Spring Sunday

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This butterfly was drying out its wings in the sunshine this morning, before we went home to lunch. A few very tasty wild asparagus spears with bread made with flax seeds:

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and pot-roasted chicken legs with leeks (the last of this winter’s from the garden) and jambon cru. I cooked the leeks with an onion and a few sliced garlic cloves in olive oil until they were soft, put a layer of slices of cured ham some sprigs of wild thyme and then the chicken legs and a thinly sliced carrot on top, and added a good glassful of white wine, salt and pepper.After simmering it for about an hour we ate it with orzo, a rice-shaped pasta that went very well with the winey, chicken sauce.

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Another sign of spring is the appearance of borage flowers on the edges of vineyards and on walls. In the past I’ve made a kind of Turkish börek, filo pastry parcels stuffed with cheese and lightly cooked borage leaves. Don’t eat them raw as they’re very prickly. This year I want to make a version of the borage and walnut ravioli we bought a couple of weeks ago at an Italian stall in Clermont-l’Hérault market. If it works, I’ll post the recipe!

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Cawl

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As promised, the recipe for this traditional Welsh stew/soup.  This is a country dish, made in Welsh farmhouse kitchens with the ingredients that are available, so quantities are approximate, but the important ingredients are meat and leeks.  Like other similar dishes in other countries – pot au feu, ragout d’escoubille, and so on – when times were hard the meat was eaten at one meal, the stock and vegetables at another.  Where I come from in west Wales, cawl is usually made with lamb or with a ham joint, but in the more fertile areas of south Wales it is made with beef too.  For me, though, it’s not the real thing unless it’s made with lamb.

serves 4 to 5:

1 kilo lamb shoulder on the bone (you can use other cuts, like breast of lamb, but the meat would need longer cooking and you would probably need a bit more per person)

100 grams bacon or salted pork, thickly sliced  (optional, but I think it adds an extra flavour to the broth)

250 grams carrots

250 grams leeks

150 grams onions

250 grams potatoes, roughly cut into chunks

a bunch of parsley, stalks chopped and leaves finely chopped

3 bay leaves

salt, pepper

water to cover

Peel and roughly chop the vegetables into chunks.  Cut the lamb shoulder into large pieces, but don’t take the meat of the bone yet.  Put all the ingredients except the leeks and the parsley leaves in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for about an hour.  Remove the lamb pieces, take the meat off the bone and cut into bite-sized chunks.  Return the meat to the pan and add the leeks.  Cook for a further 30 to 45 minutes.  Serve garnished with the chopped parsley leaves and slices of rustic bread.  You can also serve pieces of cheese with it.

We were catering for larger numbers today – at least 35 people and maybe 40 will be there tonight for the meal.  So we had to cook our cawl in a large preserving pan on a gas burner in the garage, but it’s only a difference of scale.

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>A little rain

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We’ve had a couple of thunderstorms and two cloudy days – a little rain but not nearly enough after a summer that’s been even drier than usual.  When the first thunderstorm came the night before last, I was worried about the turnip seedlings that had just emerged the day before.  Last year some of these got completely washed away by heavy rain.  I needn’t have worried, though, they’re still there:

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Planting out the winter vegetables

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We’ve planted out the red cabbage, green cabbage, cauliflower and leek plants which we bought because we didn’t get round to sowing them earlier in the summer.  Neighbours have given us lettuce seedlings, too, so we should have lots of leaves for salads and soups in the autumn and winter.

 

 

And the aubergines seem to be starting again, with new flowers and a few new fruits, one of which we ate for lunch today.

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Market day

The market was busier than it has been over the summer – there were stalls selling household goods and our usual charcutier was back from the break he took last week.  We bought pork chops to barbecue outside in the place, sharing the fire with our neighbour as we often do.  While they were cooking we had goats’ cheeses with thyme, garlic, olive oil and cherry tomatoes.

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>Second anniversary

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DSC01682 It’s two years this weekend since I started this blog. As I said last year, on the first anniversary, we’ve learnt a lot from becoming part of the community of gardening bloggers and have made many friends and even met some of them – Ian at Kitchen Garden in France and Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers and Vegetable Vagabond in Australia, who have both visited us here and who invited us to join their Kitchen Garden International weekend last September in south-western France. We’ve exchanged seeds with Ian and Kate and also with Laura at Mas du Diable, quite near us in the Cévennes, and with Michelle at From Seed to Table in California, where the climate is also Mediterranean. The blogs I read and from which I get enjoyment and inspiration are listed in the side bar, and there too many to mention here, but two which I read most often because they are by fellow Mediterranean gardeners, in a similar climate to ours, are Jan’s in Catalunya and Heiko’s in Italy. So, as well as our gardening neighbours here in Gabian who are a wonderful source of useful advice, we are benefiting from the knowledge and experience of gardeners and cooks all over the world. Thank you all!

