>Spring fair

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Today la rue de l’Eglise, the widest street in the old part of the village, and the place where the Wednesday market is usually held were lined with stalls selling goats’ cheese, sheep’s cheese, honey, wine, olive oil, flowering plants, vegetable garden plants, asparagus, strawberries, and handmade crafts.  The weather was dull in the morning but it cleared up later, and the day seemed to be a success.

IMGP9577 lemon trees, tomato plants, flowers…… IMGP9575
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asparagus, churros and children’s rides…..
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our friends from le Moulin de Casso, which I wrote about when it first opened, selling their olive oil.
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We bought some Bouteillan and some Picholine olive oil, each with its own distinctive and delicious flavour.  The Picholine oil went very well first on its own with bread and then with some Mas Rolland goats’ cheeses at lunchtime, accompanied by a salad made with leaves from the garden and grated carrot and apple.

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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…
IMGP1993 baskets….
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winter hats and scarves….
IMGP2005 olive oil and salt cod…
IMGP2007 fritters and sea food salads IMGP2009 eggs and charcuterie….
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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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>An aerial view and a saffron harvest

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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 ….

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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

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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.

>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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>Fire and rain

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La Fête de Saint Jean is the traditional pagan midsummer celebration, which has been given a Christian saint’s name by the church but which is still very pagan. It should take place on 24 June, but we’re a bit ahead of the times in Gabian, and we had our paella meal and bonfire last night on rough ground near the river.

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Marché fermier

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The weather was warm and sunny yesterday evening for the celebrations, but today it was cloudy and threatening thunder from the start. And it looked worse up in the hills where we headed for the farmers’ market at Mas Rolland, the hamlet and goat farm where we buy cheese, and goat manure for the garden during the winter. In spite of the bad weather the stalls were busy selling wonderful local produce: traditionally milled flour, chestnut flour, wine, olive oil, free range pork, goats’ cheeses, of course, and cooked food – with potatoes cooked in duck fat a speciality – by the plate to be eaten at tables in the sun or shade (usually). Today it began to rain heavily just before lunchtime – great for the garden but not for those hoping for a Sunday meal outdoors.

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goats’ cheeses to taste and buy
DSC04042 wine from Montesquieu DSC04045
‘a green thought in a green shade’ (Andrew Marvell)
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olives and olive oil from Fabrègues
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potatoes cooked in duck fat

And in the garden …

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We have our first small tomatoes on the Languedocian plants, the tomato plants are all growing quickly, needing tying up and sideshoots removing almost ever day, and the oleander flowers are out.

>Mimosa in the rain, and winter again

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The weather isn’t very spring-like this week, but the mimosa is still flowering despite heavy rain which lay in puddles between the rows of vines, and filled the ditches and the cistern at the top of the hill above the garden.  We hope that soon the stream will start to flow again so that we can get free water for the garden when the weather gets warmer.

At the market this morning there were a few snowflakes in the air and a biting north wind.  Apart from leeks and cabbages and a few salad plants we have little in the garden at the moment, so we bought some vegetables and fruit from the market stall.

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Now it’s time to sow our tomato and pepper seeds – we’ve put out the seed starter box from last year ready to use again and Lo Jardinièr is making some small cloches that we can put the germinated seedlings in, in the sun on the balcony (more on these later).  Last year we found that our pepper plants germinated very quickly but then we couldn’t keep them warm enough so the seedlings went into a state of suspended animation for weeks.  This year we’re hoping to keep them warmer.

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>A cold market day

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Market day – the busiest day in the village! The north wind felt very cold and one woman in the queue at the charcuterie stall told us that when the village Christmas tree was delivered this morning from the mountains it still had snow on its branches.

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And today there was the added excitement of a huge Bulgarian lorry reversing out of the narrow street, between the stalls in the place and out onto the main road. The lorry had delivered the cobbles which will be laid in the streets in the Pioch, the oldest part of the village, which is being renovated. This caused much questioning among stallholders and customers (including me) about why stone had to be brought from Bulgaria when there are plenty of quarries nearby.

DSC00329 We bought fruit, fennel and Lactarus deliciosus mushrooms, known as saffron milk cap in English and lactaire delicieux in French.

Lactarus deliciosus

I’ve never eaten these before, but one of the advantages of shopping in the village shops or the market is that there is always someone nearby to give advice about how to cook something. So I asked, and had the simple reply that I should fry them in olive oil and add chopped parsley and garlic. So this is what we had for lunch, with pasta. The mushrooms tasted very good (although not as tasty as the cèpes we had in October) and had a nice almost crunchy texture and saffron colour.

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>Foire au gras and pruning the olive tree

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The foire au gras this weekend in Roujan is the beginning of the Christmas season.  People here don’t send cards, give as many presents or shop as determinedly as those in other countries, but food, as always, is important.  The foire au gras (which translates into English as ‘fat fair’, but this doesn’t sound so good), is a chance to buy foie gras, cured duck breast, whole ducks, wine, cured sausages …. all the delicious foods that are part of Christmas meals in this area, and all directly from the producers.

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The fair is held in the village hall and sports hall, a very modern setting for a traditional event.  Outside there were cheese, shellfish and vegetables stalls and amusements for children.  Inside there were rows of craft stalls and, most importantly, the wine and food producers’ stands.

