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.

 

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.

Vendange

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Friends of ours in the village whose family have been vine-growers for generations and have taken their grapes to cooperatives last year began to make their own small-quantity, high-quality red wine.  Unlike their other grapes which are picked by machine, grapes for this wine are hand picked from two small vineyards.  We helped them pick the grapes last year, and they have now done the assemblage (the mixing of the wine resulting from the different varieties of grapes) of last year’s vintage.  It will be several months before that is ready to be bottled.  It’s a long process!  But it’s one that we feel privileged to be a small part of and to follow. 

Today a dozen of us picked the Syrah grapes for this year’s vintage.  Luckily the weather was much cooler than it has been for the last few days, cloudy with a cool breeze which made it much easier to work.

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This is a small parcelle of vines and took just a morning’s work, but it was tiring.  Years ago, in the youthful memories of some of our friends, the vendange would go on for weeks, with hand-picking day after day, morning and afternoon.  I don’t know how they managed to do it, but for four hours today it was fun, chatting and joking in French and Occitan as we all moved up and down the rows of vines.

When we got home we were certainly ready for lunch, so I was glad I’d prepared it yesterday: lamb with tomatoes and capers – the recipe is on my Food from the Mediterranean blog.

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PS you can see the machines that are used in the bigger vineyards on my last year’s grape-picking post.

Summer Sunday lunch

It’s been very hot again today and we’ve stayed indoors most of the time, keeping out of the sun until it’s cool enough to go out for a swim in the lake at Vailhan.  On an aubergine theme again, I put together a dish which I’m sure must have been made by someone else before me, using just two of the 20 or so aubergines waiting for me in the kitchen.  I’ve put the full recipe on my Food from the Mediterranean blog.

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Chicken with aubergine, red peppers and mozarella

And to follow we had some grapes from our Muscat d’Hambourg vine.  This is the first year we’ve had edible grapes on it – they’re small, but sweet and full of promise for a better crop next year as the vine matures.

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The grapes are ripening

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The Languedoc has been described as the biggest vineyard in the world, and in this vineyard the grapes are beginning to ripen ready to make this year’s red wine.  I spotted these on the way back from Roquessels after buying wine at our favourite domain d’Estève.  These red grapes won’t be picked until September, so they still have plenty of time to develop and ripen.  The white grapes will be picked around the middle of August, often at night as they need to be kept cool until they are pressed.

Preserving aubergines

Yes, aubergines again!  We’ve found that one good way to preserve a glut of aubergines is to pickle them.  We then eat the pickle during the winter as an accompaniment to grilled meats, as a vegetable rather than a condiment.  We had a kilo and a half of aubergines as well as the couple we wanted to eat today, so I made the first four large jars of pickle.

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I roughly chopped the aubergines, about a kilo of tomatoes and a large sweet onion (which weighed about 700 grams) and combined them all in a pan with a soup spoon of salt, two teaspoons of paprika,  a few bay leaves, 500 ml of red wine vinegar and 500 grams of sugar.

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I brought the mixture to the boil and simmered for an hour and a quarter covered followed by 15 minutes uncovered.

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While it was still hot I poured it into large sterilised jars and now it’s ready to be kept in the store cupboard for winter while we enjoy the fresh aubergines that we’re picking daily.

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The recipe blog

When I moved this blog to WordPress a couple of months ago I also moved my recipe blog because I had separated the two a few years ago.   With the new view on my blogs that the change has given me the separation now seems rather artificial and arbitrary because so much of what I have to say about the garden is connected with what I want to say about food and the recipes I write.  So, I’m thinking of combining recipes, food and gardening on this blog from now on, although the Food from the Mediterranean blog will remain as a source of reference for previously posted recipes and maybe the occasional new one.  I’d like to know what you think about this.

>Different ways of picking grapes

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Depending on the terrain of the vineyard and the quality of wine which will be made from the grapes, there are different ways of harvesting. In a large, flat vineyard where the grapes are intended for ordinary quality wine, to be taken to the cave cooperative to be added to grapes from many other vineyards in the area, grape-picking machines are used to save time and labour. They look huge when you meet them on the road, as we often do at this time of the year because they travel from one vineyard to another during the vendange, towering above the cars. They look big among the vines too, because they have to straddle a row of vines to remove the grapes. In small parcelles of vines, especially on hillsides, it would be impossible to get a machine in among the rows, so these grapes are usually picked by hand, as are any grapes that will be used to make high-quality wine because this minimises the damage to the grapes before pressing.

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We saw this machine near Fouzilhon the other morning as it was just about to start working its way through the vineyard.

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DSC05813 Yesterday we helped friends pick grapes by hand – a hard morning’s work, but good fun, as a group of us worked our way up and down the rows chatting in French and Occitan. For the first time this year they are making a high-quality wine and we picked the Syrah grapes for it from a vineyard in a beautiful position on a hilltop with a view all the way to the sea. Next week we’ll help pick the Grenache grapes which are not ripe yet.

