A swallowtail and some passing cyclists

The big attraction in our village this morning was the expected passage of the 7th stage of this year’s Tour de France but while we were waiting in the sun on the hottest day of the year so far, I noticed this Swallowtail butterfly on the buddleia flowers at the side of the road.

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And the Tour? Oh, yes, that passed through much more quickly than a butterfly, although the build-up was exciting.

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There’s a larger version of this image, with a haiku I wrote to accompany it, on my photo blog: Moments de lutz

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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Ripe grapes and a blue butterfly

At 3 a.m. this morning, for the first time this year, I heard the tractors and grape-picking machines leaving the village to begin the harvest of the white grapes. These are usually harvested at night to avoid the 30°C and higher heat of the day which isn’t good for white grapes as they’re being transported to the caves. Out in the vineyards this morning I could see that it won’t be very long – a couple of weeks probably – before the harvest of the red grapes is under way.

While I was taking photos of the vines Lo Jardinièr called me to look at a butterfly that had settled on his hand. It stayed there for about 5 minutes so I had a chance to take several photos of it.

When I got home I looked it up in Butterflies of Britain and Europe: A Photographic Guide and identified it as an Amanda’s Blue (Polyommatus amandus) that apparently likes to land on human limbs because it gets minerals from sweat – so that explains why it stayed so long, something I’ve never seen a butterfly do before.

Dragonfly and butterfly

Following yesterday’s Common White butterfly, some less common sightings by the lake at Vailhan this morning:

A Scarlet Dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea), posing on a reed. It seems to be using its proboscis to extract the inside of the reed. These dragonflies can be seen all over southern Europe and North Africa and there are many of them along the shore of this lake at the Barrage des Olivettes.

And a few metres from the shore I saw my first ever Two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius). It’s a large butterfly, as big as a small bird, whose grubs feed on arbutus leaves, which explains its presence here where the surrounding hillsides are covered with arbutus as well as holm oaks.

As common as…. peppers and butterflies

 

Most of our lavender flowers have died now, but I was glad there were one or two left this morning to attract this butterfly, even though it’s hardly a rare variety – either a Common White or a Southern Common White, it seems.

And even more common in our garden today were these red peppers – a real treat to come home to after a few days away.

 

Some of these are paprka peppers for drying, and the bigger ones are a mix of Red Marconi and Kandil Dolma. I decided to preserve the Red Marconis by pickling them – I held each one with tongs over the gas ring until the skin was blackened (it’s best to do this over a barbecue as I did the other day, but it was just too hot today to light the barbecue). Then there was the rather fiddly job of peeling them – made easier, but not easy by charring them like this.

 

When they were (roughly) peeled I brought to the boil a cup of water, a cup of cider vinegar and a cup of sugar in a pan then added the peppers for only 5 minutes or so, because they had already been partly cooked in the flames.  I put them straight into a sterilised jar and sealed it. They’ll be nice in the winter eaten in salads or as tapas.

 

I made salads for our lunch with goats’ cheese, sliced fresh raw peppers, chopped garlic, green olives, parsley and local olive oil – lovely flavours and crunchy peppers.

 

Canicule

Much of south-western, central and eastern France is suffering from a canicule – heatwave  – this weekend, with temperatures of 40° C which must be unbearable in those humid regions.  Here in the Languedoc we have normal summer temperatures of 30 to 35 degrees – it’s hot, but then it’s dry which makes the heat more tolerable, and we’re used to it and know how to cope with it.  This is the Mediterranean summer. We go out to the garden early in the morning, close the windows and shutters during the day and open them at night for some refreshing cooler air, and drink plenty of water….and some chilled wine too, of course!

Apricot round-up

This is definitely the best year ever for our Rouge du Roussillon apricot tree, planted when we first bought the garden about 8 years ago. For the past two years there have been badly timed cold snaps in March which have killed off the fruit soon after fertilisation.  This year everything seems to have been perfect for a great crop and we’ve already picked about 11 kilos of fruit, with a few kilos still ripening.

I love apricots, but even so that’s a lot of fruit so, although we’ve been eating them every day and have given some to friends, some of it has had to be preserved.  Now we’ll be able to enjoy the delicious flavour all through the year.  I used some of the windfalls and damaged fruit to make jam – equal quantities of fruit and sugar and a little lemon juice brought to the boil and simmered until setting point, which didn’t seem to be very long. We used to buy special jam-making sugar with added pectin but have decided not to do so any more as it is very expensive and it just doesn’t work. The best jam we’ve made so far this year was with ordinary sugar.

