Apricot blossom and middle eastern delights

apricot blossom-1


Our apricot tree is flowering, the blossom braving the cold north wind we’ve had for the past couple of days. We stayed in the warm kitchen most of the time, Lo Jardinièr making flat breads to accompany dishes from the wonderful Jerusalem book that I’ve mentioned before:

flat breads1while I made mutabbaq for dessert. This is made with a mixture of goats’ and sheep’s cheeses in layers of filo pastry, baked till golden and then with a sugar and lemon juice syrup poured over it. Quite simple, delicious and also from the same book.

mutabbaq1I was going to photograph it on the plate, but it didn’t last long!




Signs of spring

It was hot in the sun in the garden today, the bees were buzzing around the rosemary flowers and the blossom, the carpenter bees were trying to find nesting places in holes in pieces of wood – spring seems to have arrived!

The broad bean plants sown in October are beginning to flower and the plants from the second sowing in November are not far behind them.

broad bean flower-1


The apricot blossom is about to open



and the wild plum tree that appeared in our garden, like a weed only a fruitful one, is flowering too:

wild plum-1


Even the aubretia – not a plant that really belongs in a Mediterranean garden, but one that seems to have settled well here – is starting to flower:



The robin in the apple tree has been around all winter, of course, but it’s the first time I’ve managed to get a reasonable photo of it.



And then home to another bird – a roast chicken. It was a large (over 2 kilos) farmyard chicken so I left it in a medium oven (170°C) for a couple of hours while we were out, covered with a paste made from half a preserved lemon (salted and left in a jar of olive oil for at least a month), two large cloves of garlic, two teaspoons of paprika, some sea salt and two tablespoons of olive oil, whizzed into a paste in the food processor. I put the chicken in a large cast-iron casserole with a lid and added a glass of white wine. When we came home it was ready to eat with rice cooked with dried orange peel. It was a very good chicken – one that had lived rather than a pale tasteless supermarket one – and it did taste very good.


There’s plenty left for a couple more meals too. In the shop the bird still had its feet, head and neck, which the butcher removed for us. But we asked to keep the neck, which made a nice stock for Lo Jardinièr to use when he made risotto yesterday. I haven’t dared ask for the feet yet – I’m not sure what I would do with them!

Spring blossoming

The almond trees at the edges of the vineyards are still flowering – I hope the cold wind doesn’t blow the petals off too soon, before the flowers are fertilised.





The apricot buds are about to open, but maybe they’ll take a week or so yet.



And the daffodils are out, in good time for St David’s Day next week!



It looks as though spring is on its way.

Apricots again

This time in alcohol. I haven’t tried this before with apricots but I have with cherries and figs which always turn out to be delicious after a few months in their jars. When I’ve preserved cherries and figs in this way I’ve used Armagnac or brandy, but because I didn’t want to overshadow the flavour of the apricots I decided to use vodka this time, because of its reputed lack of flavour. Vodka isn’t something I drink often, if at all, and I think this is the first bottle of it I’ve ever bought – and in a very good cause!

I sterilised a one-litre preserving jar. I cut the apricots in half, discarding the stones, and packed the half fruits in layers into the jar.

I put the pieces of fruit as close together as possible and after each layer I added two tablespoons of sugar until the jar was almost full.

I poured in enough (cheap) vodka to cover all the fruit and sealed the jar. Now I’ll just have to wait at least four months before tasting them to see if it’s worked.

And then I went to the sea and swam at Le Grau d’Agde.

Apricot round-up

This is definitely the best year ever for our Rouge du Roussillon apricot tree, planted when we first bought the garden about 8 years ago. For the past two years there have been badly timed cold snaps in March which have killed off the fruit soon after fertilisation.  This year everything seems to have been perfect for a great crop and we’ve already picked about 11 kilos of fruit, with a few kilos still ripening.

I love apricots, but even so that’s a lot of fruit so, although we’ve been eating them every day and have given some to friends, some of it has had to be preserved.  Now we’ll be able to enjoy the delicious flavour all through the year.  I used some of the windfalls and damaged fruit to make jam – equal quantities of fruit and sugar and a little lemon juice brought to the boil and simmered until setting point, which didn’t seem to be very long. We used to buy special jam-making sugar with added pectin but have decided not to do so any more as it is very expensive and it just doesn’t work. The best jam we’ve made so far this year was with ordinary sugar.

And then there’s sorbet – one of the best ways of preserving the fresh flavour of any fruit because it isn’t cooked. For every 500 grams of stoned fruit, puréed in the food processor, I added 300 grams of sugar dissolved in a cupful of water – heating it in a pan until all the grains dissolved. I mixed the syrup and fruit in a freezer container and put it in the freezer overnight – very simple! And when we have family visiting in a couple of weeks’ time we’ll be able to serve it with fresh mint and maybe a little Cartagène or sweet wine.

There are other ways of using all these apricots and I was very happy to be reminded of apricot leather, which I used to love as a child in Turkey. That’s an experiment still in progress at the moment: I stoned and roughly chopped 700 grams of apricots, added the juice of half a lemon and 50 grams of sugar, brought them all to the boil and simmered until all the fruit was cooked. I puréed the fruit using a hand-held liquidiser (although you could use a mouli-légumes) and spread it thinly on a sheet of greaseproof paper in a baking tin. It can be dried in the oven on a low temperature – about 120 C – but since the it’s so hot here at present I’m trying to dry it in the sun. I hope in a day or so to be able to show you the dried end result, but this is what it looked like this morning:

One other idea which I haven’t tried yet is to preserve the fruit in alcohol. More on that soon.

