Olive oil and chillies


Sorting through belongings in a relative’s house while I was away I came across this reminder of a time when, in Britain, olive oil was bought in these tiny phials ‘for medicinal and household use’ and chilli peppers were used as a substitute for mustard plaster as a remedy for coughs and colds.  It seems strange to me, when I buy olive oil by the litre almost every week and use it liberally in cooking every day.  And although I don’t like hot chillies, I eat paprika peppers almost as often as olive oil.  I’m going to keep these souvenirs of the past.

>Walking to the garden on Buy Nothing Day again


Last year on this day we walked to the garden, having bought nothing but bread that morning. Today we did the same, although we also bought some ham for our lunch before we went. This day isn’t about essential food shopping, though, but about refusing the desperate celebration of consumerism that can happen at this time of the year. There are more details on the Buy Nothing Day website. The main aim of this day is to encourage us think about what we consume and spend, as the website explains:

Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of shopping. The developed countries – only 20% of the world population – are consuming over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and an unfair distribution of wealth.

Our garden is about ten minutes’ walk from our house, on a hillside above the village in a group of gardens which have been there for centuries. In the centre of the village where we live the houses are too close together for there to be room for gardens. The oldest parts of the village date back a thousand years and it was built on the defensive circulade pattern with very narrow streets. The distance from the village means that the garden is very peaceful (until they start building the new houses nearby next year) and we benefit from two groups of neighbours – those at the garden and those near our house.

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The main road looks bare now that the plane trees on one side have been cut down, but the remaining trees look beautiful against the blue sky and the old walls are still there, although tumbling slowly.

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The path to the garden …

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the garden at the end of November.

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A picnic lunch and a coffee with a long shadow at this time of year.

Wintry light and ripening olives

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Harvesting and clearing

DSC00227 While Lo Jardinièr cleared the aubergine plants, I picked the last of the green chillies. There may be a few more green peppers, so long as the nights aren’t too cold over the next couple of weeks. But we’re preparing the ground where we grew this years tomatoes, peppers and aubergines so that it is ready to put manure on in January.

Broad beans and peas

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Broad beans, Spanish habas, mangetout peas and a second sowing of broad beans

The way home

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past some of the other gardens
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and back through the narrow old streets of the village.

>Planting garlic


According to the calendar of the moon, last weekend was a good time to plant garlic, but we missed it, so we did it today, in a bed which we put a lot of goat manure in last winter.

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Some of the garlic we bought in Villereal market when we were there in September – we bought 5 kilos, so we haven’t eaten it all yet!

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We’ve put a drip-feed hose along the middle of the double row so that we can water the garlic easily in the late spring and early summer when it needs a lot of water. After planting the cloves about 7 or 8 cm apart we covered them with straw to conserve moisture and to try to stop the birds pulling them out before they root.

Our leeks are growing well and we pulled the first two today. We’ll eat them tonight sautéed in butter with pancetta.

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DSC00166 Since we’ve had some rain and the ‘second spring’ has begun, the oregano has started to grow again, so I’ve cut some leaves to dry and store for the winter.


There are a few small aubergines still growing – we barbecued two for lunch today, with a sweet onion. The aubergines should carry on growing slowly until the first frost which could come any time now, but isn’t forecast for at least the next week.

There’s still a lot of colour in the garden – roses, especially, and the leaves of the cherry tree in the garden next to ours:

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And we’re still harvesting green chillies although they won’t turn red at this time of year. I picked one today – there are more, but we don’t eat many hot peppers so I’ve left the rest for another time.


>Chard, vines and clouds


As the aubergines, peppers and tomatoes come to an end it’s time to start eating the chard we’re growing for the winter. We’ve got two rows of chard plants, some given to us by a neighbour as seedlings and one row of plants that we found had self-seeded all around the garden. Today we ate some chopped leaves simply cooked in boiling salted water, drained and then tossed in olive oil and chopped garlic.


Vineyards near Faugères yesterday – the different varieties of vine turn gradually different colours, marking out the vineyards.
DSC09865 At sunset yesterday, the clouds were beginning to gather. Rain is forecast for the next couple of days – good for the garden and the spring at the top of the hill.

I’ve brought the peppers indoors to finish drying as the nights are cooler now.
And a Sunday treat – I made middle eastern sweetmeats with walnuts, dates and ground almonds.

>A quiet market / un marché tranquille


There doesn’t seem to be much to say about the garden – it’s doing what we expect in August: producing a lot of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers. We’ve planted cauliflowers and leeks for the winter and we’ve sown some more haricot beans. / Il n’y a pas beaucoup à dire quant au jardin: il nous donne beaucoup de tomates, aubergines, poivrons et concombres. Nous avons planté des chou-fleurs et des poireaux pour l’hiver et nous avons semé encore d’haricots.

