Autumn activities

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I’m not sure how long they’re going to stay there – one or two have fallen off already – but here is a string of figs I’ve hung to dry, hoping to have our own Christmas figs.  Like fairy lights, they decorate an oak cupboard that was made by the village carpenter in west Wales for my great-grandparents’ wedding present in 1868.  I don’t think they could have imagined that fresh figs and paprika peppers would one day be hanging from it.

La rentrée is the word on everyone’s lips here in southern France this week – it’s the beginning of the school year and also the return to work and normal every day life for adults too. For me, this means concentrating again on my own writing and mentoring other writers.  I’ve redesigned my website and I hope it makes it easier to use….it seemed like the right season for a change.

write in languedoc home page

>Tarral – the north wind

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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.

>November in the garden

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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. IMGP2445
Two Lucque olives fallen from the tree during heavy rain. They’re a good size this year.
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Green, ripening and ripe olives on the same branch.
IMGP2432 Some more ripening olives.
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Butternut squash.
IMGP2449 Two pumpkins, one ripe, one still green.
IMGP2499 The artichoke plants are recovering from the dry summer. IMGP2456
Red cabbages are doing well, although the leeks we planted at the same time aren’t.
IMGP2461 Rosemary still flowering. IMGP2467
A rose bud about to open.
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A snail on an olive leaf next to a dead sunflower head.
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Rose hips on a wild rose bush.
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Cardinale vine leaf.

>Definitely autumn

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Our son was staying with us this week and, while it was warm enough to have lunch in the garden a couple of times, the sea wasn’t warm enough for swimming.

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Barbecued lamb and peppers for lunch, but the sea was chilly at Portiragnes-plage.

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We’re still picking plenty of aubergines and peppers – the red ones are Kolaska, a delicious spicy variety, the green ones are Marconi and Corno di Toro which I don’t think will ripen now as it’s too late in the year. They’re very tasty when they’re green, though. The Praying Mantis seemed to be looking for somewhere to lay its eggs.

Pézenas market

On Saturday morning, before going back to London, our son wanted to buy jambon to take with him… we saw a few other stalls as well:

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denim and sunflowers…
IMGP1993 baskets….
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winter hats and scarves….
IMGP2005 olive oil and salt cod…
IMGP2007 fritters and sea food salads IMGP2009 eggs and charcuterie….
IMGP2010 bread…. IMGP2025
and fish.

Sunday lunch

On our own again after our son went home, we consoled ourselves with a very good lunch:

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Aubergine slices with goats’ cheese, garlic and oregano, with honey and balsamic vinegar dressing for our first course, followed by pieces of shoulder of lamb slow-cooked with figs, shallots and white wine, served with rice.

Quinces again

We picked a basketful of quinces to make membrillo (quince paste), as we usually do at this time of year – the recipe is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog. The quinces this year are of much better quality, bigger with fewer bugs in them, so easier to cook.

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And a beautiful sunset this evening

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>A little rain

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We’ve had a couple of thunderstorms and two cloudy days – a little rain but not nearly enough after a summer that’s been even drier than usual.  When the first thunderstorm came the night before last, I was worried about the turnip seedlings that had just emerged the day before.  Last year some of these got completely washed away by heavy rain.  I needn’t have worried, though, they’re still there:

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Planting out the winter vegetables

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We’ve planted out the red cabbage, green cabbage, cauliflower and leek plants which we bought because we didn’t get round to sowing them earlier in the summer.  Neighbours have given us lettuce seedlings, too, so we should have lots of leaves for salads and soups in the autumn and winter.

 

 

And the aubergines seem to be starting again, with new flowers and a few new fruits, one of which we ate for lunch today.

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Market day

The market was busier than it has been over the summer – there were stalls selling household goods and our usual charcutier was back from the break he took last week.  We bought pork chops to barbecue outside in the place, sharing the fire with our neighbour as we often do.  While they were cooking we had goats’ cheeses with thyme, garlic, olive oil and cherry tomatoes.

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>Beginning of a new season

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Today we seemed to be turning over a new leaf into autumn:

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Because we were so busy over the summer we didn’t get round to sowing leeks, cabbages and cauliflowers, so we’ve bought plants and we’ll be planting them out during the next few days.  Today I sowed turnips and Lo Jardinièr planted out Rougette and Oak leaf lettuces.

