Spring Sunday

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This butterfly was drying out its wings in the sunshine this morning, before we went home to lunch. A few very tasty wild asparagus spears with bread made with flax seeds:

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and pot-roasted chicken legs with leeks (the last of this winter’s from the garden) and jambon cru. I cooked the leeks with an onion and a few sliced garlic cloves in olive oil until they were soft, put a layer of slices of cured ham some sprigs of wild thyme and then the chicken legs and a thinly sliced carrot on top, and added a good glassful of white wine, salt and pepper.After simmering it for about an hour we ate it with orzo, a rice-shaped pasta that went very well with the winey, chicken sauce.

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Another sign of spring is the appearance of borage flowers on the edges of vineyards and on walls. In the past I’ve made a kind of Turkish börek, filo pastry parcels stuffed with cheese and lightly cooked borage leaves. Don’t eat them raw as they’re very prickly. This year I want to make a version of the borage and walnut ravioli we bought a couple of weeks ago at an Italian stall in Clermont-l’Hérault market. If it works, I’ll post the recipe!

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Spring salad

When he was here last week our son gave us a copy of Ottolenghi the Cookbook, full of the kind of food we love.  Today for lunch Lo Jardinièr made his interpretation of one of the recipes in it – a salad of griddled asparagus and courgette, with rocket from the garden, some of our pickled orange peppers, and goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland.  It made a perfect colourful lunch for a spring day.

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Out in the vineyards the vines are now growing proper leaves and the beginnings of flower buds – this year’s wine is well under way.

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There’s one garriguette strawberry turning red in the garden – I hope we can eat it before the birds get to it!

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And the cistus bushes are beginning to flower.  The flowers look like crumpled tissue paper and last only a day – I think I got to this one a bit late, but there’ll be many more.

first cistus

Spring festival

The tradition here in the Languedoc on Easter Monday is to go out into the garrigue to pick wild asparagus then light a fire to cook an omelette with it out of doors.  Like other traditions at this time of year it must have pagan origins and it is one that I’m very happy to observe.  We find wild asparagus in our garden, so it’s quite easy to collect enough for an omelette, which we did at lunchtime today.

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The mangetout pea plants are growing well and I put up their supporting netting this morning.  There are small broad beans coming now, but I’ll leave them for a few days longer.  And the haricot bean plants I sowed on 19 March are coming up too.  Other signs of spring in the garden today were: the Rose banksiae flowers

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the apple blossom

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and the cherry blossom

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I love this time of year!

Suddenly it’s spring

The rain we had last week has made a big difference to everything in the garden.  The broad beans are growing, the second sowing of these and the mangetout peas are emerging from the earth, the ground is soft enough to dig.

The bay trees are flowering

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A brimstone butterfly was fluttering from flower to flower on the aubretia, folding its lovely leaf-shaped wings as it hovered over each one.

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I found enough wild rocket to add some extra flavour to the sandwiches we ate in the sun:

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And we picked enough wild asparagus to make a first course at supper this evening:

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With the lighter evenings since the weekend, I even managed to catch just enough daylight to photograph them once they were cooked and served with a little salt and some olive oil milled in the village:

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>Update after the rain

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We’ve had several more days of rain so the garden is well watered, but we could do with some sunshine now to encourage the plants to grow.

A nice surprise

DSC03533 Our artichoke plants were all badly affected by the cold weather we had in March, which came just as the plants were beginning to grow again after the freezing temperatures we had in January.  This time last year we were picking artichokes, but this year I was afraid we weren’t going to get any at all.  So I was very pleased today to see that two small artichokes had appeared – after all, I didn’t want to have to rename the blog!

And olives ….

well, flower buds at least – our little Lucque tree is covered in buds.

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We’ve been preparing the beds for the pepper plants and deciding how we’re going to fit them all in.  We have about 40 plants altogether, not counting chilli peppers, as this year we’ve managed to get almost all of them to grow well.  We’ll probably plant them out tomorrow and I’ll take some photos then.

Replacing the beans the birds had eaten

DSC03538 So many of our haricot and alubia bean plants had failed to appear or been eaten by birds that I germinated some in seed trays in the house.  Today we planted them out in the gaps, with some Planeta climbing mangetout beans as well.  I made a string of ‘bunting’ with strips of a plastic bag which I hope will deter the birds.

Roses and a butterfly on the wild thyme

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There’s borage growing as a weed among the roses, but I think it looks good there.
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Asparagus

The wild asparagus is almost over now but yesterday we bought some cultivated asparagus from a stall in a fair in the village.  It hadn’t come far, just 5 km from a nearby village, and it was delicious.  We had some of it with a vinaigrette dressing and crusty Aveyronnais bread, and also made an asparagus and goats’ cheese tart.

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>Spring flowers, Lezignan onions and wild asparagus

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There’s a partridge hiding in the shadow under these olive trees, and a colourful mix of grape hyacinths and dandelions in the foreground.

It’s the time for planting oignons de Lézignan, the variety of sweet onions which come from the village of Lézignan la Cèbe near Pézenas (ceba is the Occitan word for onion and the village has taken the French version of this word as part of its name).  I wrote about this last year on this blog.  Last year our neighbour went to buy them for us from Monsieur Lucas, one of several producers in the village, the one he says is the best, and this year it was our turn to go. 

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M. Lucas has a website, advertised in the photo (left) for orders by post:
plantsdoignons.free.fr 
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I liked the onion sign attached to a rubbish bin!

