Tuesday 30 November 2010


This is what the bulldozers have done to the land near our garden.

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It doesn’t look very pretty, does it?  We were told at the beginning of the planning process that the stone walls would be protected, so I hope the developers keep to this.  The building plots have been marked out, but in the current economic climate we may be left with a part-empty wasteland, as has happened in other villages near here.

But yesterday, at least, the sun came out and shone through the olive groves like this one at Roquessels:


Friday 26 November 2010

Winter fruit and winter soup

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Left, above, oranges on a tree in the car park next to the village bar.  Right, a delicious soup Lo Jardinièr made from pumpkin, carrots, onions, haricot beans, pasta and chunks of chorizo sausage, flavoured with a little chopped chilli pepper, thyme and bay and garnished with chopped garlic and basil.  Very warming on a cold November day!





The chorizo peppers on the balcony are still ripening in the sun, although we bring the plant indoors at night now and the plant has suffered a bit from cold winds during the day.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Tarral – the north wind


The Occitan word for the wind that comes over the land, which means from the north where we are, is tarral and that’s what we have this week.  In summer it is pleasantly cooling, but in winter especially when it has come across mountains covered in snow, it can be bitingly cold.  It is a dry wind, though, unlike the marin which comes from the sea, because all the rain it has carried has already fallen on the mountains.  The bilingual street signs in the village usually have the same meaning in French and Occitan, but this one is different.  I don’t know how this narrow street got its French name as there are no mimosa trees in it.  The Occitan name seems much more appropriate today as the tarral blows along it.

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Olive trees blowing in the wind, showing the silver undersides of their leaves, and in the background in the photo on the left the vines have lost almost all their leaves and are beginning to take on their sepia winter colour.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Pumpkin soufflé experiment

This was suggested by some friends who had given us a very vague idea of the recipe. It was the first time for years that I’d made a soufflé and we discovered that we’d left our soufflé dish behind when we moved from Wales. Never mind, we can always improvise, using the most straight-sided dish we had, one of those dishes that charcutiers use to display paté and sell for a couple of euros when they’re empty.

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IMGP3433 I cooked and mashed a piece of pumpkin and two potatoes, added 4 egg yolks, 5 beaten egg whites and 100 gm of grated Cantal cheese (a bit like Cheddar) and put the mixture in a greased oven-proof dish. I sprinkled some more grated cheese and some grated nutmeg over the top and put it in a hot oven for 30 minutes. I think it might have been better to roast the pumpkin, rather than boiling it, before mashing, so I’ll try that next time.

It tasted very good, but I think it would have even more flavour if the pumpkin was roasted first. When I’ve perfected the recipe I’ll post it on the Mediterranean cuisine blog with exact quantities.

And a mise en bouche

IMGP3450 When you order a set menu in a restaurant in France you often find extra small courses have been added and you’re offered a mise en bouche (literally, ‘put in mouth’) to start your meal. Lo Jardinièr made this one the other day, using slices of bread brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven, slices of boudin noir (blood sausage) and one of the last of our tomatoes, garnished with basil leaves.

Winter is coming

There are cold nights forecast for the coming week, with temperatures perhaps reaching freezing point, so we’ve covered our emerging broad bean and mangetout pea plants with bamboo leaves to try to protect them. I’ve harvested most of the mint to dry for making tea with during the winter and picked (probably) the last small green peppers which I’ll pickle as I did with some of the ones I picked a couple of weeks ago. We found some quite big peppers too, hidden among the leaves, so we’ll grill those to eat over the weekend.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Pumpkin harvest, and The Birds?

Colder nights are forecast for later this week, so today we brought the remaining pumpkins back to the house so that they are not affected by any low temperatures we may have. The ones that have ripened should keep for months, the green ones maybe not for so long, so we’ll eat them first. Although a friend has suggested that they may continue to ripen indoors.