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We have five good pumpkins like the two above, which should keep for the winter.  We’d given up hope of getting anything from the Butternut squash plants that our neighbour had given us because they seemed to be producing only male flowers.  We’d even given up watering them when we noticed this surprise one growing on a plant which had climbed up the pea netting.

And some more figs….

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The figs are ripening well on our friend’s trees and we picked some more this morning, but not enough to make jam yet.  I baked some with butter and local garrigue honey this morning (just 20 minutes at 180 degrees C), and we’ll eat them tonight with crème fraiche.

 

 

 

 

Mediterranean diet

I was delighted at the long comments my last post attracted and it was interesting to read what others thought.  I should emphasise, though, that I make no claims about health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, or any other diet, except to report that it is said that a Mediterranean diet can lead to a longer life.  I know it doesn’t always, though, from early deaths in my own family.  Mediterranean food is the kind of food I enjoy eating most – that’s why I eat it.  And, of course, it’s available locally for me.

>Foire au gras and pruning the olive tree

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The foire au gras this weekend in Roujan is the beginning of the Christmas season.  People here don’t send cards, give as many presents or shop as determinedly as those in other countries, but food, as always, is important.  The foire au gras (which translates into English as ‘fat fair’, but this doesn’t sound so good), is a chance to buy foie gras, cured duck breast, whole ducks, wine, cured sausages …. all the delicious foods that are part of Christmas meals in this area, and all directly from the producers.

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The fair is held in the village hall and sports hall, a very modern setting for a traditional event.  Outside there were cheese, shellfish and vegetables stalls and amusements for children.  Inside there were rows of craft stalls and, most importantly, the wine and food producers’ stands.

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We bought a duck and some foie gras from M. Gaubert of Camp Grand in the Aveyron, who was eager to talk about his produce and give advice about cooking and serving it.  We also tasted for the first time (and bought) some excellent wines from Domaine Bonian at nearby Pouzolles.  Some say that this is an expensive way to buy these products, but I would much prefer to pay a little extra and buy from the producers, talk to them and taste, rather than buying anonymously in a supermarket.

Some people, too, I know, have reservations about foie gras production, but I think that when it is properly produced it is not cruel, unlike the mass-produced battery-farmed chicken, eggs and pork which are eaten by so many.

Pruning the olive tree

A couple of weeks ago we harvested the olives from the older and slightly larger of our two olive trees.   This tree was one we bought without thinking too much about it, soon after we bought the garden, as we wanted to plant one as soon as possible.  It has always been rather straggly and was in need of a good prune, which I did this morning.  The aim when pruning olive trees is to have space in the centre with the branches spreading outwards and this is what I’ve tried to do.

DSC00125 Before pruning . . . DSC00127

. . . and after.

Pruning like this may mean a smaller crop next year, but it should make a better shaped tree for the future.

DSC00135 I’ve taken the fresher, newer leaves to dry because I want to try olive leaf tea.  The other branches will make a good start for the fire the next time we light the barbecue.

Today’s harvest

DSC00129 Tiny parsnips and carrots (some of which were given to us by our neighbours in exchange for some parsnips, which they’d never tried before), the last of the aubergines and, hiding behind the bowl, some radishes.  We’re also picking salad leaves almost every day now.

 

 

DSC00133 And what is this doing here?  Anemones aren’t supposed to flower until the spring, but this one seems to have been fooled by the warm weather we’ve been having lately.

>Autumn vineyards near Roquessels

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Taken yesterday on a trip to buy wine from Domaine d’Estève, about 7 kilometres away.  It’s still definitely autumn here, with the leaves on the plane trees just turning brown and the temperature up to 16 degrees even on a cloudy day like this.  The vine growers are beginning to prune their vines.  This takes a long time – all winter for those who have large vineyards – as it all must be done by hand with secateurs.

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The vines in the foreground in the pictures above are the ones I photographed last month – here – which have now been pruned ready for next year’s growth.

 

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The dark green foliage on the hillside to the left is mostly evergreen arbutus and holm oak.  There’s some nice old terracing in the photo on the right.  I wish the sun had been shining, but we’re having unusually cloudy weather this week.