Sunday in the garden

I did a little bit of work and Lo Jardinièr did quite a lot, planting out leek and lettuce plants ready for the autumn and winter. It seems strange to think of winter already, when the days are still hot, and last year because of that we forgot to plant leeks until it was too late. We’ve managed to remember this year, though.  After Lo Jardinièr lit the barbecue to cook our lunch, my little bit of work was to grill these red peppers until the skins were black and burned, so they can be skinned and used in salads. I’ll freeze some so that we can enjoy summer flavours in winter.

The main purpose of the barbecue was to cook lamb chops, from the same farm in the Aveyron where the whole lamb for our party grew up, but these huge whole garlic cloves were delicious cooked over the charcoal fire too.

And, keeping the fruit course fairly local, we picked some of our own Muscat d’Hambourg grapes – most of this year’s crop on our small young vine, but they’re a good sign.


One way to buy garlic


If you can’t (or haven’t this year) grown it yourself, this is the best way to buy garlic – locally grown, very fresh, from a vegetable and fruit stall near Agde.

All our tomato, pepper, aubergine and courgette plants in the garden are doing very well, flowering and beginning to fruit as they should, and so are the grasses, supposed to be weeds but looking beautiful in the evening light when we were having tapas for supper there last night..

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There were the first tiny signs of olives after the recent flowering:


We’ve been out and about a lot with our family, to the sea where we swam for the first time this year in quite warm water, and to the nearby lake where the light through the cork oaks (Quercus suber) was lovely on the hillside and the water sparkled in the breeze – we swam there too.  Summer has come at last!

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The exhibition opening went very well (I even sold quite a few photos!), after Lo Jardinièr and our son worked very hard hanging the frames on the stone walls of the Caveau des Pascales.


If you’re interested you can see a Flickr set of the photos here

The beginning of this year’s wine

I was excited to see some leaves appearing on these old vines this morning, the first I’ve seen so far this year.


And it was only when I looked at this photo on the screen that I could see that the sap definitely is rising.  It’s clearer in this enlarged crop:


I also bought some bulbs of fresh garlic, another sign of spring.  It came from Egypt, rather a long way away, but I justified it by telling myself it’s good to buy from a country struggling to create its own democracy, and I love the flavour of it after the deteriorating quality of the bulbs stored over the winter.  What a treat!


Store cupboard essentials

On yet another rainy day, Lo Jardinièr and I talked as we were eating a lovely lunch of pizza left over from yesterday when he made it, accompanied by a salad of grated carrot (not from the garden) and slices of green and yellow pepper (from the garden).  As we often do, we remarked on how easy it is to make delicious food so long as we have certain basic essentials in the store cupboard and fridge.


There are ingredients we would never be without, some of which are so essential I haven’t included them in the photo: rice, pasta, the tomato purée we make at least 50 jars of every summer and which last us through the winter and spring until we have fresh tomatoes in the garden again……salt and pepper too, of course.  But apart from these, here are a few others: capers (although when I can find them I prefer the salted ones to these in brine); anchovy fillets; olive oil (of course); raisins or currants; chorizo; garlic (again, of course!); piments d’Espelette or other paprika peppers, fresh or dried); lemon; black olives; bay leaves (and other fresh herbs as available in the garden, thyme, rosemary, basil…..).  Even if we have no other meat or vegetables we can always make something tasty to eat with these.

And as I write this I remember other essentials we almost always have in the cupboard: red and white wine, tinned chickpeas and haricot beans, tahina, walnuts, spices – coriander and cumin especially – and so much else.  But these in the picture are the basics.

For the photo I put all these in a dish which for me is another essential as it’s been in my family almost as long as I can remember.  It was made in Sicily and my mother bought it in Benghazi soon after we moved there in the 1950s. She passed it on to me after she had used it many times especially, as I remember, for rice salads when we had big family parties.

It’s good to be home

Some of the ingredients I miss most when I’m away from home are good olive oil, aubergines and garlic (although I did take a bulb of garlic with me and surreptitiously added it to some of the food I ate while we were travelling – not in people’s homes, I hasten to add).


Luckily there were a lot of aubergines waiting to be picked in the garden when we got home.  We had a long day’s journey yesterday, by very comfortable high-speed train because we don’t fly, but we were too tired to spend much time cooking so I simply sliced this aubergine and fried it in olive oil, adding chopped garlic, salt and thyme leaves after cooking.  The scent of the fresh thyme leaves told me I was home. We ate this with some delicious tender pieces of corn-fed chicken.