Just to finish today, here’s a brimstone butterfly that rested near me in the garden a day or so ago:

First ripe tomato!

Just for the record, and because it’s one of the exciting days of the gardening year, here’s our first ripe tomato, picked this evening, a few days later than in other years but very welcome and there will be more very soon. I sliced it thinly, sprinkled it with salt and chopped basil and poured some Picholine olive oil over it – that was all it needed.

It’s one of the variety that we’ve named Gabian breakfast because it produces fruits that are just the right size for one serving of Spanish-style tomato flesh rubbed onto grilled bread with olive oil for breakfast.  We accidentally created this last year from cross-fertilisation the year before and, of course, it is changing again already and seems to be reverting to the indigenous Languedocian variety we also grow.  Beautiful, isn’t it?

As well as another courgette and three aubergines, we also picked this big bowl full of apricots, and there are at least twice as many still ripening on the tree.  After a couple of lean years, this is the best crop we’ve ever had from this Rouge de Roussillon tree that we planted about eight years ago.

Back to the garden

I realise it’s been a while since I’ve posted much about the garden. That’s not because nothing is happening there and not because we haven’t been there much. Everything is growing well in the slightly damper than usual, but still warm, weather we’ve been having this month and on dry days we’ve watered, still using the good supply of free water from the stream that runs down the hill from the source – La Resclauze, or La Resclausa in Occitan – and usually keeps running until at least the end of June.  Yesterday evening we spent a couple of hours in the garden, watering, weeding and tying tomato and cucumber plants to their supports, and I took some photos of what’s happening there now:

The sweetcorn plants have grown incredibly quickly – some of them are as tall as I am now – and the male flowers are starting to appear at the tops of the plants.  These should soon be followed by female flowers.

The aubergine plants are flowering – they’re such pretty flowers that if these plants weren’t useful suppliers of vegetables I think they would still be grown just for their decorative qualities – and one tiny aubergine is beginning to grow.

The snails are enjoying some of the aubergine leaves, but so long as they don’t eat too much I don’t mind.

One of our apricots is beginning to ripen and we still have a good crop on the tree despite the rain and strong winds last month having knocked a lot to the ground.  This Roussillon variety is a late-ripening apricot and we usually harvest the fruits at the beginning of July – of course, they’re the tastiest apricots I’ve ever eaten!

Oleanders are flowering everywhere, especially in villages where they have been planted in public spaces, and in our garden.  There are several variations of colour in the flowers, from white to apricot pink to dark red, but this pink is my favourite as it reminds me of the oleanders outside our house in Libya when I was a child. (They’re pretty, but beware: every part of this plant is extremely poisonous.)

Today we took some time off to go to the sea and found it surprisingly rough and the beach almost deserted.  Not tempted to swim, we had coffee and rose-water flavoured pastries at a new Tunisian café next to the beach.

Apricots!…and the rest of that meal

Apologies for having accidentally posted this before it was finished.  Here is the full version.

We’ve come back from Catalunya to find our apricot tree covered with tiny fruits for the first time for a couple of years.  Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that there won’t be any very strong winds to blow them all off!



Following l’amuse bouche…..

Well, starting before it, with Banyuls grand cru in the hotel bar.  I posted photos and more information about this speciality of the area, a naturally sweet wine made from grapes grown on steeply terraced ground in vineyards with UNESCO world heritage status, two years ago.


Another glance at l’amuse bouche:


Marinated local anchovies with olive oil:


(I won’t post photos of all the dishes eaten by the whole table, but I must mention Lo Jardinièr’s saddle of rabbit stuffed with pine nuts, tomato confit and spinach – almost a main dish, so plenty for him to offer tastings to the rest of us!)

This is now primarily a fish restaurant, which is appropriate given its position just metres from the sea, and the set menus feature at least two fish courses, but I was pleased to see there were good meat dishes on the carte.  It was hard to choose: the gambas risotto was very special, as well as the duck roasted with bitter orange, and for my main course I had lamb roasted rare with thyme and garlic – tender, pink and delicious.


There was an impressive choice of cheeses (which I forgot to photograph), which included local Pyrenean sheep’s cheese, goats’ cheese, mountain cows’ milk cheese and, of course, Roquefort.  My choice of dessert was sablé à la figue, réduction de muscat


We drank excellent local red and rosé wines from the Domaine de l’Étoile in Banyuls-sur-mer and coffee came with a piece of candied citrus peel dipped in chocolate. The service was friendly and very attentive, but not formal.  As Lo Jardinièr said, it was three hours of pure pleasure.  We’ll be back again for our third visit to the Hotel des Elmes and its restaurant as soon as we can!

Route barrée, but spring is on its way


The direct route to our garden is still closed to cars which means that if we want to take more than we can carry while walking we have to take the long, but very scenic route up to the top of the hill and down past the old mills, which is what we did today.

And there were some nice surprises when we got to the garden: the buds on the apricot tree are starting to open, and we have one daffodil flowering.  Daffodils never do very well here in this dry climate but we usually have a few more than this.



The broad beans that I sowed in the autumn and carefully protected during the very cold weather last month are now flowering.  Today we sowed a second row and also a row of mangetout peas.


These are the only bought seeds we’ll use this year, having saved all the others that we need.

In spite of the disruption caused by the building work on the land next to the gardens, the stream from the spring at the top of the hill is still running well so we were able to fill our water containers while we ate lunch in the sun.  It was the first day since January that we’ve been in the garden on a day that was warm enough for us to have lunch there, so we did.  Just a sandwich made with ham and our pickled peppers from last year, and then a coffee in the sun…..