Unwrapping the palms + a birthday treat

pain du pecheur-1This pain du pecheur was served as an extra, a tapa or an accompaniment to the main course, at lunch at La Maison du Pecheur on the quayside at Mèze yesterday. Simple and delicious, it’s definitely something we’ll be trying at home soon: slices of rustic bread topped with a spicy garlicky mix of tomato, red pepper and anchovy. Our main course was a platter of grilled shellfish – mussels and clams with breadcrumbs, herbs and garlic, mussels with Roquefort, oysters with leeks and cream, gambas – served with a baked potate and a provençale tomato.

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It was fun, tasty, and relaxed. We were almost the last to leave our table with a view of the port, but we didn’t feel rushed and were even offered a complimentary glass of marc de muscat, a new digestif for us, produced from the must after the sweet Muscat de Frontignan is made, very aromatic and sweet smelling. It was a lovely birthday treat for me.

As we finished eating we noticed a nice sign of spring – the palm trees along the quay were being unwrapped from their winter fleeces.


Bouzigues again


In warm sunshine, 16°C, on Monday we had a family day out to Bouzigues. Quite a change from last week’s snow! As we usually do, we wondered along the shore where the producers’ huts and workshops are, looking at the boats, the nets and the work that was going on, asking a few questions of one of the producers and learning and seeing something new as we do each time. We saw these ropes of oysters that had just been glued on and were lying in corrugated racks ready to be taken out to the beds, the frames that you can see in the distance in the photo above.

Bouzigues oysters-1

Bouzigues oysters-2


As we often do, we had lunch at Chez le Tchepe, a café where the owners’ own production is displayed in crates at the counter. For the first time, I ordered couteaux or razor clams, they were tasty if rather chewy compared with oysters, and served with a delicious salsa of olive oil, red onions, tomato and green pepper:

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After lunch as we walked by the fishing port a huge dark cloud came over the lagoon – time to go home!

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Other celebratory dishes may vary from family to family, but on every table here during les fêtes de fin d’année (the festivities at the end of the year) you can be sure to see oysters, either raw and served with slices of lemon or cooked in some way, usually quickly under the grill to melt a topping of cheese. The coquillage van from Bouzigues made a special visit to the village on Christmas Eve, its busiest day of the year except for New Year’s Eve. We and most other customers had ordered in advance to be sure and we bought some clams, mussels and of course oysters.


We ate some oysters raw, and cooked these ones, adding a spoonful of crème fraîche and some grated cheese to each and putting them under the grill until the cheese had melted. Very simple and quick to prepare and a delicious supper for the night before Christmas.


The next day we went to Mèze, wondered around the zone conchylicole (the shell fish producers’ area of the shore) and saw some of the processes of their production.


One of the boats used for farming the oysters, with the oyster and mussel beds in the lagoon and then Sète in the distance across the water.


Here the young oysters had been glued on to the ropes where they will grow. Once the glue has dried they will be taken out into the lagoon and lowered into the water to mature.

A perfect day in Bouzigues

On one of those November days when it feels like spring, with bright sunlight and 17°C temperature, we went to Bouzigues yesterday. Many of the traditional and more modern boats were moored in the small port next to the museum whose displays explain the industry and natural environment of the area around the Etang de Thau.

The wooden building on the right is a fishing hut now owned by the Association Voile Latine. The voile latine or vela latina in Catalan and Occitan is the triangular sail used along the coast from here to Catalunya on boats for sardine and anchovy fishing and for gathering clams and other shell fish in the sea-water lagoon between Bouzigues and Sète. I saw this tiled diagram of the terms used for the rigging on a wall in Sant Feliu de Guixols:


Because Occitan and Catalan are similar languages the same terms, with minor differences in spelling and pronunciation, are used in both regions.




One of the shell fish producers was leaving the port to work in the beds out in the lagoon, but in a much more modern motorised boat.