Grape jelly – an experiment

We’d picked some Carignan grapes from vines which had re-grown after a friend had uprooted her vineyard. They weren’t very good for eating – the flesh had a nice flavour but they had too many pips and a strong flavour to the skins, so I thought I’d try making grape jelly. I put 500 gm of grapes in a pan, crushed them lightly with a wooden spoon and added a couple of tablespoonfuls of sugar to them. I brought them to the boil and cooked them for about 10 minutes then put them through a mouli legumes so that I was left with the juice. I returned the juice to the pan, added 250 gm of preserving sugar and simmered for 5 minutes. The jelly is now in small jars, but it has set very hard so I think I’ll try again with ordinary sugar rather than preserving sugar. There seems to be plenty of pectin in the pips and skins to set the jelly.

Mussels again….

We bought mussels this morning from the usual Bouzigues van which calls in the village, and cooked them for lunch with sweet onion, rosemary, chopped piment d’Espelette, garlic and chorizo. They weren’t quite as tasty as when we cook them like this on the barbecue, but they still seemed to have a smoky flavour.

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IMGP0753 I ground the remaining dried piments d’Espelette from last year, to store in a jar. The colour was wonderful, and the flavour will be too. These were bought in the village of Espelette. This year we have our own, grown from seed from these.

>Mediterranean diet

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Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco have applied to the UN for world heritage status for the Mediterranean diet (although these are not the only countries bordering the Mediterranean and with similar ingredients) and a decision will be made in November.  According to an article in the Guardian this week, a spokesman for an Italian farmers’ group said: ‘Not only is this culture, but it also makes you live longer and better.’  There have been many claims for the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, particularly for its combination of olive oil, garlic, fresh vegetables and fish.  And, of course, red wine is supposed to be healthy too, in moderation.

Here in the Languedoc we eat what would be described as a Mediterranean diet, in my case because I love all its constituents and because it is what is available locally.  For me, local food is important… so where does this leave those who don’t live in a country where aubergines and wine grapes grow?  When I was in Wales earlier this summer I found that most of the tomatoes I ate were completely tasteless and usually unripe.  Maybe in countries further north it is better to eat tasty vegetables, varieties which are suited to the climate.  Everyone can enjoy olive oil and wine, but then there is the problem of transporting food long distances, with all the environmental damage that can do.  I don’t know what the solution is for those who live further away from the Mediterranean, those people must make their own choices, all I know is that one of the great pleasures of my life is the diet that is readily available to me here.

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Nardello and Corno di toro peppers from the garden and figs from a friend’s tree by the river near the village, all picked this morning.

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Lucques olives on our tree and Cardinale grapes ripening on our vine – the birds have left us a few!

Our lunch today:

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Terrine of joue, pig’s cheek, bought from the charcuterie stall in the village market, carrot salad (not very Mediterranean, perhaps, but it seemed to go with the terrine), cherry tomatoes from the garden, rosé wine from the Domaine des Pascales in the village and some of the figs we picked this morning.

>Moving on (towards autumn) / On avance (vers l’automne)

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Maybe it’s because our last visitors of the summer have left, or because the nights are cooler and the days not too hot to think about working in the garden, with temperatures down from 37 to 32 degrees, but we’ve started to prepare for autumn.

Peut-être c’est parce que nos derniers visiteurs de l’été sont partis, ou parce que les nuits deviennent moins chaud et on peut penser de travailler un peu dans le jardin – les températures baissent de 37 à 32 dégrees – que nous avons commencé de préparer pour l’automne.

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It was time to cut down the sunflowers and save the seeds to use in cooking and for next year’s plants. / C’était le moment pour couper les tournesols pour garder les semences pour cuisiner et pour les plants de l’année prochaine.

Lo Jardinièr began to prepare the ground where they were for sowing Cavalo Nero Kale and lettuces. / Lo Jardinièr a commencé de préparer la terre pour semer le chou frisé Cavalo Nero et les laitues.

Vendange (grape harvest)

The vendange began here a couple of weeks ago. The white grapes are picked first, at night to keep them cool. So every night at this time of year there is the constant sound of tractors going out to the vineyards in the early hours of the morning. Now the red grapes are starting to be ready for picking.

La vendange a commencé ici il y a deux semaines. Les raisins blancs d’abord, dans la nuit pour les garder frais. Maintenant les raisins rouges sont prêts.

Our grapes are ripe too. They’re bigger and sweeter than last year, but still quite small because the vine is young. / Nos raisins sont mûrs aussi. Ils sont plus gros et plus doux que l’année dernière, mais ils sont toujours assez petits parce que la vigne et jeune.

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It’s good to pick the grapes growing above your table and eat them straight from the vine.

C’est bon ramasser les raisins qui poussent au-dessus de la table et les manger tout de suite.



Peppers / les poivrons

We haven’t had many red peppers this year – as soon as they begin to ripen the snails eat them. We’ve had some good green peppers though and yesterday we grilled a perfect red one on the barbecue and ate it with goats’ cheese. Today we added two green peppers to a chicken paella.

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Aubergines – good news and bad news / Les aubergines – des mauvaises nouvelles et la bonne nouvelle

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New flowers / nouvelles fleurs
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And a lizard / et un lézard

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