coming week, so we’re hoping to be able to have our traditional apéritifs in the garden at midday on the 25th. Our only worry is that Eurostar get their trains going again so that our family can get here!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Yes, it’s freezing

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The river was still partly iced over at 11 a.m. this morning.

Lo Jardinièr’s boudin noir and apple salad


We cheered ourselves at lunchtime with this warm salad of slices of boudin noir (black pudding) and apple, sautéed in olive oil, on lettuce and lamb’s lettuce leaves from the garden.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

First frost?

Tonight the temperature is forecast to fall below freezing for the first time this winter, with daytime temperatures at a chilly 5 to 6 degrees and a cold north wind. We think that the plants in the garden will all be able to withstand the cold, but just to make sure we put some straw around the broad bean plants today and covered the oregano to try to delay its inevitable winter dying back.

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The broad beans are doing so well – we don’t want to lose them. The plants form the first sowing in October are in the photo on the left – they are about 30 cm tall now. In the photo on the right are the second (November) sowing of broad beans (left) and the Spanish habas. They all now have a blanket of straw around them at ground level.

And how long can the flowers last?

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The roses and the osteospermum are all still blooming … so far.

Quinces again!


Yesterday a friend brought us this basketful of windfall quinces. They are very ripe, but rather damaged by insects. As we’ve already made plenty of membrillo this year, we’ve chosen the best to use in a stew with pork or lamb. The most damaged ones we’ve used to make a spicy quince pickle to eat with cheese or cold meats.

Spicy quince pickle

1 kilo chopped quince (with the peel, but not the cores); 500 gm brown sugar; 3 medium onions, chopped; 450 ml red wine vinegar; 100 gm raisins; juice and zest of a lemon; a 3cm-piece of ginger, peeled and grated; 2 teaspoonfuls cinnamon; 1 tablespoonful ground coriander; 1 heaped teaspoonful paprika (or more if you like); 1 teaspoonful salt.

Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 1 hour covered and 1 hour uncovered. Put into sterilised glass jars.


The pickle has a lovely colour and smells and tastes deliciously of quince. It scented the whole house while it was cooking!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Olives and olive oil

This morning we went Christmas shopping, but in a very non-commercial way as we’re avoiding shopping centres this year, buying food and presents from local shops, markets and the internet for the sake of the environment and because we enjoy it more than the desperate rush around city shops.  So today we went to the olive oil cooperative at Clermont-l’Hérault.

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The cooperative is easy to spot because of this lovely old olive press standing outside.  More modern equipment is used now, as in the new mill in Gabian

DSC00520 .Among other things, we bought some Lucques olives, and two varieties of olive oil including a Lucque ‘huile de Noël’, a lovely fresh-tasting oil which we’ll save for Christmas.


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We drove back in bright sunshine past vineyards which are almost leafless now, this stone shelter built into the terrace beneath an olive grove (left, above) and a mazet (vine workers’ shelter) (right, above) with a fig tree and a chestnut tree growing next to it.

Curing our Lucque olives

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DSC00539 I pricked each olive several times with a fork, mixed them in a bowl with some chopped dried oregano, bay leaves and salt.  Then covered them all with a good layer of salt.
I’ve left them in a cool place and they should be ready to eat in about ten days’ time.

This recipe comes from Max Lambert, L’Olivier et la Préparation des Olives.  I’m hoping the olives will be ready for our Christmas day aperitifs in the garden.

Mussels with cream and pastis sauce

As it’s one of the days when the coquillage producer comes to the village from Bouzigues, we had mussels for lunch, an experiment with crème fraiche and pastis – an experiment which worked very well!  Mussels and sauce were delicious.  We opened a bottle of Muscat sec, bought last week at Saint Preignan, which was the perfect accompaniment – not too dry and a lovely flavour.


The recipe is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog.