Courgette flowers

There weren’t any more courgettes ready to eat yet in the garden today so I picked some of the flowers instead, making sure that there were some male ones left to fertilise any female ones that may open over the next day or so.  Sometimes we simply cut the flowers in half lengthwise, coat them in batter made from half chick pea flour and half ordinary baking flower, mixed with a little water.  Today I decided to stuff them and serve them with a salad made from our first green pepper of the season and a cucumber, also from the garden.

I mixed some chopped mint, salt and pepper into a large tablespoonful of fresh breadcrumbs, added some olive oil to make the stuffing stick together and put it into the flowers.  It doesn’t matter if they don’t look very tidy as the batter will cover any gaps.

Then Lo Jardinièr made the batter, coated them and fried them in olive oil while I arranged the salads.

They made a tasty first course at lunchtime, with a little local Picholine olive oil poured over the cucumber and pepper.

First tomato, early figs

Yesterday evening one of the tomatoes we’ve been watching for the past few days was ready to pick.  We were having supper in the garden so we ate it very fresh – just minutes from plant to table!  I sliced it and added chopped  garlic, oregano, salt and olive oil.  What a treat!  And there are many more to come over the next days and weeks.  We picked some more cucumbers – there’s at least one ready every day now – and our first small courgette.  The courgette plants aren’t doing as well as usual, but there are flowers coming now so perhaps they’ll improve.

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This tomato soon became a salad:

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This morning I made the three cucumbers in the photo above into a chilled soup.  The very simple recipe for this is on my Mediterranean food blog.

Another treat today was when some friends gave us some of the first figs from the tree in their garden.  Figs at this time of year are known as figues fleurs in French and borrauds in Occitan.  They are fruits which have spent the winter on the tree and mature in summer.  Later we’ll have the main crop which develop during the summer and are ready for eating in autumn.

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Yes, they’re really ripening!

The tomato I thought was turning colour the other day and a few others are definitely turning red now – I think we’ll be picking these in a couple of days, just after our neighbour who proudly showed us one he’d picked this morning, but we’re not competitive (really)!

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All our ripening tomatoes are on the Languedocian plants, a variety which seem to do very well here in the Languedoc, not surprisingly.

And the rest of today’s harvest:

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Three cucumbers, one aubergine, two Trébons sweet onions, one large Lézignan sweet onion and some herbs to go with them all.  We also picked a couple of lettuces and one of them, with one of the cucumbers and a couple of goats’ cheeses from Mas Rolland, dressed with olive oil milled in the village, made a very nice lunch for a hot day.

Food security

One of the first things we hope for from our food is that it will make us healthy rather than ill.  Over the past couple of weeks some scary stories have been appearing in the press and other media which suggest that this is not always achieved.  First there were the Spanish cucumbers, falsely, as it turns out, accused of causing an E coli outbreak in Germany.  Spanish cucumbers….in Germany?  Isn’t that rather a long way for cucumbers to travel?  Well, yes it is, but it doesn’t surprise me at all since whenever I pass near the motorway that leads through the Languedoc from Spain to the rest of France and then northern Europe the lorries seem to be almost nose to tail as they speed towards the lucrative salad market of the northern supermarkets.

There are so many issues raised by this trade in vegetables: the damage done to the environment by transporting them, the use of scarce water resources in southern Spain to feed the northern hunger for ‘fresh’ food and the exploitation of low-paid migrant labour in the polytunnels of Andalucia, to name but three.

For the moment, I’ll stick to just one other important issue, that of taste.  How can a cucumber, a lettuce or a pepper taste good when it has been transported hundreds of kilometres?

Today there’s another E coli story: seven children in northern France have become ill after eating burgers bought in a supermarket.  The meat to make the burgers is said to have come from France, Germany and the Netherlands.  Three countries, in one burger?  It sounds as though this too is very well-travelled food.

A few years ago I  read an interesting book by Gillian Tindall, Céléstine, about life in the Berry region of central France 150 years ago. Tindall discovered from letters written at the time that people in the village of Chassignolles very rarely went to the nearest town, La Châtre which was only 7 km away. The only things they needed to buy there were needles for sewing. Everything else was produced in the village. This kind of self-sufficiency is almost impossible to imagine now.  But it’s still important, I think, to eat as locally as possible and Lo Jardinièr and I try to eat only food that comes from within 100 kilometres of where we live.  That’s not always possible – I have never been able to find a substitute for the Italian coffee to make the three cups of espresso per day that I need, or for the occasional piece of chocolate to accompany the coffee.

But what we try to do, and what I think we should all attempt to work towards, is to grow as much of our food as we can organically, and to buy what we can’t grow locally in small shops and markets rather than in supermarkets.  That way, we know where everything comes from, very little of it is processed so we know exactly what it contains, and none of the meat we buy is made in industrial plants which use ingredients from three different countries to make something that really doesn’t taste very good.  Local food is safe because everyone knows where it comes from and if it wasn’t safe or didn’t taste good people wouldn’t buy from that producer.

