Jamming

Yesterday we picked 5.5 kilos of green and black ripe figs from a friend’s tree – and there are many more still ripening. They are delicious eaten fresh, just as they are, but we want to preserve most of them and the easiest way to do that is to make jam.

The black figs have a ‘jammier’ flavour while the green ones taste fresher. Both good – luckily we don’t have to choose between them! I cut 2 kilos of the black ones into quarters and mixed them in a big pan with a finely chopped whole lemon and 2 kilos of sugar. I then left the whole lot over night while the sugar drew the juices out of the figs.

The lemon adds some acidity and a bit of flavour. Some people, I know, add spices such as cinnamon to fig jam but I don’t think they need any other flavouring.  Once the mixture had come to the boil it took about an hour and a quarter for the jam to start setting – test it by putting a spoonful on a saucer and allowing it to cool, when the surface wrinkles it’s ready for bottling.  Lo Jardinièr used the colourful Catalan ceramic funnel we bought in a market in Collioure.

We now have eight jars of jam and we’ll make about the same amount again with the green figs, using the same method.

And with some of the fresh figs I made this salad: slices of fresh goats’ cheese arranged on a dish with quartered figs, sprinkled with ground black pepper and dressed with a mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil – very tasty!

Still summer, or nearly autumn?

After a violent thunderstorm the night before last the hot, muggy weather that everyone was complaining about has been replaced by cooler nights, fresher air and a strong wind….that we’re now complaining about! In the garden the tomato plants are nearly over and the remaining fruit are being attacked by bugs of all colours and strips….and spots as well. We’ll pull them up and burn them soon – we have plenty of preserved tomato purée to keep us in sauces until next summer. The peppers plants continue to thrive and are laden with ripening fruit, so that almost every meal we eat contains some delicious variation on a pepper theme – today’s lunch was a stir fry of chicken pieces, peppers and red onions – and some of the red peppers are in the freezer waiting to brighten up a cold winter day.

The aubergine plants seemed exhausted a week or so ago, but now are starting on a second crop, with flowers and nice fat aubergines on the same plants:

Ready to eat – the autumn crop of figs

This morning we picked figs from a friend’s tree and one or two more from wild trees we passed while we were out. They’re perfect for eating as they are.

And I hardly dare hope for the olives – although last year’s crop was badly attacked by olive fly, we haven’t treated our trees with preventive chemicals as they are too close to the vegetable plots to be sure to avoid contamination. So we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that these olives will survive and ripen:

Figs and dates

The figs I hung up to dry in the kitchen last month are dry now and only a few have fallen down during the weeks they’ve been there.  I tried one today and it was sweet and not too dry, as I’d feared they might be.  I haven’t stored them before, so I’m hoping they will be all right in this tin for a couple of months.

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It’s raining at last!  It makes the day dismal and grey, but the rain is very welcome for the garden where we’ve been unable to make our usual autumn sowings of broad beans and peas because the earth was just too dry to work.  In the rain, the dates on this palm tree seemed to shine in the gloom.

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The dates don’t mature into edible fruits here, as they do in North Africa, but they look bright and colourful on a rainy day.  I noticed an invader too – this small plant was growing between the old leaf stems on the trunk of the palm.

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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

A basket of figs and several ways to preserve peppers

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Most of these will be jam by this evening, although we’ll leave out the best ones to eat as they are.  I’m thinking of trying to dry some of them – I’ll let you know how I get on with what will be my first attempt. To make the jam we’ll cut the figs into large pieces, quarters of the smaller ones, eighths of the bigger ones, mix them with two-thirds their weight of sugar and leave them for a few hours until the sugar dissolves.  Then put them in a large saucepan with the juice of a lemon, bring to the boil and simmer until the jam sets when you put a spoonful onto a plate – this can take an hour or more.  Bottle the jam and enjoy it all winter!

The aubergines in the garden are slowing down a bit now, but there are still plenty of smaller ones, perfect for making Ambrosiana’s eggplant stacks.  I made these for lunch today and they were delicious.  I altered the recipe slightly to suit the Midi (and what I had in the fridge) by replacing  the crème fraîche with goats’ cheese – hope you don’t mind, Ambrosiana!

The pepper plants are still producing wonderful quantities of red peppers and we’re enjoying them at almost every meal.  Yesterday evening Lo Jardinièr made a deliciously peppery (but not hot) poulet basquaise, chicken in white wine and sweet red pepper sauce with some pieces of chorizo added to it.  I’ve been finding as many different ways as I can to preserve the different varieties:

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Here, from left to right, are jars of: pickled long sweet red peppers and bell yellow peppers, simmered until tender in wine vinegar and sugar with bay leaves; sweet red peppers cut into chunks and packed raw into jars then covered with white spirit vinegar, with a teaspoon of salt and a dessert spoon of sugar added to each jar.  In front of the jars is one of the many strings of piment d’Espelette that I’ve made to hang around the house to dry.  I didn’t put them outside earlier in the summer because the sun was too strong and would burn them, but I think they could go outside now.

Here are some of the other paprika peppers in various stages of drying:

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Some of these, the smoother-shaped ones, are piment d’Espelette, and the mixed string in the centre includes chorizo peppers (spicy but not hot at all) and a new yellow variety we seem to have created and which I think is a cross between chorizo and kolaska peppers.

First of the autumn figs

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Green and black figs picked this morning from our friend’s trees by the river.  In July we picked what are called here les figues-fleurs, the fruit that has been on the tree through the winter.  These are the first of the autumn figs that have grown over the summer and there are many more ripening – we’ll soon be making fig jam, but these are just for eating as they are.

Figs and more (very welcome) figs

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We’re very lucky with our friends and neighbours and this week we’ve been given figs three times.  They’re lovely and sweet to eat fresh, but we can’t always keep up with them, so today I made a very simple fig ice cream using a recipe first given to me years ago by our friend L. in Wales.  I made some jam with 500 grams of figs, 350 grams sugar and the juice of half a lemon.  When it had cooled I mixed it with 50 grams of crushed biscuits and 75 cl of crème fraîche (you could use yoghurt or double cream instead). 

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Then I put the mixture into freezer containers and into the freezer.  It needs to be taken out of the freezer about 15 minutes before serving, but otherwise needs no other attention, or stirring, until you’re ready to eat it.  It really is very simple!  Just after I’d made this some other friends gave us some ripe plums, as many as we can use…..so it’s back to jam-making this afternoon!

I’ve made stuffed kandil dolma peppers again a couple of times this week, using a slightly different recipe from the one I put on my Food from the Mediterranean blog the other day, with raisins, pine kernels and cinnamon.

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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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>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…
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winter hats and scarves….
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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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