The Wednesday market seems quieter these days. The vegetable seller doesn’t come in summer – perhaps too many of us in Gabian have gardens and he goes to Cap d’Agde instead where there are a lot of holidaymakers. / Le marché du mercredi semble plus tranquille en été. Le marchand des légumes ne vient pas – peut-être parce que trop de gabianais ont des jardins – il va au Cap d’Agde ou il y a beaucoup de touristes.

The fish stall from Valras was there and we bought two cuttlefish to grill for lunch. The stallholder cleaned them for us and we marinaded them in lemon juice, garlic, paprika and olive oil and grilled them for just a few minutes. There were lovely with grilled green peppers! / La poissonière de Valras était là et nous avons acheté deux seiches pour griller au jardin. La poissonière les a nettoyé pour nous et nous les avons fait mariner avec du jus de citron, de l’ail, du piment doux et d’huile d’olive. Elles étaient très bonnes avec des poivrons verts grillés!

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A cloudy day in the garden! And we harvested the first red chilli peppers to dry in the sun. / Une journée nouageuse au jardin! Et nous avons récolté les premiers piments rouges pour secher au soleil.


DSC07884 There are many Spanish people living in Gabian and so the charcutier who comes to the market has a lot of Spanish charcuterie. I noticed some small chorizo sausages and luckily at the same time one of his Spanish customers who has given me advice about cooking morcillas arrived, so I asked her how to cook them. We had them this evening, heated gently in a frying pan. We added a little red wine and ate them with fried courgettes. / Il y a beaucoup des espagnols qui habitent Gabian, donc le charcutier vend de la charcuterie espagnole. J’ai remarqué des petits chorizos et au mème moment, heureusement, une de ses clientes espagnoles est arrivée et je lui ai demandé comment on les cuits. Nous les avons mangés ce soir, rechauffés doucement dans un poele. Nous avons ajouté un peu de vin rouge et nous les avons mangés accompagnés des courgettes poelées.


DSC07882 We started the meal with gazpacho – cold soup – which I had made with vegetables from the garden: red pepper, green pepper, cucumber, tomatoes and onion. Perfect for a hot day. The recipe will be on the Mediterranean cuisine blog. / On a commencé le repas par le gazpacho – la soupe froide – que j’avais fait du légumes du jardin: un poivron rouge, un poivron vert, un concombre, des tomates, un oignon. Parfait pour une journée chaude. La recette sera sur le blog Mediterranean cuisine.

>A winter miscellany / une collection diverse hivernale


Winter soup / La soupe d’hiver

All through the winter we have soup made from vegetables from the garden for lunch nearly every day.  It was cold this morning so we weren’t tempted to go out to the garden but I found some courgettes in the freezer from a summer glut.  I simmered them, with a chopped onion, a couple of bay leaves, a couple of cloves of garlic and a teaspoonful of salt, in water to cover for half an hour.  Then I added some white haricot beans and liquidised them all into a delicious soup.  I fried some lardons (bacon pieces) until they were crisp then added some cubes of bread and a chopped clove of garlic to make croutons, then served the soup with these and some bread from the boulangerie around the corner, made with unbleached flour from the Aveyron.  A good hot lunch for a cold day!

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Winter courgette soup

Tout au long de l’hiver à midi presque chaque jour, on mange de la soupe de légumes du jardin.  Il a fait froid ce matin, donc on n’a pas voulu sortir au jardin, mais j’ai trouvé des courgettes dans le congélateur.  Je les ai cuites au feu doux, avec un ognion coupé, deux feuilles de laurier sauce, deux gousses d’ail et un peu du sel, pour une demie heure.  Puis j’ai ajouter des haricots blancs et je les ai mélangés.  J’ai sauté des lardons et j’ai fait des croutons.  Après ajoutant une gousse d’ail coupée j’ ai garni la soupe avec les lardons et les croutons.  Un bon déjeuner chaud pour une journée froide!


I’ve put the latest batch of olives in brine in large 2-litre jars for the big ones and a smaller jar for the little ones.  They should be ready to eat in a couple of months’ time.

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J’ai mis les olives à la saumure dans des bocaux grands de 2 litres, et les petites olives dans un bocal plus petit.  Elles doivent être prétes à manger dans deux mois.

Chilli peppers / Les piments rouges

We moved one of our chilli pepper plants to the house so that it wouldn’t be killed by the cold and the chillies are still ripening in the sun on the balcony.

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Nous avons mis une des plantes de piment rouge sur le balcon pour la proteger du froid.  Les piments continuent de mûrir.