As we usually do when we’re in Bouzigues, we had lunch at Chez la Tchepe, a simple café where there are crates of raw shell fish, as well as cooked prawns and sea snails, at the counter. You make your choice, order bread, home-made mayonnaise and a bottle of wine and sit at tables in the sun, just across the road from the lagoon and in sight of the mussel and oyster beds, for the short wait until the shells have been opened for you.

We had oysters and mussels, a dozen of each. I’ve only recently discovered how much I like raw mussels and I’m making up for all the years when I’ve handed them over to Lo Jardinièr to enjoy!  And, below, a plate of prawns and escargots de mer, sea snails, with mayonnaise.

And, of course, a bottle of Picpoul, white wine made in a small area between the Etang de Thau and Pézenas, which goes especially well with sea food. There seems to be a magical relationship between the agricultural produce of an area and the wine made nearby, something we’ve found in many regions and which is particularly true of Picpoul and shell fish. It was lunchtime and we were driving home, so it was helpful that the café keeps the cork for you so you can take home the wine that you can’t drink.


As we left Bouzigues we took a detour to the more industrial area where the shell fish are brought in from the lagoon, on tracks along these jetties and then on conveyor belts into the packing area. It’s an industry, but on a small, human scale.


A couple of shell fish days

I’ve just realised that I haven’t posted on this blog for a week and I haven’t yet posted everything I want to from my Valencia/Xativa/Barcelona trip. I will during the next few days but in the meantime here are some shell fish we’ve enjoyed over the past few days and their place of origin, the Bassin de Thau between Bouzigues and Sète. These are just a few of the hundreds of frames covering a stretch of the lagoon from Bouzigues to Marseillan, an industry that gives employment to 3,000 people in this area.

With relatives staying who love shell fish, we ate oysters and mussels and other coquillage supper at home on Saturday when Lo Jardinièr opened the oyster shells using a special knife and a wooden device to hold the shell and make it less likely that he would cut himself.


Yesterday lunchtime we went to the source and ate at Chez la Tchepe on the waterfront at Bouzigues. This is a wonderful, simple café with tables out on the roadside terrace and indoors next to the counter where the raw shell fish which is their speciality is displayed in plastic crates. We ordered platters of oysters, raw mussels, cooked prawns and escargots de mer (sea snails), and a species we hadn’t eaten before – violets or sea potatoes, strange creatures with a leathery skin and a sea-flavoured edible centre. Having started with tielles, the sea food pies that are a local speciality, we were served the shell fish with a basket of white and whole grain bread and a bottle of Picpoul, the white wine grown in this are which goes especially well with fruits de mer.



Above, the violets served cut in halves, and below, a few of the empty shells at the end of our lunch:

A day out in the sun


These are the oyster beds in the Etang de Thau, a sea-water lagoon where shell fish production is the main activity.  The mussel and oyster frames support strings of shells which are glued on when the shell fish are young.  They are then lowered into the water to eat and grow.  These rows of frames stretch from Marseillan, past Mèze and on to Bouzigues (to the left of this picture) and across the unpolluted water towards Sète. The water really is unpolluted – it’s the only place in France where shell fish is produced that doesn’t have to go into purification tanks before sale, a status that is zealously guarded by the producers here. And best of all, this is a sustainable method of food production which doesn’t use up the sea’s resources as other fish and sea food can.  It’s a major industry in the area, rivalled only by the Picpoul vines which grow so well along the shores of the lagoon.  The name Picpoul means ‘sting the lips’ and this white wine does have a fresh, sharp quality. By some miracle of nature, Picpoul wine is an excellent accompaniment for sea food.  I’ve noticed this convenient marrying of flavours of local products with local wine in other areas, Cahors red wine and lamb from the Causse de Limogne, for example.




The industrial area of Mèze, with the shell fish frames and Sète in the background…and no, that’s not the remains of our lunch in that huge pile of oyster shells!