Mid-February in the garden

It’s a quiet time in the garden, a time for planning the next year, but not for harvesting very much. Apart from herbs – thyme, rosemary, mint and bay especially – which we use daily, we’re picking only leeks and cabbages at the moment, with the chard and lettuces just recovering from the cold weather we’ve had.

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It seems to be a late spring – there is no sign yet of almond or apricot blossom and their buds are only just beginning to swell.

DSC01654 DSC01657 Left, the still-bare branches of our apricot tree, and above, canes and flower of bamboo, battered by the north wind, but beautiful against the clear sky on a cold day.

DSC01672 After a cold walk back from the garden we warmed ourselves with a bowl of Lo Jardinièr’s flageolet bean and vegetable soup, with goats’ cheese and cured pork on toast and some red wine from Montesquieu.

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Spring will come, though, and today we’ve sowed our tomato seeds and put them on the seed starter box which Lo Jardinièr made last year. We put the new mini-greenhouse on the balcony in the sun today to try it out and, although it was a cold day – about 6 degrees C – the temperature inside reached 22 degrees! So it will be good for the tomato and pepper plants once they germinate and before we take them to the garden to put in the more rustic-looking cold frames we have there.

>Fertiliser

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This morning we went up into the hills to Mas Rolland to collect a trailer-load of manure – the first of several we hope.  Last year we did this and it made a huge difference to the soil, and its ability to retain moisture especially.

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It was cold and grey.  The hillsides looked dry and wintry, with just the evergreen plants and trees, like these holm oaks in the foreground above, contrasting with the rocks.  The milking goats are still indoors in their winter quarters but this billy with amazing horns was outside watching us.

DSC01187 We now have the first pile of manure in the garden ready to spread on the ground and we’ll go to fetch some more later in the week.  In spite of the cloudy, cold weather, it feels as though we’ve started the new gardening year now, and that’s a good feeling.  The artichoke plants  – just visible in the background here – have suffered from the cold, but they should recover.  Everything else looks fine.

Winter harvest

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We picked our last cauliflower and dug up a couple of leeks.  Our neighbour gave us some beetroot and some celery stalks.  I put the celery into the dish I made when we got home, with haricot beans, pancetta, carrots and onions, which we ate with toast and tapenade and a glass of red wine.  A very warming lunch!

>Dydd Gŵyl Dewi / St David’s Day / La fête nationale du pays de Galles

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Today we’ll be celebrating by serving the Welsh dish cawl (a soup or stew of lamb, leeks and potatoes) to a party of our Occitan friends.

Aujourd’hui on fête la Saint-David en servant le plat gallois cawl (le ragout d’agneau et des légumes) pour nos amis occitans.

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The main ingredients of cawl are meat, leeks, onions and potatoes. In the hills of west Wales, where my family comes from, it is usually made with ham or with lamb. The high land there is so poor that it can only be used for raising sheep, and all smallholders would have kept a pig as well, as a way of recycling waste. Potatoes, leeks, carrots and onions would have been grown in the garden or in a small field. This is the ultimate sustainable food – as most peasant dishes are, the world over. In more fertile areas of south Wales, where the land is good enough for dairy farming and cattle-rearing, cawl is made with beef.

Les ingrédients principals du cawl sont la viande, les poireaux, les oignons et les pommes de terre. Sur les collines de l’ouest du Pays de Galles, d’où vient ma famille, on fait le cawl avec l’agneau ou le jambon. Le terrain haut est si pauvre qu’il ne supporte que les moutons, et tous les paysans élévaient des cochons aussi – un façon de recyclage. Les pommes de terre, les poireaux, les carrottes et les oignons poussaient dans les potagers ou dans les petits champs. C’est la nourriture durable, comme la plupart de plats paysans autour du monde. Dans les régions plus fertile au sud du Pays de Galles ils font le cawl avec le boeuf.

The recipe for cawl is simple: just put lamb (or ham), potatoes and carrots in a large pan, cover with water, add salt, pepper, bay leaves and parsley, bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour. Take out the lamb and remove the meat from the bone. Cut into 2 cm chunks and return to the pan. Add chopped leeks and simmer for a further half an hour. Serve, garnished with chopped parsley, with a good tasty farmhouse cheese and some crusty bread. Quantities depend on how much meat you’ve got – this is a good dish for making meat go further as you can use less meat and more vegetable. Some of the meat should be on the bone as this makes a better stock, and some of the meat should be quite fatty – to create a ‘starry’ effect on the surface of the cawl.