And some good news from further south … / des bonnes nouvelles de l’Espagne …

Renewable energy / L’énergie renouvelable

According to today’s Guardian newspaper, a new power plant is being constructed near Sevilla in Andalucia, southern Spain. It will use mirrors to reflect the sun towards a water tower which will generate enough electricity for 11,000 homes. Each of the 1,000 mirrors is half the size of a tennis court and all have to be angled carefully to catch the sun’s rays. This method of energy production, known as concentrated solar power, clearly depends on sunshine and availability of large areas of land, so it will not work in cloudier, more crowded areas of the world – but there’s a hope here for the future and maybe countries in Africa, as well as southern Europe, will be able to benefit from this innovation.

And in Catalunya, it seems, even the dead can help … in the town of Santa Coloma de Gramenet near Barcelona the town council has erected 450 solar panels in the cemetery – enough to provide power for 60 homes.

>Garden wildlife / la faune du jardin

>Today we found ourselves sharing the garden with a lizard looking for the sun:

Aujourd’hui on partageait le jardin avec un lézard qui cherchait le soleil:

and a strange flying grasshopper (maybe a cricket?) which was lunching on our vine leaves:

et une bizarre sauterelle volante (un criquet peut-être?) qui mangeait nos feuilles de vigne:

and the chilli peppers / et les piments de cayenne:

>Lazy Sunday


Our favourite way of spending Sunday is in the garden, with friends, family or on our own, cooking and eating a long slow lunch and doing a few of the jobs that need doing – watering, harvesting, nothing too strenuous. This is what we did today.

Sundried chilli peppers and aubergines

I threaded the ripe chilli peppers onto two strings, as I did last year, and hung them from a beam in the sunniest place in the garden. This beam is intended to support our grape vine when it grows a bit bigger, but in the meantime its a good place to dry vegetables. The chilli peppers should take about a week to dry – some of them are quite big. Were only just finishing the ones I dried last year, so they keep well for at least a year.

Today I decided to try drying aubergine, something I havent done before. I sliced an aubergine thinly, into slices about 2 mm thick, laid them out on kitchen paper and sprinkled them with salt. Twenty minutes or so later the salt had drawn out a lot of the moisture. I threaded the slices using a needle and thread, tying a knot around each one to keep them apart and hung the strings from the same beam as the chillies. A few hours of hot sun later and they were already quite dry – I expect them to be completely dry in a day or so.

Threading the chillies and aubergine slices takes quite some time, but it seemed a nice restful job for Sunday in the garden and I enjoyed doing it. I hope drying the aubergine works as it will be a good way to store them.

There are many Spanish people living in Gabian – in fact when you go to the shops or the market youre almost as likely to hear a conversation in Spanish as in French – so were lucky enough to be able to buy paella rice, Spanish white beans, paella spices and so on in the little local shop just round the corner from our house. For lunch today I made a paella:

Chicken Paella

(for 4 people)

Chicken pieces (I used the large chicken legs we can buy in our local shop, poulet fermier or free-range chicken, cut into smaller pieces)

1 large courgette, roughly chopped

1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped

green beans

1 large onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

some small pieces of chorizo

100 gm cooked white haricot-type beans (optional)

a few threads of saffron (I cheat a bit and use the sachets of Spanish spices we can buy here, which contain saffron and powdered rosemary, but I add rosemary from the garden too)

2 sprigs of rosemary

1 large cup of rice

the juice of 1 lemon

2 tomatoes, chopped

salt and pepper

Fry the chicken pieces in olive oil in a large frying pan or paella pan for about 40 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the pan. Sauté the onion and courgette until soft. Add garlic and chilli pepper for a few moments and put the chicken pieces back in the pan with the vegetables. Add the spices and the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Add water, lemon juice and chopped tomatoes – there should be about three times the volume of the rice, but you may need to add more water later if it evaporates. Add the green beans cut into short pieces. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer. Unlike risotto, paella must not be stirred. When the rice is almost cooked add the pieces of chorizo and the white beans. When its ready put the pan on the table and let people help themselves.

I cooked this over a charcoal fire on the barbecue. It can be cooked on a wood fire or on a gas or electric hob too.

Terracotta pot update

The haricots verts (French beans) which I sowed around the terracotta pots are growing well. A couple of weeks ago I was worried that they were only producing leaves, not flowers, and that maybe they were getting too much water! Now, though, they are flowering well and well be picking beans from them in a few days time. The plants are much bigger than the previous row we sowed and watered in the conventional way – Im sure this is due to the terracotta pot system, which really seems to work.

Ananas tomatoes

This year for the first time weve grown a variety of tomatoes called Ananas (pineapple). The fruits are very big. Theyre a bit mishapen but inside the flesh is deliciously sweet, mango coloured with flecks of red. It looks – and almost tastes – like a fruit salad!