A platter of apricots and a tomato update

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When we went to Le Grau d’Agde the other day we stopped on the way home at one of the many roadside fruit and vegetable stalls that are set up in summer to catch the holidaymakers, especially, but also the locals.  Many of them sell produce grown in fields within sight of the stall and they all sell very good value fruit and vegetables, mostly of excellent quality, but also some real bargains if you want damaged fruit to make jam with.  We bought this platter of about 5 kilos of good quality ripe apricots for 6 euros.  As we can’t possible eat them all before the get over-ripe we made jam with some of them and froze some as granita. 

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My very simple recipe for granita is to stone the fruit and then process it in the food processor until the fruit is chopped into small pieces but not completely smooth.  For 1.5 kilo of fruit (about 1.75 kilo with stones) I added the juice of a lemon.  I made a sugar syrup by bringing to the boil 400 ml of water and 700 grams of sugar until the sugar dissolved, let it cool a bit then added it to the fruit purée, put it all into freezer containers and into the freezer.  I take it out of the freezer about 15 minutes before serving and garnish it with mint leaves.

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And the tomatoes……

Yesterday evening in the garden I noticed that one of the Languedocian tomatoes seems to be starting to change colour, becoming slightly yellow rather than green on its way to red – or is it just my imagination?

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All the tomatoes are doing well with what looks like a very good crop on plants of all the varieties.  I’m especially pleased with the Languedocians, which are adapted to conditions in this area, and the Turkish pink variety, grown from seeds sent to me by beste.  The tomatoes on these plants are said to reach 1 kilo in weight and these ones look as though they’re well on their way towards that!

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The marigolds in the left-hand corner of the picture were given to us by our neighbour as he uses them along his rows of tomatoes to prevent pests.  They appear to prevent aphids, not a problem I’ve noticed with tomato plants, but they look pretty anyway!

Une chemise de cigale

The empty casings from which cicada nymphs emerge after spending at least two years underground are called ‘chemises’ in French, cicada’s shirts.  I found this on one of the posts supporting our aubergine plants:

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By the time they emerge from their chemises they have developed wings and they fly away, the males to spend the rest of the summer making their characteristic cricket-like buzzing whenever the temperature reaches 26 C or more.

We came home from the garden to a supper which I’d prepared earlier – baked cuttlefish with capers, olives and potatoes.  I’ve posted the recipe on my Food from the Mediterranean blog.

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>More spring flowers and a tiny apricot

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Apple blossom – there’s much more than last year.
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Cherry blossom – our first year.
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A rather raggedy iris.
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The bay trees are covered in flowers.
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The broom is flowering here in the garden and all over the hills in the garrigue.
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There aren’t many apricots on our tree, but it’s going to be a better year than last year.

And the last of the red cabbages

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There were three small red cabbages left and threatening to go to seed, so we picked them all this morning, sliced them and cooked them with two sliced onions sautéed in olive oil, a tablespoonful of whole cumin seeds, two tablespoons of brown sugar, a cup of red wine vinegar and a cup of water, plus some salt and pepper, left it all to simmer for about 45 minutes until the cabbage was cooked. It can now be frozen in meal-sized bagfuls.

>First lizard and a trip to the goat farm

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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.

>Weekend food

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We haven’t done much gardening this weekend, even though the weather has been sunny and mild, but we have eaten some very good food. As always on Saturday morning, the coquillage (shellfish) van came to the village from Bouzigues and I bought a kilo of mussels for our lunch.

Saturday lunch

We started with celery soup that Lo Jardinièr had made with celery from the garden, garnished with cream and parsley.

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Then we cooked the mussels, breadcrumbed them and fried them in olive oil:

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Mussels are so beautiful that I always want to take too many photos of them:

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Duck… twice

Last night we ate with the rest of the Cercle Occitan members in the village bar and the main course was duck legs in mushroom sauce. It was very good but Lo Jardinièr and I laughed when we saw them because we had bought duck legs for our Sunday lunch. I cooked them in a very different way, though, and the recipe for duck legs with apricots is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog.

