Sunday, 26 September 2010

Blue sky, a cold north wind and ripening olives

Today was the first day it’s felt really autumnal, with a cold wind from the north drying anything that remained of the the rain we had early on Friday morning.  The sky was bright blue and the bamboo shoots waved in the breeze at the end of the garden.



Another sign of autumn – the olives are beginning to ripen:


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

An aerial view and a saffron harvest


Last Sunday was la Journée du Patrimoine, heritage day, when historic buildings are open to the public.  The church tower in the village was open and Lo Jardinièr climbed to the top and took photos of the roofs, a wonderful jumble of terracotta tiles and satellite dishes.

In the garden we harvested half of our saffron crop – there were two crocus flowers open, which we picked because last year we found that they only lasted a day, and two buds which have since opened and which we’ve picked.

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We’re still picking tomatoes, aubergines and a lot of peppers.  I stuffed some of the green peppers, mostly Corno di Toro and Marconi, with rice, raisins, pine nuts, garlic and oregano, then baked them in the oven for about half an hour.  I’ve put some in the freezer, the others we ate straight away with a spicy tomato sauce made with piment d’Espelette.

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And salad leaves again ….


After a summer of tomato and cucumber salads, delicious though they are, it’s a treat to start picking lettuce leaves again for green salads.  It’s too hot and dry here for lettuces in the summer – they all go to seed by the end of June, by St John’s day, 24 June, everyone says, and it’s true.  We plant seedlings again in September, some we’ve bought and some which other gardeners have given us, and they should keep growing through most of the winter.


An autumn market


After his summer break when he takes his stall to the more lucrative tourist market at Cap d’Agde, the vegetable stallholder was back in the market this morning (in the shade to keep the produce cool, so difficult to photograph, making it all seem much more lively.  We only bought garlic, because we’ve already used the garlic we grew this summer.  It will soon be time to plant some more and we usually plant garlic from this stall.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Different ways of picking grapes

Depending on the terrain of the vineyard and the quality of wine which will be made from the grapes, there are different ways of harvesting. In a large, flat vineyard where the grapes are intended for ordinary quality wine, to be taken to the cave cooperative to be added to grapes from many other vineyards in the area, grape-picking machines are used to save time and labour. They look huge when you meet them on the road, as we often do at this time of the year because they travel from one vineyard to another during the vendange, towering above the cars. They look big among the vines too, because they have to straddle a row of vines to remove the grapes. In small parcelles of vines, especially on hillsides, it would be impossible to get a machine in among the rows, so these grapes are usually picked by hand, as are any grapes that will be used to make high-quality wine because this minimises the damage to the grapes before pressing.

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We saw this machine near Fouzilhon the other morning as it was just about to start working its way through the vineyard.

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DSC05813 Yesterday we helped friends pick grapes by hand – a hard morning’s work, but good fun, as a group of us worked our way up and down the rows chatting in French and Occitan. For the first time this year they are making a high-quality wine and we picked the Syrah grapes for it from a vineyard in a beautiful position on a hilltop with a view all the way to the sea. Next week we’ll help pick the Grenache grapes which are not ripe yet.

Grape jelly – an experiment

We’d picked some Carignan grapes from vines which had re-grown after a friend had uprooted her vineyard. They weren’t very good for eating – the flesh had a nice flavour but they had too many pips and a strong flavour to the skins, so I thought I’d try making grape jelly. I put 500 gm of grapes in a pan, crushed them lightly with a wooden spoon and added a couple of tablespoonfuls of sugar to them. I brought them to the boil and cooked them for about 10 minutes then put them through a mouli legumes so that I was left with the juice. I returned the juice to the pan, added 250 gm of preserving sugar and simmered for 5 minutes. The jelly is now in small jars, but it has set very hard so I think I’ll try again with ordinary sugar rather than preserving sugar. There seems to be plenty of pectin in the pips and skins to set the jelly.

Mussels again….

We bought mussels this morning from the usual Bouzigues van which calls in the village, and cooked them for lunch with sweet onion, rosemary, chopped piment d’Espelette, garlic and chorizo. They weren’t quite as tasty as when we cook them like this on the barbecue, but they still seemed to have a smoky flavour.

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IMGP0753 I ground the remaining dried piments d’Espelette from last year, to store in a jar. The colour was wonderful, and the flavour will be too. These were bought in the village of Espelette. This year we have our own, grown from seed from these.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Two tomato salads and some autumn food festivals

Usually our tomato plants continue producing until November and in past years we’ve eaten tomatoes picked green and then ripened in the house as late as December.  This year will be different and production has already slowed down almost to nothing.  The Ananas plants seem to be having a late renaissance, though, and we’ve also picked some of the Long Andean variety which is more suitable for making purée, but we’ve used them in salads too.

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Left: Long Andean tomatoes sliced with garlic, chopped green pepper and anchovies and basil leaves. 

Right: Ananas tomatoes with basil, garlic and sliced mozzarella cheese.

And here’s a link from the Observer website to some amazing-sounding food festivals in Italy, France, Norway, Croatia, Crete, Sardinia and Mallorca.  If I lived nearer I’d be especially tempted by the Fête des Legumes Oubliés (Festival of Forgotten Vegetables), but it’s in Normandy – a very long way from here – and the olive festival in Mallorca, and…. well, all of them really!


