There’s a long way to go until the harvest at the end of the year, and anything could happen before then, but there are a lot of small olives on our trees now.
The place behind the church in Neffiès was transformed from its everyday use as a playground and pétanque ground, and from the night before too, when it had been the scene of a fantastic lively concert by Occitan musicians Du Bartas. Last night it was filled with small low tables surrounded by cushions and long tables covered with pretty cloths, laid with wine glasses glinting in the light, netting floated from the trees and candelabras hung from the branches.
A group of eight or nine women, all dressed in white, had prepared a supper for eighty people to follow a tasting of local wines. Las Mascas – female sorcerers in Occitan – had conjured all this from the space and the food made entirely from local ingredients. And in between cooking and serving they toured the tables singing Occitan songs too. It was a memorable evening.
And the food? A delicious and inventive four-course supper:
A tortilla-like concoction of egg and nettle leaves, tapenade made with olives from the village, and salad made from locally grown chick peas with tomatoes, onions and wild herbs from the garrigue.
Mutton sausage with vegetables and aioli made with wild garlic.
Goats’ cheese from a farm near the village, served on a vine leaf and with rosemary syrup.
And chocolate gateau decorated with a mallow flower, just before midnight as the full moon rose above the plane trees.
A week or so later than usual, our Luque olive tree is flowering, in fact it’s covered in these tiny delicate flowers that are self-pollinating. They don’t seem to have any scent, because they don’t need to attract insects for pollination.
We mustn’t count our olives before they are ‘hatched’ because last year we had a lot of blossom but only a handful of olives from this tree, but it’s a hopeful sign to see so much flower.
After the middle eastern gloom of my last post it seems there is some light there now, with a ceasefire that appears to be holding and allowing people to resume their normal lives as far as that is possible under a blockade. May it lead to better lives for all. In our garden there was light too, on the rosemary flowers where there were still bees, even though it’s nearly the end of November.
It was time to bottle the olives that I started curing in salt a few weeks ago. We’d eaten some last weekend so we knew they were ready. For the past few days I’ve been soaking the olives in spring water, changing the water every day or so, to rinse off the salt and to plump up the now rather wrinkled olives. Today it was time to bottle them ….. in brine. It seems strange to put them back into a salt solution, having just tried to remove the salt, but I think it will be the best way to keep them for a few weeks until we eat them. When we want to eat them I’ll drain them and coat them in olive oil.
I made a solution of 1 cup sea salt to 4 cups of spring water, checking that it was salty enough by floating a fresh raw egg in the brine. I packed the olives into jars with a few slices of fresh lemon and covered them with the brine. The top olives always float above the surface of the brine so, in order to keep them submerged, I tried a couple of bay leaves lodged in the jar with their stem and a slice of lemon – both together seemed to be the best method.
These are some of the olives that I started to salt-cure a couple of weeks ago – see here. When we tasted one or two of them they weren’t bitter at all, so I washed the salt off these and put them to soak in spring water for a couple of days, changing the water a couple of times, and then drained them and tossed them in olive oil ready to serve them to friends with apéritifs last night. They were pronounced good, by us, of course, but more importantly by the olive-growing friends who shared them with us. I’m now soaking the rest of the olives and will store them in jars covered with olive oil for the next few weeks.
The black olives that I picked a week or so ago – see here – have been soaking in spring water since then and I’ve been changing the water every few days. Today it was time to salt them. Every time I cure olives I think I follow a slightly (or very) different method and this way is possible only because we have a very small crop – just over a kilo this year.
I drained the olives and cut a slit in each of them with a sharp knife.
Then I added a lot of coarse-grained sea salt – about 500 grams to the kilo of olives and mixed it in so that all the olives were coated with salt.
I added a layer of salt over them all and then covered the bowl with a large plate. I’ll leave them like this for a couple of weeks, draining off any liquid from time to time, until I taste an olive and find that it’s no longer bitter. Then they’ll be ready to cover with olive oil and store in jars until we eat them.