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We usually eat whatever vegetables are available in the garden, according to the season, and a lot of the tomatoes that we bottle during the summer, but sometimes in winter I long for my real favourites, the summer Mediterranean vegetables – aubergines, peppers, courgettes. So I bought an aubergine and some courgettes to make our first course for lunch today – cooked in olive oil with onions, garlic and rosemary and served garnished with chopped green olives and croutons.

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>After a rainy week…

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Weeds around a mazet (vineyard shelter) near Roquessels:

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Cucumbers and aubergines flowering and beans reaching the tops of their poles:

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The tomato plants growing well, flowering and bearing small tomatoes.  All they need is some sun now. On the left are the Coeur de boeuf tomatoes, on the right the Roma plants.  We leave the side shoots to grow on the Romas because they seem to do well as bushy, short plants supported by horizontal canes along the sides of the rows.

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The apricot tree (left) looks healthy with a lot of new growth, even though there is only one apricot on it, and there are apples on the apple tree.

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The oleanders are a bit weighed down by the rain, but both the pink and the red are flowering.

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>No swimming, but plenty of water

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The reservoir at the spring above the gardens is full for the first time for a year, and the stream running down from it is rushing with water for the gardens ….

DSC02273 The old building under the wall of the reservoir. DSC02294
DSC02274 One of the mills half way down the hill. DSC02278
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The apricot blossom is opening at last, and it was 20 degrees C when we had lunch in the garden today.  Dare I say that spring is here?

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>Garden bloggers’ bloom day

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Apart from lichen and rust which I think look lovely in the spring sunlight …

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….. we have apricot blossom just about to come out (several weeks late this year) …

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…..one lone daffodil and one rather battered-looking anemone (also very late, although one anemone made the mistake of flowering in November!) …..

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…. our neighbour’s almond blossom (cheating a bit, but we can see it over the fence) and the rosemary which has been flowering all winter, even when it was very cold….

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That’s it for the flowers, but we’re still harvesting cabbages, salad leaves (lettuce, lamb’s lettuce and sorrel), as well as herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, bay).

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Garden bloggers’ bloom day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

>Apricot buds and a new cold frame

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One of the good things about writing a garden blog is that I can check back and see how this year compares with last year and the year before.  Spring seems to be late this year, but looking back to last February I can see that the apricot buds are at about the same stage this year, although the daffodils are certainly later.  Last year we had daffodils in flower in time for St David’s day – that won’t happen this year.

DSC01890 DSC01892 The apricot tree should be in flower in a few days’ time.

I sowed some mangetout peas about a month ago and had almost given up hope of the plants appearing.  I thought the seeds had been washed away by some of the heavy rain we’ve had and today I decided to sow some more in the same place.  Luckily I had a close look first because I noticed that they’re coming up at last.  We’ve covered them with chicken wire because the birds seem to like them.

DSC01893 mangetout peas emerging and, right, the garlic doing well. DSC01906 DSC01901 But the daffodils are late this year.

We’ve already got two rustic-looking cold frames in the garden, but our neighbour gave us an old window so Lo Jardinièr decided to make another one – they’ll all come in useful when our pepper and cucumber plants need a bit of protection before being planted out.  He made a base of sand covered with old terracotta floor tiles, made walls with concrete blocks and rested the window on top – very simple.

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While he was doing that I sowed another double row of broad beans and a row of spinach.  We lost at least three sowings of spinach to heavy rain in the autumn, each time I re-sowed them there would be another storm and no sign of spinach plants, except for a solitary one which has survived the winter.  We miss having the young spinach leaves in our salads, so we hope to grow some now before the weather gets too hot and dry. 

Today’s harvest:

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Rosemary, thyme and bay, which the garden provides all through the year, whatever the weather, chard, which is just recovering from the cold weather and starting to grow again, and cabbage.