And then there’s sorbet – one of the best ways of preserving the fresh flavour of any fruit because it isn’t cooked. For every 500 grams of stoned fruit, puréed in the food processor, I added 300 grams of sugar dissolved in a cupful of water – heating it in a pan until all the grains dissolved. I mixed the syrup and fruit in a freezer container and put it in the freezer overnight – very simple! And when we have family visiting in a couple of weeks’ time we’ll be able to serve it with fresh mint and maybe a little Cartagène or sweet wine.

There are other ways of using all these apricots and I was very happy to be reminded of apricot leather, which I used to love as a child in Turkey. That’s an experiment still in progress at the moment: I stoned and roughly chopped 700 grams of apricots, added the juice of half a lemon and 50 grams of sugar, brought them all to the boil and simmered until all the fruit was cooked. I puréed the fruit using a hand-held liquidiser (although you could use a mouli-légumes) and spread it thinly on a sheet of greaseproof paper in a baking tin. It can be dried in the oven on a low temperature – about 120 C – but since the it’s so hot here at present I’m trying to dry it in the sun. I hope in a day or so to be able to show you the dried end result, but this is what it looked like this morning:

One other idea which I haven’t tried yet is to preserve the fruit in alcohol. More on that soon.

Just to finish today, here’s a brimstone butterfly that rested near me in the garden a day or so ago:

Another hoopoe, or perhaps the same one?

In the vineyard just across the road from where I saw a pair of hoopoes flying a couple of weeks ago, this morning I saw one again, this time on the ground among the vines – maybe it’s one of the pair. This seems likely since they are territorial birds. It wasn’t long before it noticed me an flew away.

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Just a bit further along the road I saw this beautiful small butterfly – a Silver-studded Blue (Plebeius argus):

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Invention, inspiration, influence

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I bought another bouquet of small artichauts violets in the market and Lo Jardinièr asked me to do them ‘as I usually do them’.  Well, he should know that I rarely do exactly what I’m asked to do and I couldn’t resist trying something new with these, something very simple that may have been done by someone before me, but it was a first for me.  I cut the ends of the leaves, trimming down to the heart, peeled off the outer leaves and removed what little choke there was, all the time covering the cut edges with lemon juice to stop them browning.  I mixed a couple of tablespoons of stoned green olives, 3 cloves of garlic and a piece of stale bread in the liquidiser until they made a stuffing which I put into the hearts of the artichokes.  I then put them, stems pointing upwards, in a good layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan and added a glass of white wine and some salt and pepper, brought it all to the boil and simmered gently for about an hour until the artichokes were cooked.  Some of the stuffing escaped but that just seemed to add flavour to the oil and wine sauce.  Served cold with a slice of lemon they were delicious and luckily Lo Jardinièr agreed.

I was interested by a recent post by Cooking in Sens and the comments that followed about whether or not chefs ‘invent’ recipes.  As she says, ‘In cooking, there is really nothing new under the sun.’  But recipes do not always have to come from books or television programmes, or even the Internet.  I love cookery books and books about food and I have shelves of them – by Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Giorgio Locatelli, the Moro couple, and many many more – but I rarely follow a recipe.  I use the books as inspiration, added to the knowledge I’ve amassed over more than forty years of cooking, from my mother, from talking to friends, especially here in the Languedoc (where no one I know uses cookery books at all), and from my own experience and experimentation.  I think if you have a grounding in cooking, from any of these sources, and a knowledge of which ingredients go well with which others, you can be inspired, influenced and then invent.  The salad that Lo Jardinièr made for lunch, which he described as a Mediterranean salad, for its colour and flavour, is another example of this:

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Local goats’ cheese, chorizo, lettuce, wild rocket (picked in the garden this morning), pickled yellow peppers (from the garden last summer)….and garlic, of course.

In the garden today we planted out the corn plants, a Greek variety resistant to drought, grown from seed we saved last year – we had 44 very healthy looking plants.  I also saw what I think is a Wall butterfly, looking slightly battered:

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the Lucque olive tree about to flower:

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a snail enjoying a good meal of rosemary – we have plenty, we can spare some!

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and some tiny wild violets:

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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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