Happy bees and wet olive trees

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog, and it’s been a typical spring week – a mix of warm sunny days, on one of which we ate lunch outside a café by the sea, feeling hot in the sun, and grey, gloomy days like today.

First, a happy bee, one of many buzzing around a wild Coronilla shrub at the edge of the village:

bee-1

bee-2

And then the olive trees – unfortunately the rain had to fall on the day fixed for an olive pruning demonstration organised by the Moulin de Casso in the village and the local branch l’Association Française Interprofessionnelle de l’Olive. We’d been told that if it rained we would be treated to a slide show in the salle des fetes – I wasn’t surprised because here in the Midi hardly any one goes out if it rains. But I was surprised to find that we did after all go to the olive grove and watch the real thing – much better than slides, of course.

olives-1

 

olives-2

 

In spite of the cold and the rain we were given a good idea of how to get the best out of olive trees – in our case only two small ones, but the course is aimed at all olive growers, from large-scale professionals to people like us who have a few trees in their gardens. And readers of this blog, and anyone who knows anything about the Midi, won’t be surprised to know that the morning ended with apéritifs accompanied by tapenade made from last year’s crop from these trees, followed by a very good lunch of charcuterie, cassoulet, cheese and apple pie, with white and red wine and muscat de Rivesaltes with the dessert… and a lot of Occitan joia e convivença (happiness and conviviality).

Advertisements

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.

Bees and lizards – it must be summer

IMGP0714

A honey bee on the lavender flowers….

IMGP0744 and a lizard on the wall of the shed.  I don’t know why this one has a black mark on its back.

IMGP0755 

The apple crop is looking good from this tree we planted as a small sucker about 6 years ago.

IMGP0721

This is one of the female flowers we were hoping for on the sweet corn plants.

IMGP0759

These scabious flowers grow as a weed in the garden, but they’re pretty.

IMGP0760

These Californian poppies aren’t weeds – we planted them, and I love their intense colour.

Work in the garden today: tying up tomato and cucumber plants, pinching out side shoots on some of the tomato plants, especially the Languedocian ones which just want to grow in all directions and have some quite large tomatoes on them now, taking out the mangetout pea plants and planting out some lettuce seedlings given to us by a friend.