Very garlicky duck

We had some duck legs, bought in the village shop this morning, and our last oignon de Lézignan (sweet onion) of the season.  The ducks that reach us here from the south-west of France have had (I hope) a happy life, but that does mean that they’re quite mature and their legs need slower cooking. On the other hand I do like duck skin to be crispy.  So I have devised a way of cooking them that combines these two requirements.  This was tonight’s version:


It was sad to see the last of these onions go, but it was all in a good cause.  I quartered the onion and sliced it finely, then sautéed it in a little olive oil in heavy cast-iron pan , with a sprinkle of salt to bring out the sweetness.  I sliced the cloves of a whole bulb of garlic and put some of the pieces underneath the skin of the duck legs.  When the onion had softened I added the rest of the garlic, a few bay leaves, some freshly ground black pepper and a glass of white wine.  I put the duck legs on this ‘bed’ of onion, garlic and herbs, put the lid on the pan and simmered, or pot-roasted, for about 45 minutes.   By this time the onion slices had melted together into a delicious garlic-, duck- and bay-scented purée in a wine sauce.  I put the duck legs under the grill while the sauce reduced a little on the hob and then they were ready to serve.


And this evening, with clearer skies, there was just enough daylight to photograph the finished dish.

Harvesting garlic and barbecuing quail

A hot lazy day in the garden.  We harvested the garlic, not as much of it as last year because I didn’t plant as much for some reason which I can’t quite remember now.  The heads aren’t as big as last year’s either, but it’s nice to have fresh garlic and some of it went straight on the barbecue for lunch.


For lunch we barbecued some quails I’d marinaded in lemon juice, lemon zest and paprika earlier in the morning.  A very simple recipe which I’ve posted on my Food from the Mediterranean blog.


Summer weather seems to have arrived at last, with the temperature at 31 C this afternoon at 4 p.m.

>Planting out aubergines and finding a green lizard


We’ve planted out about a dozen aubergine plants our neighbour gave us – six of them next to a row of peppers on the left below.  We usually grow the grafted plants, bought from a garden centre, because they produce so many more aubergines than the ordinary plants, but this year we’ll try these, as well as a few grafted ones.  The Greek maize I planted out a couple of weeks ago is doing well (on the right below).

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Sweet corn (maize) and a row of lettuce.

We also planted a row of chard, also given to us by our neighbour, next to the two rows of haricot beans which are growing quite well.  I picked the rest of last year’s chard today as it was going to seed, and we ate it this evening with pasta and cured ham.


Our ‘big’ iris has started to flower (left below), later but more spectacularly than our white and mauve irises, and the red salvia was attracting a few bees (right).

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And the green lizard under the olive tree

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They’re much more shy than the brown wall lizards, so I was lucky to catch this one on camera!

IMGP9247 Our garlic is growing quite tall, but I don’t think it will ever be as good as the garlic I bought from this stall in Pézenas market on Saturday.  It’s very fresh and tastes wonderful chopped raw onto salads and other vegetable dishes.

And home to lunch….

IMGP9331 After working in the garden this morning we came home to a lunch of aubergine puréed with olive oil, garlic and oregano, some broad beans straight from the garden cooked with cured ham, and goats’ cheese from Roujan with thyme from the garden and olive oil that was milled in the village from olives from Servian, only about 10 kilometres away – all local, fresh and delicious!

>An aerial view and a saffron harvest



Last Sunday was la Journée du Patrimoine, heritage day, when historic buildings are open to the public.  The church tower in the village was open and Lo Jardinièr climbed to the top and took photos of the roofs, a wonderful jumble of terracotta tiles and satellite dishes.

In the garden we harvested half of our saffron crop – there were two crocus flowers open, which we picked because last year we found that they only lasted a day, and two buds which have since opened and which we’ve picked.

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We’re still picking tomatoes, aubergines and a lot of peppers.  I stuffed some of the green peppers, mostly Corno di Toro and Marconi, with rice, raisins, pine nuts, garlic and oregano, then baked them in the oven for about half an hour.  I’ve put some in the freezer, the others we ate straight away with a spicy tomato sauce made with piment d’Espelette.

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And salad leaves again ….


After a summer of tomato and cucumber salads, delicious though they are, it’s a treat to start picking lettuce leaves again for green salads.  It’s too hot and dry here for lettuces in the summer – they all go to seed by the end of June, by St John’s day, 24 June, everyone says, and it’s true.  We plant seedlings again in September, some we’ve bought and some which other gardeners have given us, and they should keep growing through most of the winter.


An autumn market


After his summer break when he takes his stall to the more lucrative tourist market at Cap d’Agde, the vegetable stallholder was back in the market this morning (in the shade to keep the produce cool, so difficult to photograph, making it all seem much more lively.  We only bought garlic, because we’ve already used the garlic we grew this summer.  It will soon be time to plant some more and we usually plant garlic from this stall.

>It’s good to be home



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.