Five pumpkins and two butternut squashes. We’ve already picked a butternut squash and two pumpkins, one which weighed 5 kilos and one, which we’re eating now, which weighed 10 kilos. The two bigger ones in this photo are even bigger. So far we used them to make soup, roasted chunks of them in the oven and puréed the roasted chunks to make a gratin with blue cheese – the simple recipe for this is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog. Today one of our friends passed by the garden and told us that you can make soufflé with pumpkin too, so we’re going to try that – if it works I’ll put the recipe on the blog.

The Birds

On the way back from Magalas we saw a remarkable sight – a huge flock of very small birds settled on the (not very busy) road. We watched them for about five minutes while I took a lot of photos. Each time a car came close they flew up into the sky and circled around the vineyards for just a few seconds before settling on the road again. There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of them. There didn’t seem to be anything for them to feed on, so it’s a mystery why they were on the road. It seems a bit late in the year for birds to be gathering to migrate, but it’s possible they are migrating birds from further north either arriving here for the winter or just passing through. My researches on the internet and in bird books suggest they may have been Wood Larks. I’d welcome any other suggestions. They were much too small to be starlings.




And more autumn colour in the vineyards and in the garden


In the garden the rosemary and the roses have begun to flower again after the rain.

An awful reminder…

Land being flattened next to our garden as work begins on the new houses.

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The landscape seems to have been completely changed, trees destroyed and new vistas created.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Saffron harvest

One of the saffron fields at Les Roches Rouges where we went to visit the Safran de Neffiès project started by a group of enthusiasts in Neffiès,  including the owners of the village bar:


and the view back towards the village from the hillside on an unusually misty morning:


It takes 150 Crocus Sativus Linnaeus flowers to produce 1 gram of saffron, so that’s why it costs 500 euros, or more, per kilo.  The petals are then carefully removed from around the pistils.  You can see pictures of this here.  Most of the flowers had already been picked but the growers had left a couple of rows so that we could see them and help pick them.  A group of a hundred interested people had walked from Neffiès to see the fields and have lunch.

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The red pistils that can be seen in the centre photo above are the important, saffron, part of the flower, although the whole flower is edible.

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After visiting the fields we walked up among vineyards and olive groves to a field higher up, bordered by evergreen Holm oaks, where long tables decorated with crocus flowers were laid out in the shade for our meal of paella made with this local saffron followed by a dessert made of choux pastry filled with saffron cream.


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We were lucky that it was warm and sunny, and it was a beautiful place to eat a delicious lunch, served with excellent Neffiès wine, of course.

One tip from the leaflet about Les Roches Rouges is that saffron should be soaked to release its flavour in warm water, milk or wine for 4 hours at least – I hadn’t realised before that it should be soaked for so long.

Saffron in Afghanistan

I noticed this video on the Guardian website which shows how saffron growing is replacing poppies in one part of Afghanistan.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Autumn colour

I haven’t had much time for the blog because of work, and family staying for a long weekend.  I’ll be writing soon about a visit to the saffron fields that we made on Saturday, but in the meantime here’s an autumn vines photo, with olive trees in the background, taken near Chateau de Cassan this morning.


Monday 1 November 2010

November in the garden

After a rainy weekend we went to the garden and found the broad beans sprouting through the damp earth, although there’s no sign of the mangetout peas yet. While I picked some peppers, which are still growing but not ripening, Lo Jardinièr dug up some more of the tomato plants, leaving just the Roma plants, which are still producing fruit.

Some autumnal images:

IMGP2421 Arbutus berries and flowers - both appear on the tree at the same time.
Two Lucque olives fallen from the tree during heavy rain. They’re a good size this year.
Green, ripening and ripe olives on the same branch.
IMGP2432 Some more ripening olives.
Butternut squash.
IMGP2449 Two pumpkins, one ripe, one still green.
IMGP2499 The artichoke plants are recovering from the dry summer.
Red cabbages are doing well, although the leeks we planted at the same time aren’t.
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A rose bud about to open.
A snail on an olive leaf next to a dead sunflower head.
Rose hips on a wild rose bush.
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Cardinale vine leaf.