And mussels again
The Saturday morning visit of the coquillage van from Bouzigues gave me the chance to re-create a dish we had for lunch recently, made by our friends S & D in Montblanc, and also according to another friend available in at least one Barcelona bar. This is my version:
I chopped some of the last of our red and green peppers finely with two cloves of garlic and a piment d’Espelette and some basil leaves. I whizzed two small peeled tomatoes in the liquidiser with some olive oil, a pinch of salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar and mixed this dressing into the chopped vegetables.
Meanwhile, Lo Jardinièr was cooking the mussels with a glass of white wine until they all opened and removing the empty half of the shell. I put a spoonful of the pepper mixture into each mussel shell and we ate them with a squeeze of lemon, bread and a glass of local rosé.
We picked just over a kilo of ripe olives in the garden this morning – a much smaller harvest than two years ago, but at least much better than last year when almost all the fruit was affected by olive fly. I’ll soak them in spring water for a couple of days, then prick them with a fork and salt them to draw the bitterness out. After a few weeks they should be ready to eat. This is a quick way of curing olives and one that is only possible because we have such a small crop! As I was picking the olives Lo Jardinièr called me over to the rosemary bush where he’d found this praying mantis, upside down among the flowers.
Such strange creatures, that we seem to see more in autumn than at other times of year, and are apparently related to cockroaches although they seem more attractive to me! Because they eat smaller insects they are sometimes used for pest control in organic gardening, but they will eat anything (even each other if they can’t find anything else) so they can also eat beneficial insects in the garden.
Within the next couple of weeks, around the beginning of November, production of these delicious goats’ cheeses at Mas Rolland will stop for the winter – we’ll miss them, and we may freeze some for the occasional treat over the next few months. For now, we’re still enjoying eating them with the last of the summer cops – stir-fried red and green peppers that we’re still picking from the garden – and the autumn crop of local Lucques olives, grown by a friend and sold, like the goats’ cheeses, in the village shop.
The rosemary is flowering again after a dormant dry summer:
The olives are ripening and I’ll be harvesting these soon:
And gradually the vine leaves are beginning to turn their different shades of autumn. This is the Alicante Bouschet variety that has red-fleshed as well as red-skinned grapes and is used to give a deep colour to red wines.
I swam in warm sea at Marseillan-plage a few days ago but I don’t think I will again as the nights are getting cooler and the sea will get chillier from now on.
Last night we returned home from a wonderful holiday in Valencia, Xativa and Barcelona. We had so many delicious food experiences, too many for a quick post on my return, so for now I’ll just give a taste of Barcelona where we stayed for our last couple of nights and went with friends to one of their favourite local restaurants – not a tourist place at all, just somewhere people who live there eat because we were lucky to have local guides. What I didn’t photograph but will remember for a long time was the best veal I have ever tasted, a piece of fillet lightly griddled and served simply with fried potatoes – it was wonderful. To start the meal all four of us shared this plate of embutidos y queso, mixed charcuterie and cheese, and a huge pile of toasted pan amb tomaquet, toasted bread rubbed with tomato.
And dessert was the Catalan speciality mel i mato, fresh cheese with honey. There are many different versions of this dish, some of which we have here in the Languedoc as we’re next door to Catalunya. This is the individual style of presentation of the restaurant we went to that night, with very dark honey.
Next morning, just before we had to leave to catch the train home, we went to the local market hall – mercat in Catalan – filled with tempting fish, meat, cheese, vegetable and charcuterie stalls.
We were tempted to have one (or more) of everything, but we wouldn’t have been able to carry it all, so we restricted ourselves to some cured sausages and these colourful olives. They are green Sevillenca olives, stained red by the paprika added during the curing process. They’re very tasty, slightly peppery along with the flavour of the olives.
The green ones in the background here were a free extra given to us by the friendly woman on the stall who asked if we had olives at home and was interested when I said in my very broken Spanish that we had olive trees in our garden.
I’ll be posting more very soon about the amazing market in Valencia and some of the other delicacies we found while we were there.