Occitan colours

 

This vineyard near Roquessels has turned the colours of the Occitan flag. These are also Catalan colours, on a day when people in the part of Catalunya that lies the other side of the border are voting in an important election which may lead to a referendum in which they can decide on the issue of independence from Spain. Believing as I do that political responsibility should be as locally devolved as possible, I’m following events with great interest.

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Green tomatoes

After a couple of cold nights earlier in the week it didn’t seem as though any tomatoes left on the plant would ripen. We picked the few that were left and I made green tomato and paprika jam with them to use as a spicy addition to goats’ cheeses….or anything else. And then, just as we thought we’d finished with tomatoes for the year, a friend gave us a basketful of his green tomatoes. We picked out the best ones and put them in a box with a few red tomatoes – we’ve done this before and it does work, the green tomatoes ripen indoors although they don’t taste quite as nice as fresh ones.

There were about 2 kilos of tomatoes left so I decided to make some more green tomato jam, this time without the added piment d’Espelette. I roughly chopped the tomatoes and added a finely chopped whole lemon and the same weight of sugar – 2 kilos. I mixed it all together in a large pan and left it for a couple of hours.

While I was waiting for the sugar to draw out the liquid from the tomatoes we went for a trip around the hills through Montesquieu and Fos. It was like spring – sunny, 17°C with a light breeze. It didn’t look like spring, though, because the vines are changing colour. This year we’re not seeing the beautiful autumn colours we usually see, though, for some reason. The vines seem to be turning from green to dingy brown to threadbare quite quickly.

But we saw wild olives ripening:

A bright mazet (vine grower’s shelter) in a vineyard:

and another mazet higher up in the hills sheltered by chestnut trees:

There were bees buzzing around the wild mint at the side of the road and around (and above) this arbutus bush:

And at last, on the way home, we saw a vineyard in proper autumn colours!

Then it was home to cook the jam, bringing it to the boil and simmering for an hour or so until it reached setting point (when a spoonful put onto a saucer sets with a wrinkled surface), whizzing it with a hand-held liquidiser half way through the cooking and then bottling it, using Lo Jardinièr’s nice Catalan jam funnel.

So that’s my recipe for green tomato jam: 2 kilos of green tomatoes, 2 kilos of sugar, I lemon and a morning out in the countryside!

And for lunch, while the jam was simmering, we ate some ripe tomatoes given to us by another friend, made into a cool-weather version of tomato and mozzarella salad. I cut the tomatoes in half and put slices of garlic into each half, added some wild thyme we’d picked while we were out, salt, pepper and olive oil and put a slice of mozarella on each half. I put them in the oven at 200°C for about half an hour and they were read to eat, garlicky, thyme-flavoured and oozing melted cheese.

Definitely the beginning of autumn

The rosemary is flowering again after a dormant dry summer:

The olives are ripening and I’ll be harvesting these soon:

And gradually the vine leaves are beginning to turn their different shades of autumn. This is the Alicante Bouschet variety that has red-fleshed as well as red-skinned grapes and is used to give a deep colour to red wines.

I swam in warm sea at Marseillan-plage a few days ago but I don’t think I will again as the nights are getting cooler and the sea will get chillier from now on.

La Sainte-Catherine

One of the many sayings and planting rules often quoted to us by gardeners here applies to today: À la SainteCatherine, tout bois prend racine – on St Catherine’s day (25 November) all wood takes root, in other words, it’s the day for planting trees.  One of our friends and gardening neighbours has promised us an off-shoot from his hazelnut tree but by the time I got to the garden, rather late in the morning after having to spend a few hours at my desk first, he had already dug the hole for the apricot tree he was going to plant and had gone home.  I dug the hole for our hazel tree so that it will be ready next time we see him, probably over the weekend, when we can transfer the sapling from his garden to ours.

Now that the clouds have gone and we have some real autumn sunlight, it’s not too late to see some of the colours of the different varieties of vine leaves in their small parcelles, forming a sea in the wide valley just north of the village.  This morning the air was wonderfully clear and the remaining colours bright:

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nov vines 1

nov vines 2

nov vines 3

I took these photos from almost exactly the same position as I took those on my post on 8 October so you can see the difference in the vineyards from six weeks ago when the vines were still green.

In the garden, the broad beans that I sowed two weeks ago have all germinated so there is a nice double row of small plants coming up.  It’s a good feeling, to have the first crop of spring on its way.  It suggests that winter will pass, and the sunshine in the garden today was so warm I could almost have believed it was spring.  We cut bamboo leaves from the high plants bordering the garden to protect the beans from possible frost over the next couple of months.