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The only chemical we use in the garden – a little Bordeaux mixture or copper sulphate, which is allowed in organic agriculture and protects against blight and other diseases in tomato plants and vines, among other plants.

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Our cucumbers are safe to eat and delicious – straight from the garden and onto the table.  Most of our vegetables come from plants grown from seed we’ve saved from last year’s plants, or from friends’ plants.  These cucumbers come from plants that have travelled a bit further – we buy the young plants in the village market from a stallholder who brings them from the next village 3 and a half kilometres away.

First cucumber, first aubergines

Summer starts here, for me, with these firsts, as well as some small peppers which were delicious grilled whole with one of the aubergines on the barbecue.  Some mackerel fresh from this morning’s market followed, but I didn’t take pictures.

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And another half kilo of haricot beans which I’ve put in the freezer.

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It was 34 C this afternoon – a real  summer temperature – so the vegetables need a lot of water these days.

As the sun went down and darkness fell I went out to see if I could catch the eclipse of the moon, but I think it’s too low on the horizon and can’t be seen from the village because we’re surrounded by hills.

Beginnings and a very good ending

Everything is growing so fast in the garden after all the rain we’ve had and this morning there were some exciting signs: the first tiny olives developing on our trees, a couple of small aubergines and some cucumbers.

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These olives will be ready to harvest, we hope, green in October or ripe and black in November or December.

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One of our first cucumbers of the season….

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…and a tiny aubergine.

Once again we were invited to pick cherries from our friends’ tree and this time we decided to preserve some of them in eau de vie, brandy made from the grape skins after wine-making, as we did with some of the wild cherries we picked the other day.  It’s very simple: just pack the cherries into sterilised jars, adding a tablespoonful of sugar to each layer and then cover the cherries with eau de vie, Armagnac or some other brandy.  Close the jars and leave for at least 4 months, turning occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves.  By Christmas these will make a very good digestif.

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And an excellent ending to our trip to the Gers in March, which I described here.  In March we made confit with the duck legs we bought in the market in Samatan, by covering the pieces of duck with duck fat in a pan and simmering them for 2 hours then storing them in the fat – they will keep for months like this.  Today we took the legs out of the fat and put them in a hot oven (200 C) to heat through and crisp the skin – about 25 minutes – and we ate them with potatoes and sweet onions roasted in duck fat and haricot beans straight from the garden.

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The duck legs as they came out of the fat in which they were stored…..

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…and after they’d been in the oven – ready to eat and absolutely delicious!

>It’s good to be home

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We’re home again after three weeks away. We’d planned just a one-week break but had to leave unexpectedly a fortnight earlier because of a sudden death in the family, so after a sad time it’s very cheering to come home to a wonderful harvest of aubergines, peppers and tomatoes, thanks to our neighbour who watered the garden for us. We’ve got a busy weekend ahead now making tomato puree to store for the winter because the Roma tomatoes are just waiting to be picked.

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and two delicious salads

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A Greek salad, left, made with cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions from the garden and feta cheese and black olives. On the right, tomato, Red Marconi pepper and basil salad.

>La Fête vigneronne at Faugères

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Sunday morning wine tasting in a village of balconies and bunting:

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A theatrical entrance to the old village whose narrow streets were filled with the stalls of wine producers, cheese makers, biscuit, cake and honey sellers, charcuterie producers and throngs of people tasting all this in the heat.  We found and bought some familiar produce – goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland – and tasted wines we’d not tasted before from Domaine du Météore at Cabrerolles and  Domaine Alquier at Faugères and bought rosé from Domaine Ballicioni at Autignac and Chateau des Peyregrandes at Roquessels (next door to Chateau des Adouzes where we buy wine regularly, but we’ve never ventured here before).  A completely new discovery, to us, was the Saffron syrup from the Tarn region of south-western France, which can be added to white wine to make Saffron kir and can also be used in cooking gambas or duck.  The kir we tasted at the stall tasted wonderfully spicy.

 

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Crowded narrow streets and, right, a traditional still making fine de Faugères.

Our own harvest, and promise for the future

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From the garden this morning:  Aubergines, a bell pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet onions, courgettes and beans.  And, right, a small pumpkin on a huge plant, just beginning to grow.  Aubergine and courgette slices fried in olive oil and sprinkled with thyme and chopped garlic went well with Mas Rolland goats’ cheeses for supper.

>Nearly there ….

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The sea is warming up and we swam at Portiragnes-plage today.

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I think this Languedocienne tomato will be the winner.  Will it be ready to pick tomorrow, or the day after ….?

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Our one Kandil dolma pepper plant (the others didn’t germinate) has five good-sized peppers on it.  We picked our first Bari cucumber (from seeds given to us by Kate at Vegetable Vagabond and that came to us via Australia and south-western France from Bari in Italy).  It was wonderfully crisp and crunchy.  There are lots more coming and we’re looking forward to them.