>It’s Thursday, so it must be oysters / les huitres

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A sustainable supper

We’re so lucky here in Gabian that the coquillage van comes to the village twice a week bringing fresh shellfish from Bouziques.  Oysters seem to be one of the best foods we can get from the environmental point of view … and they’re delicious and very good value.

In the Guardian newspaper last Saturday Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was encouraging readers to eat oysters, raw or cooked.  He gave some recipes – including one for oyster and chard fritters, which I want to make sometime soon, and another for oysters with chorizo.  This recipe was for six oysters to serve six people as a starter – well, here in the Midi we eat oysters in larger quantities than that, but the recipe sounded very tempting.  I had a nice chunk of chorizo which I’d bought from the charcutier at the market yesterday and realised that I could combine this with one of my favourite ways with oysters – huitres gratinées, putting them under the grill with white wine and cheese.

We started with some of our leeks, and onions, sautéed in olive oil and then served with shavings of parmesan.

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Les poireaux sautés aux oignons et l’huile d’olive.  Servir au parmesan.

Oysters gratinées with chorizo / Huitres gratinées au chorizo

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We added chopped garlic, olive oil, white wine and grated Cantal cheese to the oysters in their shells and put them under the grill for about 5 minutes until the cheese began to brown.  In the meantime we cooked the diced chorizo in olive oil, then served it with the oysters and poured the spicy oil from the frying pan over the oysters.

We finished this Thursday evening feast with some of the lovely Spanish clementines which are in all the local shops and markets at the moment.

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We felt we deserved all of this after a few hours’ hard work earlier on, spreading another trailer-load of goat manure on the garden.

>End of year round-up / Résumé de la fin d’année

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Our family holiday is over now and as always the best part of it has been enjoying being together, cooking, eating, drinking, talking, laughing.  This post is just a brief round-up of some highlights from this last week.

Les fêtes familiales sont finies et comme toujours nous nous sommes regalés ensemble, dans la cuisine, en mangeant, en buvant, en parlant et en riant.  Ici je vous donne un gout de quelques points forts de la semaine dernière.

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25 December sky / le ciel du 25 décembre

On Christmas day it was just about warm enough to walk to the garden at midday and have our traditional apéritif there, although this year rather than cold drinks we had mulled wine – a bottle of Domaine d’Estève red wine heated with a few tablespoons of brown sugar, some juniper berries, a cinnamon stick, some cloves and some orange pieces, including the peel. 

Olives

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We took some of our own olives out of the brine they’ve been soaking in for two months, rinsed them in plain water and coated them with olive oil.  They tasted very good, but a bit salty so we’ll soak the others in plain water for a bit longer to get rid of some of the salt.  It was exciting to eat our own olives next to our olive tree, as we did last year at the same time – but this time the olives are bigger and better and there are more of them.

Christmas meal / le repas de Noel

Everyone has different ideas about what makes the perfect Christmas meal.  We’re not very keen on turkey and Christmas pudding, so for many years we’ve eaten our own different choices which change from year to year.  Even when we lived in Wales we didn’t eat a traditional Welsh or British Christmas meal, and here we’ve adopted some of the local festive habits, such as eating oysters.  We started the meal with raw oysters, then had very small cups of oyster soup, foie gras with figs (bought in Pézenas market from the producer), and then gambas (large prawns) sautéed in olive oil with a dash of pastis added at the end of the cooking.

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oysters served with Picpoul de Pinet white wine
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gambas_1 Gambas are large prawns which have a special spicy flavour.  We sauté them in olive oil and then add either Armagnac or pastis – this time it was pastis, the aniseed spirit which is considered the spirit of the Midi.

We had two main dishes – pigeons for meat-eaters and salt-baked sea bass for non-meat-eaters – both served with sautéed leeks from the garden and potato and celeriac mash.

Salt-baked sea bass

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Baking in salt preserves all the flavour.
We stuffed the sea bass with fennel and lemon slices, laid it on a bed of sea salt and covered it completely with more sea salt.  We put it in a hot oven for about 40 minutes (this depends on the size of fish) and then cracked the ‘shell’ of salt.

Stuffed pigeons with pancetta

pigeons_1_1 We stuffed pigeons with breadcrumbs, chopped dried apricots, parsley, garlic, sautéed onion, sage and white wine, put a slice of pancetta over each one and roasted them in a hot oven for about 50 minutes.

We finished the meal with some of the cherries preserved in Armagnac which I bottled last May.