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There are broad bean plants under there, somewhere!

Another hopeful sign for next spring is the healthy new growth on the artichoke plants.  They always die down completely during summer when it’s so dry and it’s always encouraging to see the strong leaves coming up again after the rain in the autumn.

artichoke

We got home at lunchtime, very hungry and with nothing prepared so I made a very quick pasta alla carbonara, with fusilli rather than spaghetti because it has a shorter cooking time.  I fried some lardons (small pieces of bacon), beat an egg into the remains of a pot of crème fraïche, added some grated Cantal cheese, chopped garlic and a lot of ground black pepper and stirred it all into the cooked pasta.  Then garnished it with some parsley I’d just picked in the garden.  It was all ready within about 15 minutes and, of course, it was just what we needed after a morning’s work!

carbonara

Celebrating shadows

At last we have a cloudless sky today, for the first time for over a month, and with a dry north wind and bright light we have the weather we expect during late autumn and winter in the Midi.  I feel as though I’m home again after a long stay somewhere very dark.

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The market looked very lively in the sunlight and with people coming out after days indoors (because no one here likes going out in the rain).  I was too busy buying meat, fish and garlic and chatting to friends to remember to take photos there but some of the ingredients I bought went into my lunch:

tapas

Lo Jardinièr wanted a mackerel and I wanted prawns, so we each bought our own choice.  I made a small collection of tapas – my lazy, less hot version of gambas al pil pil, made with a chopped chorizo pepper which is spicy rather than hot and lots of garlic (Chica Andaluza has a more authentic version), some of the last green peppers of assorted varieties, that we’ve harvested at the very end of the season so they’re very small, fried in olive oil, and some slices of chorizo made not in Spain but in Lacaune where our market charcutier comes from.  And, of course, some crusty paillasse bread to mop up all the olive oily juices.   I did share the peppers and chorizo with Lo Jardinièr and he said his fried mackerel was excellent too.  It was a great way to celebrate the sunshine!

Autumnal

Over the past three or four days in our département and its surrounding area of Languedoc-Roussillon between 100 and 400 mm of rain has fallen, depending on location.  Although we’re used to long dry periods followed by downpours, the storms are normally quite short and this is as much rain as we usually have in six months.  The worst is over now and the storm has now moved eastwards into Provence and the Côte d’Azur and south-westwards to the Pyrenees, but it is still raining.

For our first autumnal Sunday lunch of the season I roasted the remaining quarter of the pumpkin we made soup with the other day….

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peeled it and cut it into chunks, put it in an oven-proof dish with olive oil, salt and pepper, a couple of sprigs of rosemary and some bay leaves, and some unpeeled cloves of garlic.

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I put it in the oven at 180 C for about an hour, until the pieces of pumpkin were nicely browned at the edges.

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There’s something very warming about the sight of an earthenware dish filled with roast pumpkin!  It went very well with some pot-roasted duck legs – recipe on the Food from the Mediterranean blog.

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The wine we drank with it was a red Mont Lequio from Domaine des Pascales in the village.  There they also sell cheeses from the Aveyron, brought back from the farm where they are made when they deliver wine to that area.  We followed our main course with this St Nectaire fermier, perfectly aged with a full flavour and a still-creamy tasting centre.

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Somehow, the weather didn’t seem so bad after lunch!

Going shopping

We realised we were running uncharacteristically low on wine so, with our son arriving tomorrow, we thought it was time to go to our favourite domaine d’Estève in Roquessels to buy some of their excellent Faugères red.  It’s still a few weeks early for the real autumn colour in the vineyards but the leaves are beginning to turn and the views on this clear blowy morning were wonderful.

vineyards near Castelsec

Roquessels is the village on the hillside on the left of the photo above.

Roman rock

The rock in the centre here remains uncultivated and is said to be unchanged from Roman times, with many of the same varieties of plants that were growing there at that time.

mazet near Roquessel 

A mazet, or vineyard shelter.  Many of these remain among the vines although they are no longer used.

vines near Roquessel

Vines near Roquessel growing in rocky schist or shale.  It’s said that vines must suffer to make good wine and these vines certainly have to work hard to find water.

Summer or autumn?

Daytime temperatures are in the 30s, and the aubergine plants are flowering again:

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and there are small aubergines growing:

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But we’ve picked the first of the pumpkins to store for the winter, five that we thought would be butternut squashes but which seem to be a hybrid:

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and we’re making the first batch of membrillo with windfall quinces (more on this when it’s finished bubbling away on the hob):

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