Thursday, 31 March 2011

Foire au gras and the last day of March in the garden

At the weekend we went on a trip to the Gers in south-west France, guided by friends who used to live in that area and know it well. The highlight of the visit was the Monday morning foire au gras in Samatan, devoted to the sale of foie gras and fattened ducks for making confit de canard and other south-western delights. I know that some people find the production of foie gras distasteful – if you are one of these then you should fast forward to the spring flowers at the end of this post. I’ve written about this subject before on my blog a couple of years ago. I believe that properly raised ducks and foie gras represent sustainable local food in an area which is well-suited to raising them. The life of a duck on the farm of a small producer in the Gers is so much better than that of an industrially kept chicken or duck that they cannot really be compared, so I make no apology for being a supporter of the traditional foie gras farmers.

The marché au gras at Samatan

Every Monday morning throughout the winter and until the end of March this market has two sessions – the first from 9.30 to 10.30 a.m. when producers sell duck carcases and a huge hall is filled with tables where people display anything from 20 to a hundred or so of their ducks for sale at very reasonable prices (around 2 euros per kilo this week). This session of the market then closes and another opens to sell foie gras. Again small local producers bring small numbers of foies gras for around 30 euros per kilo (this week). During spring and summer, from next week onwards the two markets are combined and the market is usually smaller although, apparently, the Easter Monday market is very popular and busy.

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You choose your duck (above left) and then it is taken to be weighed at central scales before you pay for it. The foie gras is weighed by each stall holder. For 1 euro per bird you can take it to a cutting room where two men were working non-stop to joint the ducks. Some people had trolleys filled with twenty or so birds, for restaurants perhaps, others like us had just one.

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These ducks are specially reared to have plenty of fat for preserving them and are not meant for roasting. Our duck was cut into: 2 legs and 2 wings for making confit de canard, 2 magrets or breasts which can be grilled, the neck to be used to make cou farci – the skin stuffed with pork meat to make a kind of sausage, the giblets for preserving in fat, and the carcass which was delicious grilled so that we could eat the tender slivers of meat that were left on it. I’ll write another post in the next day or so about how we have made confit, cou farci and preserved the foie gras.

In another market hall next door there was a live poultry and vegetable market, with farmers selling baskets of fresh eggs by the door.

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The chickens in cages looked a bit cramped, but were heading for a life in the open air as free range layers – nothing like the life of a battery hen!

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Above left, the part of the market hall which is unused at this time of year, but would be used in winter when the market would be bigger, showing the size of this south-western phenomenon. On the right, one of the streets of the town where the usual market was taking place.

And the garden….

We came home with some oignons de Trébons, similar to our local Lézignan onions but with smaller bulbs. There’s some more about them in French here. Natives of the south-west, they may not do so well in our dry climate, but it’s worth a try.

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Above left, some of the new onions next to the second sowing of broad beans; right, the artichoke plants are doing well and we’re hoping for artichokes next month.

The tulips are out.
One of the cherry trees given to us by our neighbour a couple of years ago is flowering for the first time.
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and bay.

Saturday, 26 March 2011




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We’ve potted about 50 plants, with the Marmande and St Pierre still to do when they’re ready.

And small two lemon trees we’ve grown from seed we found sprouting inside a lemon a year or so ago were ready to go into bigger pots.

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The pepper seedlings aren’t quite ready to go into pots yet:


And paella for lunch…

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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Onions from Lézignan

‘La Cébe des Lézignan es douça coumo lou pan’ (Occitan for ‘Lézignan onions are sweet as bread’. (from Monsieur Lucas’s website)

This morning we went on our annual trip to Lézignan la Cèbe near Pézenas to buy seedlings of the famous onions that grow there. I wrote about this village and its onions last year so I won’t describe them in detail now, but I’ll just say that they are very sweet when we start to pull them in June to eat in salads or to grill on the barbecue. Later in the summer they become less sweet and we use them for cooking. This morning we planted 50 seedlings next to the 50 seedlings of slightly earlier but similar Spanish onions.

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Looking back at last year’s post about Lézignan onions, I see that while Lo Jardinièr planted the onions I sowed haricot beans…and exactly the same happened this year. I sowed a row of Contender beans, a few days later than the tradition date here which is 19 March, St Joseph’s Day.

Hummingbird hawk moth

I’ve seen a couple of these during the past week or so, rather earlier than usual I think, and managed to get a couple of photos of this one on our aubretia flowers this morning:

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They’re hard to photograph as they never settle on a flower, but just put down a long proboscis into the centre of the flower, which can be seen here beneath the blur of the beating wings.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Spring lunch

At last the rain stopped and we were able to have a long, lazy lunch in the garden with friends.

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We started with onions straight from the ground and grilled on the barbecue…..

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served with romesco sauce (ground almonds, red pepper, paprika, garlic, tomato) and a bottle of excellent rosé brought from Navarra by our friends.

And the jasmine flowers are out:

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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Rain….and more rain

It’s been raining almost constantly for four days now – very welcome for the water supply but not very good for the morale or for spring work in the garden.



Thursday, 10 March 2011

First lizard and a trip to the goat farm

It was a beautiful spring morning after a cold night, around freezing temperature at dawn but up to about 20 C by midday, perfect for our trip to Mas Rolland to fetch a trailer-load of goat manure.

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The vineyards and the garrigue-covered hillsides looked beautiful in the sunlight and when we got to the garden there were lizards sunning themselves on the wall by the path.  Several of them scuttled under stones as I approached, but I managed to catch this one in time.

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There’s nothing quite like goat manure for the garden.  We’ll be using this to improve the soil in the beds where we’ll be growing peppers and tomatoes this summer.

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The apricot tree is still blossoming and the flowers were attracting a lot of bees – a good sign for this year’s fruit.

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Daffodils, aubretia and jasmine are flowering, and there are a lot more jasmine buds still about to open.

Home to a good lunch….

IMGP7373Lettuce and wild rocket from the garden, sobresada and peppered sausage brought for us

from the Spanish border by our neighbour, chorizo and jambon cru from Lacaune.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Tomatoes germinated

DSC05919 The tomato seeds we sowed last weekend had all germinated by Friday (except for the Marmande) and were ready to go in one of the mini-greenhouses that Lo Jardinièr made last year. In the mornings we keep them inside but next to a window that has sun, in the afternoons they go out on the balcony. The seedlings seem to be growing very quickly! Now that they no longer need seed-starter box we have sowed the pepper seeds.

Varieties of peppers sown from seed we have saved or been given by friends:

Kandil dolma – a Turkish bell pepper with a very distinctive flavour. Only one germinated last year so we’re hoping for more this year.

Red marconi

Corno di toro

Spanish long pepper – seeds given to us by our neighbour.

Long pepper – seeds given to us by our garden neighbours.


Piment d’Espelette – seed from paprika peppers bought in the village of Espelette in the French Basque country. As there is an appélation controlée for peppers grown in the area of that village I’m not sure whether the ones we grow here can be called Espelette.

Chorizo – another paprika variety. Seeds saved from peppers we grew last year from seed given to us by a friend in Navarra.

In the garden

The broad beans we sowed in autumn are flowering now and the second row we sowed a few weeks ago are coming up well, along with a few of the mangetout peas which always seem to be slower to germinate.

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And two good meals from the weekend…

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Above left, the cawl (Welsh stew or soup made with lamb, leeks, potatoes and carrots) we served for our soirée galloise on Friday, when we invited 14 French/Occitan friends to celebrate St David’s Day with us, and right, the paella I made for Sunday lunch with pork, rabbit and chorizo.