IMGP0509-1  The pumpkin festival near Lucca in Italy reminded me to ask our neighbour whether we should be protecting ours from damp by keeping them off the ground, but he said there’s no need as they have such thick skins.  They should be left while the stems are still green and then can be brought inside.  Our plants seem to be rejuvenating themselves and we have several new small pumpkins growing to join the five large ones already there.  I don’t know whether there will be time for the small ones to grow before the weather gets colder.  The big ones are not as big as I’ve seen them in western France, where there’s a lot more rain, but they’re not doing badly.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Preparing for winter, while the summer harvest goes on


The tomatoes are coming to an end, and some of our gardening neighbours have already uprooted their plants, resigned to its being a bad year for them.  We’re picking and eating peppers every day and we’re pleased we planted so many different varieties which all have their own characteristics: the ones on the left of the photo above are Corno di Toro which are good for stuffing; there’s a spicy Kolaska next to the aubergine and some Longues des Landes on the right – they’re both good varieties for grilling on the barbecue.  In the centre there are a few red chillies.


For lunch today we grilled some green peppers and the aubergine on the barbecue.  I then skinned the peppers, which is very easy when they’ve been grilled and the outer skin has blackened.  I made a salad with them, some oregano and chopped garlic, goats’ cheeses from Mas Rolland and some cherry tomatoes, added a bit of salt and some olive oil and served them with fresh Aveyronnais bread.


We picked another five or six kilos of figs this morning and made some more jam.  The recipe is very simple: for each 600 gm of figs, chopped and put in a large pan, I added 400 gm sugar and the juice of half a lemon.  I brought them all to the boil and simmered until the jam thickened and began to set when a spoonful was put on to a cool saucer.  Then bottle in sterilised jars.  We now have twenty jars of mixed, green or black fig jam, so we know we’ll have something for winter breakfasts.

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Mussels for supper



As usual on a Saturday morning, the coquillage van from Bouzigues came to the village, so we bought a kilo of mussels and ate them this evening in a sauce made with onions, garlic, wild fennel, lardons, white wine and crème fraiche.  And as usual they were delicious. 

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A rainbow…. and some bad municipal planning


On our way to buy wine this morning the end of this rainbow was almost over the village of Roquessels where we were heading.

No longer in use…

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At Chateau des Adouzes, where we buy wine, these barrels have been used for oak-ageing wine and now, having been used, are for sale.  I was tempted, but they’re quite big and I don’t know what we’d do with one.  The mazet on the left, near Roquessels, was a shelter for vineyard workers, one of many in this area, but is no longer used because people store their tools at home now and drive out to the vineyards in their vans, so they can go home for lunch and a siesta.  This one looks very well cared for.

‘Improvements’ in the village

The resurfacing of the roads in the Pioch, the oldest part of the village, has been an improvement over the old patchwork of tarmac and broken stones.   But some of the changes outside the church are a big mistake, I think.  The new cobbles are beautiful and there is a shelter for mourners to wait when there is a funeral in the church, but the road is now closed off here.  This will mean that all the traffic coming out of the old part of the village will have to go down one very narrow road – I’m glad I don’t live in that road, and I’m surprised the residents haven’t complained.  I hope, too, that the emergency services will be able to get through quickly enough if necessary.


The old road out of the Pioch, past the church, now cobbled very attractively, but blocked off with stone blocks and a metal bollard.

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Now it seems that all the traffic, delivery vans included, will have to go down this very narrow, bending street and through the old place at the end.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A little rain

We’ve had a couple of thunderstorms and two cloudy days – a little rain but not nearly enough after a summer that’s been even drier than usual.  When the first thunderstorm came the night before last, I was worried about the turnip seedlings that had just emerged the day before.  Last year some of these got completely washed away by heavy rain.  I needn’t have worried, though, they’re still there:


Planting out the winter vegetables



We’ve planted out the red cabbage, green cabbage, cauliflower and leek plants which we bought because we didn’t get round to sowing them earlier in the summer.  Neighbours have given us lettuce seedlings, too, so we should have lots of leaves for salads and soups in the autumn and winter.



And the aubergines seem to be starting again, with new flowers and a few new fruits, one of which we ate for lunch today.

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Market day

The market was busier than it has been over the summer – there were stalls selling household goods and our usual charcutier was back from the break he took last week.  We bought pork chops to barbecue outside in the place, sharing the fire with our neighbour as we often do.  While they were cooking we had goats’ cheeses with thyme, garlic, olive oil and cherry tomatoes.

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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Beginning of a new season

Today we seemed to be turning over a new leaf into autumn:

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Because we were so busy over the summer we didn’t get round to sowing leeks, cabbages and cauliflowers, so we’ve bought plants and we’ll be planting them out during the next few days.  Today I sowed turnips and Lo Jardinièr planted out Rougette and Oak leaf lettuces.

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We have five good pumpkins like the two above, which should keep for the winter.  We’d given up hope of getting anything from the Butternut squash plants that our neighbour had given us because they seemed to be producing only male flowers.  We’d even given up watering them when we noticed this surprise one growing on a plant which had climbed up the pea netting.

And some more figs….



The figs are ripening well on our friend’s trees and we picked some more this morning, but not enough to make jam yet.  I baked some with butter and local garrigue honey this morning (just 20 minutes at 180 degrees C), and we’ll eat them tonight with crème fraiche.





Mediterranean diet

I was delighted at the long comments my last post attracted and it was interesting to read what others thought.  I should emphasise, though, that I make no claims about health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, or any other diet, except to report that it is said that a Mediterranean diet can lead to a longer life.  I know it doesn’t always, though, from early deaths in my own family.  Mediterranean food is the kind of food I enjoy eating most – that’s why I eat it.  And, of course, it’s available locally for me.