>Second anniversary

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DSC01682 It’s two years this weekend since I started this blog. As I said last year, on the first anniversary, we’ve learnt a lot from becoming part of the community of gardening bloggers and have made many friends and even met some of them – Ian at Kitchen Garden in France and Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers and Vegetable Vagabond in Australia, who have both visited us here and who invited us to join their Kitchen Garden International weekend last September in south-western France. We’ve exchanged seeds with Ian and Kate and also with Laura at Mas du Diable, quite near us in the Cévennes, and with Michelle at From Seed to Table in California, where the climate is also Mediterranean. The blogs I read and from which I get enjoyment and inspiration are listed in the side bar, and there too many to mention here, but two which I read most often because they are by fellow Mediterranean gardeners, in a similar climate to ours, are Jan’s in Catalunya and Heiko’s in Italy. So, as well as our gardening neighbours here in Gabian who are a wonderful source of useful advice, we are benefiting from the knowledge and experience of gardeners and cooks all over the world. Thank you all!

Mid-February in the garden

It’s a quiet time in the garden, a time for planning the next year, but not for harvesting very much. Apart from herbs – thyme, rosemary, mint and bay especially – which we use daily, we’re picking only leeks and cabbages at the moment, with the chard and lettuces just recovering from the cold weather we’ve had.

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It seems to be a late spring – there is no sign yet of almond or apricot blossom and their buds are only just beginning to swell.

DSC01654 DSC01657 Left, the still-bare branches of our apricot tree, and above, canes and flower of bamboo, battered by the north wind, but beautiful against the clear sky on a cold day.

DSC01672 After a cold walk back from the garden we warmed ourselves with a bowl of Lo Jardinièr’s flageolet bean and vegetable soup, with goats’ cheese and cured pork on toast and some red wine from Montesquieu.

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Spring will come, though, and today we’ve sowed our tomato seeds and put them on the seed starter box which Lo Jardinièr made last year. We put the new mini-greenhouse on the balcony in the sun today to try it out and, although it was a cold day – about 6 degrees C – the temperature inside reached 22 degrees! So it will be good for the tomato and pepper plants once they germinate and before we take them to the garden to put in the more rustic-looking cold frames we have there.

>Summer fruits / Les fruits d’été

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Our apricots are a late variety, the tree is a Rouge de Roussillon which produces small but very tasty fruits.  We picked this year’s crop a few days ago – 49 apricots, twice as many as last year!  They are so delicious that we just eat them as they are, straight from the tree if possible.

Notre abricotier est une varieté tardive, le Rouge de Roussillon.  Il y a quelques jours nous avons cueilli la recolte de cette année – 49 abricots, deux fois la recolte de l’année dernière!  Les petits fruits ont beaucoup de gout, donc nous les mangeons directement de l’arbre si c’est possible.

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At the same time, a neighbour harvested peaches, so we have a box of them to eat fresh and to preserve.  I made peach granita with lemon juice, which is perfect in the hot weather we’re having.

Au mème temps un voisin a cueilli des pèches, donc nous en avons un plateau pour manger et pour conserver.  J’ai fait de granita de pèche au jus de citron – c’est parfait pour le temps chaud en ce moment.

 

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Courgettes, peppers and aubergines are fruits too  /  Les courgettes, les poivrons et les aubergines sont aussi des fruits

We couldn’t get our pepper plants, sown from seed, to grow this cold spring.  But now everything is catching up quickly and the plants we bought are producing peppers much earlier than last year. 

Les poivrons que nous avons semé n’ont pas poussé ce printemps froid.  Mais maintenant tout poussent très bien et nous avons des poivrons plus tôt que l’année dernière.

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The aubergines are growing well now too, if we can only stop the insects from eating them.  These striped beetles are a real pest. / Les aubergines poussent bien aussi, si on peut les proteger des insectes comme ces scarabés.

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We’re eating a lot of courgettes – as fritters, grilled on the barbecue and in cold courgette soup.  This is very easy to make and delicious: Chop three large courgettes and two sweet onions, cover with water, add salt and cook until soft.  Liquidise and chill.  Serve with yoghurt and chopped mint, or just a swirl of olive oil.

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And the tomatoes  /  Et les tomates

Apart from the Yellow Pear tomatoes, they’re not ripening yet, but some look close to it.  One of the earliest to ripen will probably be this Ananas, which we grew from seed we saved last year.

À part des tomates Yellow Pears, elles ne mourissent pas encore. Les plus précoces seront les Ananas que nous avons semé des semences que nous avons gardé l’année dernière.

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