Since then we’ve had some more good meals, including a simple, but delicious soup made with cabbage, chestnuts and white wine:

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And, on the last evening before the family left, a bonite (small tuna-like fish) marinaded in a charmoula herb mix, stuffed with olives and preserved lemons and roasted on a bed of potatoes and tomatoes.  The recipe came from the Guardian weekend magazine but instead of sea bass we used the bonite which I’d bought from our market fish stall a couple of weeks ago and kept in the freezer.

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We served this dish with an excellent bottle of red Coteaux de Languedoc from the Domaine de la Tour Penedesses in Gabian.

Sustainable?

I think that, like us, most people take a break from some of their principles at this time of the year.  We certainly wouldn’t claim that our gambas were very eco-friendly, but most of our other food was.  The fish we ate was all locally caught and the oysters were produced in the Bassin de Thau.  I like foie gras and don’t join in the chorus of disapproval which so often results from any mention of this food.  I don’t think it’s any more cruel than other poultry farming and it’s much more acceptable to me than the battery-reared chickens to which critics of foie gras seem to have little objection.  Anyway, it is very expensive so we can only eat it once a year.  We ate as much as we can from the garden at this time of year, although we did buy potatoes, celeriac, chestnuts and tomatoes.  We decided not to have a pine tree this year and instead decorated some arbutus and bay branches from the garrigue and from our garden – this looked pretty and best of all didn’t drop pine needles on the floor!  And, rather than flying, our family travelled to Gabian by train – Eurostar and TGV – a much more sustainable choice.

How do others reconcile treats with principles, I wonder?

>Winter salad / la salade d’hiver

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I may have given the impression in my recent post on the changing shape of the garden – the garden changes shape – that there wasn’t much growing in the vegetable garden at the moment. But it’s just that winter crops grow lower than summer tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, they huddle near the ground for shelter, making the garden flatter. This morning it was cold, 3 degrees C, but we still managed to pick the ingredients for a salad from our garden:

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Salad of lettuce, rocket, chicory, spinach, sorrel, mizuna and oregano, all fresh from the garden today.

Une salade de laitue, roquette, endive, epinards, oseille, mizuna et oreganum, ramassés du jardin aujourd’hui.

Even in winter, we eat something from the garden every day. In the last week we’ve eaten leeks, turnips, chard, spinach, red cabbage, green cabbage, lettuce and mizuna.

Même en hiver, on mange quelque légumes du jardin chaque jour. Pendant la semaine dernière on a mangé: des poireaux, des navets, des épinards, des choux rouge et vert, de la laitue et du mizuna.

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cauliflower/chou-fleur
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chard / blettes
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mangetout peas
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spinach / épinards
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broad beans / fèves

Some of the vegetables which are thriving in the garden in spite of the cold weather / quelques légumes qui poussent bien malgré le temps froid.

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the peas are germinating / les petits pois germent
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2nd crop of leeks doing well / 2ème récolte de poireaux poussent bien
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the radishes taste good /
les radis sont bons
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and the red cabbage leaves are beautiful / et les feuilles du choux rouge sont belles

I love the summer vegetables best – tomatoes, aubergines, artichokes, courgettes – but even in December there are still plenty of good things in the garden!

J’aime les légumes de l’été – les tomates, les aubergines, les artichauts, les courgettes – mais même en décembre il y a plusiers de bonnes choses dans le jardin!

>La Sainte Cathérine

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On the French calendar, provided for us each year by the local fire service, today 25th November is Sainte Cathérine’s day.  And the saying which everyone here repeats whenever tree-planting is mentioned is: À la Sainte Cathérine tout bois prend racine.  On Saint Catherine’s day all wood takes root.  This is the season for planting trees and shrubs.  We’ve already planted two cherry tree cuttings, a fig tree and our lemon tree.  Today on this special day for planting we put in a Pyracantha coccinea shrub, which will have red berries.

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Pyracantha coccinea
Pyracantha coccinea_1_1 Pretty red stems and dark green leaves

Aujourd’hui, la Sainte-Cathérine, en suivant le dicton ‘ À la Sainte Cathérine tout bois prend racine’, nous avons planté un buisson de Pyracantha coccinea.

The lemon tree seems happy in its new sunny corner, the flowers are opening and the fruit is ripening.  We’ve covered it with a sort of ‘tent’ for the next few days as cold nights are forecast.

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Le citronier va bien dans son coin ensoleillé.  Les fleurs ouvrent et le fruit mûrit.  Nous l’avons couvert d’une sorte de ‘tente’ pour les prochains jours parceque des nuits froids sont prévues.

Today’s harvest / Le moisson d’aujourd’hui

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Leeks, turnips, rosemary, oregano and sage

poireaux, navets, romarin, oregane, sauge