As M. Lucas’s website tells us: ‘La Cébe des Lézignan es douça coumo lou pan’ (Occitan for ‘Lézignan onions are sweet as bread’.  Last year we enjoyed them raw in salads until the grew bigger and stronger-flavoured when we barbecued them and cooked them in sauces.

Lo Jardinièr planted them today in a double row, cutting off the tops of the leaves and putting them not too deep and lying slightly against the earth beside them.  Once they settle into the ground they straighten themselves up.

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While he was doing that, I sowed the first haricot beans of the season.  According to one of our friends and gardening neighbours, St Joseph’s Day, 19 March, is the time to start sowing haricot beans, but although we’d prepared the ground for one reason or another I didn’t get round to sowing them until today, which according to the Gardener’s calendar is a good phase of the moon for them.

And it’s asparagus time!

Looking back at my blog posts for this time last year, I noticed that when I wrote about Lézignan onions I also wrote about wild asparagus.  So, it’s not surprising that today we’ve picked the first wild asparagus of this spring.  We didn’t have to go far – when we first took over our garden it had been unused for many years, so wild plants had taken over.  When we found wild asparagus plants we either moved them to somewhere convenient or left them where they were in some of the wilder areas of the plot.  Today we picked a bunch which made a tasty first course for our lunch, cooked in boiling water for about 10 minutes and served very simply with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper and bread.  They have all the flavour of fresh cultivated asparagus but intensely concentrated into thinner spears – wonderful!

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Jasmine flowers too …

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The jasmine we planted a couple of years ago is flowering for the first time.

>Some flowers in the garrigue / Quelques fleurs en garrigue

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It was a lovely clear sunny morning and from Montesquieu we could see Mont Canigou and the Pyrenees, the peaks still covered with snow.  / Il a fait beau et clair ce matin et de Montesquieu on a pu voir le Mont Canigou et les Pyrénées, leurs sommets couverts de neige.

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Olive trees live for centuries and often the original tree has died while new young trees have grown up around the beautiful shapes of the hollow centre.  / Les oliviers vivent pour plusiers siècles et souvent l’arbre original est mort et des arbres nouveaux ont poussé autour les formes belles du centre creux.

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In the garrigue, the scrubby vegetation that grows on uncultivated hills, this is the time of year when the plants flower before dying back during the dry summer.  /  Dans le garrigue, la végétation broussailleuse qui pousse sur les collines, les plantes fleurissent à cette saison avant de perdre leurs feuilles et leurs tiges pendant la sécheresse d’été.

I find the website http://www.maltawildplants.com/ very helpful when I’m trying to identify Mediterranean plants.  It is an incredible work by one man, Stephen Mifsud, who is cataloguing and describing the flowering plants which grow in Malta.  Many of these are common to the area all around the Mediterranean, so it is an extremely useful data base.

Today we saw / aujourd’hui on a vu:

cistus albidus   wild asparagus_1_1 cistus close up_1 Cistus albidus
clustered sulla_1_1 Clustered sulla, Hedysarum glomeratum Lathyrus clymenum_1_1
Crimson pea, Lathyrus clymenum
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Thyme and wild asparagus growing together.

Le thym et les asperges sauvages ensemble.

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Asphodelus albus
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Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

new salad box_1_1 Back at the garden, Lo Jardinièr finished making a new raised bed and planted out lettuce plants our nighbour had given us.  He made a wooden frame with some cast-off planks, put it on a patch of rough ground we haven’t used before and filled it with a mixture of half compost and half soil.

Lo Jardinièr a construit une parterre pour les salades.

>Asparagus and sweet onions / Les asperges et les oignons de Lézignan

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Onions from Lézignan-la-Cèbe are a local speciality.  They are sweet onions from a small village near Pézenas which in 1615 added ‘la Cèbe’ to its name, from the Occitan word for onion – ceba. In Occitan there is even a special verb meaning ‘to plant onions’ – cebejar.  In spring the onion growers in the village sell young plants at the roadside for replanting.  Our neighbour went there and brought 100 plants for us.

L’oignon doux de Lézignan-la-Cèbe est une spécialité de ce village près de Pézenas.  Le village a ajouté ‘la Cèbe’ à son nom en 1615 en honneur.  Ce mot vient du mot occitan ceba (oignon).  En printemps les cultivateurs d’oignons vendent les jeunes plantes au bord de la route.  Notre voisin y est allé et il nous en a apporté 100 plants.

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It was difficult to find space for 100 onions we hadn’t planned for, but we’ve put them in a double row alongside the potatoes.

asparagus salad 1_1_1 We’ve been lucky this week – we were given some more wild asparagus too.  We cooked the spears for a couple of minutes in boiling water, let them cool and dressed them with olive oil and a little lemon juice to eat as a salad.  They were delicious – a concentrated flavour of asparagus but with the added ‘herbyness’ of the garrigue. / On a préparé une salade d’asperges sauvages: cuire les asperges dans l’eau bouillante pour 2 minutes et puis ajouter un peu d’huile d’olive et de jus de citron.  Elles étaient delicieuses avec un gout concentré d’asperge et des herbes de la garrigue.

And a rustic wall / et un mur rustique

Lo Jardinièr has started to make a stone wall to protect our rose bushes from the north wind, using pieces of stone he’s collected.  / Lo Jardinièr a commencé la construction d’un mur en pierres pour protéger nos rosiers du vent du nord, en utilisant des pierres qu’il a ramassé.

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the first row of stones in a trench ….
rose wall 3_1_1 choosing the right stones … rose wall 2_1_1_1 work in progress.