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We bought a duck and some foie gras from M. Gaubert of Camp Grand in the Aveyron, who was eager to talk about his produce and give advice about cooking and serving it.  We also tasted for the first time (and bought) some excellent wines from Domaine Bonian at nearby Pouzolles.  Some say that this is an expensive way to buy these products, but I would much prefer to pay a little extra and buy from the producers, talk to them and taste, rather than buying anonymously in a supermarket.

Some people, too, I know, have reservations about foie gras production, but I think that when it is properly produced it is not cruel, unlike the mass-produced battery-farmed chicken, eggs and pork which are eaten by so many.

Pruning the olive tree

A couple of weeks ago we harvested the olives from the older and slightly larger of our two olive trees.   This tree was one we bought without thinking too much about it, soon after we bought the garden, as we wanted to plant one as soon as possible.  It has always been rather straggly and was in need of a good prune, which I did this morning.  The aim when pruning olive trees is to have space in the centre with the branches spreading outwards and this is what I’ve tried to do.

DSC00125 Before pruning . . . DSC00127

. . . and after.

Pruning like this may mean a smaller crop next year, but it should make a better shaped tree for the future.

DSC00135 I’ve taken the fresher, newer leaves to dry because I want to try olive leaf tea.  The other branches will make a good start for the fire the next time we light the barbecue.

Today’s harvest

DSC00129 Tiny parsnips and carrots (some of which were given to us by our neighbours in exchange for some parsnips, which they’d never tried before), the last of the aubergines and, hiding behind the bowl, some radishes.  We’re also picking salad leaves almost every day now.

 

 

DSC00133 And what is this doing here?  Anemones aren’t supposed to flower until the spring, but this one seems to have been fooled by the warm weather we’ve been having lately.

>World Food Day

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There are serious food issues affecting developing countries and many parts of the world where people do not have enough to eat. According to the United Nations one-sixth of humanity is undernourished. In the developed world the issues are more to do with over-consumption and waste of the earth’s resources. Sometimes it seems as though there is little that an individual can do. But I think that growing as much as we can of our own food and buying food that is locally produced are important small steps that each of us can make, to conserve the earth’s limited resources and to minimise exploitation of people in the developing world. You can find out more about World Food Day here.

Big commerce is bad for food. This is my 201st post on this blog and, on World Food Day, I would like to make it a celebration of local food. In our village we’re lucky to have a weekly market, an excellent épicerie (grocer’s shop), a small supermarket, a boulangerie (baker’s shop) and visiting vans which sell meat and shellfish.

DSC09355 The charcuterie stall at the Wednesday market. DSC09433
The butcher’s van on Friday morning.
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The boulangerie – bakery.
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The épicerie – grocer’s shop, full of good food and friendly advice.

We, and anyone else who lives here, can buy all we need in the village. It is excellent quality, good value and much of it is produced locally. We find we need go to supermarkets only to buy toiletries and Italian coffee. In Roujan, a larger village 2 km away, there are two excellent butchers who sell an enormous range of good meat and, best of all, will advise on how to cook it, as well as other friendly small shops.

But the small shops in Roujan, and maybe Gabian too, are threatened by the construction of a supermarket there.

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This is the site of the planned supermarket where, as in Gabian, more plane trees have been felled to make another new roundabout at its entrance.

This is bad news for food. In the UK it has been shown that when a supermarket is built on the outskirts of a town it sucks the lifeblood from the centre. The food sold in supermarkets is mass-produced and generally of lower quality than that in small shops. It is transported long distances, wasting resources and causing pollution. Because of their centralised distribution systems supermarkets cannot support local food as well as small shops can. And the profits made leave the area, feeding big business rather than being ploughed back into the locality.

And local wine …

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This evening we went to a tasting to celebrate the arrival of the primeur wine at the Cave Co-operative at Neffiès. The vin primeur is the first of the year’s wine to be ready to drink, a light wine which takes only three weeks or so to make. It’s a good reason for a party and the tasting at Neffiès was fun, with roasted chestnuts (another seasonal local product) to eat with the wine, and live music. The cave at Neffiès has recently amalgamated with the one at nearby Alignan-du-vent (a sign of the times and the economic crisis in wine-making), but we were pleased to hear that some of the high-quality wines from Neffiès such as their Cathérine de Juery will continue to be made.

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Hot roasted chestnuts to accompany the new wine.
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Tuning up for the music and wine tasting.

And home to a local supper

We came home from Neffiès to a supper of roast saddle of lamb, bought in one of the butcher’s shops in Roujan, and aubergines stuffed with tomatoes, both grown in our garden. A delicious local supper! We marinaded the saddle of lamb with rosemary, garlic and lemon juice for a few hours, then roasted it, adding a glass of white wine to the roasting dish, until it was just done and still a bit pink inside. We served it with halved aubergines topped with chopped tomatoes, garlic, thyme and olive oil and baked in the oven.

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Bilingual blog / le blog bilingue

Over the next few weeks I shall not have time to write my blog posts in French as well as English. I’ll resume the French version as soon as possible, but in the meantime I apologise for not being able to produce a bilingual blog.

Pendant les semaines qui viennent je n’aurai pas le temps pour écrire les articles sur ce blog en français. Je reprendrai la version française aussitôt que possible, mais pour le moment je m’excuse de ne pas produire un blog bilingue.