There’s a beach at Mèze, although you wouldn’t want to swim there….


the port is pretty, and full of pleasure boats even in winter:



It was hot in the sun and we found a table for lunch outside at one of our favourite restaurants, Le Sanboulou, with more or less the view in this picture.  The excellent menu du jour (only 13.50 euros) gave us tapas – mussels in chilli sauce, artichoke hearts, marinaded sardines and battered squid rings – followed by pasta with scallops and gambas (large prawns) in pistou (basil and garlic sauce), and homemade tiramisu for dessert.  Of course, I had a glass of Picpoul too!


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>Last days of the year


The weather has become much milder than it was a couple of weeks ago and the days are getting longer. This evening it was just about light until about 5.30 p.m. There’s a chance that the plants in the garden, which have been in a kind of suspended animation for the past few weeks, will begin to grow again. We still have work to do – clearing the last remaining pepper plants and getting the ground ready for the goat manure we hope to collect during January.


Even in the very cold weather we’ve been picking leeks and salad leaves, and this cauliflower.

The sea

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On Saturday at Le Grau d’Agde the sea was grey and cold. The statue of a woman represents the women who wait and watch for the fishermen to come back to port. She had no need to worry this time because all the boats were in the harbour. Going through Roujan we were amused to see this large olive tree on the back of a lorry ahead of us. A nice late Christmas present for someone?

Sunday sunset




From near Roujan we could see as far as the Pyrenees and Mont Canigou (above), which is 2,784 metres high, and the sunlit trees looked golden against the dark sky.

And our Christmas day lunch …

We’ve had to postpone our family mid-winter festivities because of travel problems last week, but even though we were on our own on the 25th, Lo Jardinièr and I had a good lunch!


Apéritifs in the garden, with some of the olives from our own tree.

DSC00746 DSC00745 Lo Jardinièr opening oysters (left) and beating the chocolate fondant mix (above)

DSC00750 Foie gras with salt, red and black peppercorns and a glass of Cartagène. DSC00752 Oysters gratinées
DSC00755 Leg of lamb slow roasted in wine with garlic and rosemary, with leeks from the garden. DSC00754
Potatoes dauphinoises
Chocolate fondant.
And, finally, cherries in Armagnac with our coffee.

We didn’t eat anything else until the next day!

>Weekend treats / Les plaisirs du weekend



La Jardinièra brought us some ceps she’d bought in the Halles Victor Hugo in Toulouse – lovely, earthy and wood-smelling, we cooked them in olive oil and butter and added chopped garlic and parsley. They were wonderful.

La Jardinièra nous a amené des ceps qu’elle avait acheté aux Halles Victor Hugo à Toulouse – ils sentaient du bois et de la terre. Nous les avons cuits à l’huile d’olive et puis nous avons ajouté de l’ail haché et du persil. Delicieux!

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Shellfish at Bouzigues / Le coquillage à Bouzigues

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Sunday lunch / le dîner de dimanche

plateau de fruits de mer

moules gratinées


And, back home, we found that we’ve managed to grow some parsnips for the first time! They were lovely roasted whole in olive oil.

DSC09319Les panais – ils sont bons rotis à l’huile d’olive.

>Update on the plane trees / Les platanes – mise à jour


At a meeting yesterday evening the mayor presented the revised plan for the plane trees and it seems that the muncipal council has accepted a compromise. All the remaining plane trees on one side of the road will be stay. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can hope for. What a pity this wasn’t agreed before some of the trees were needlessly felled.

A une réunion publique hier soir le maire a presenté le nouveau projet et il semble que le conseil municipal ont trouvé un compromis. Tous les platanes qui y restent à un coté de la route resteront. Ce n’est pas idéal mais c’est mieux que le projet précédent. C’est dommage que quelques arbres sont déja detruits inutilement.


Looking north from the bottom of the lane which leads to the gardens, the trees on the right of the picture will be preserved. / Les arbres à droite resteront.

Oysters / les huitres


Today we bought oysters from the van from Bouzigues and ate them for lunch in the garden, simply with lemon.

Aujourd’hui on a acheté des huitres du producteur de Bouzigues, pour manger au jardin, accompagnées tout simplement de citron.

We’ve started sowing the autumn crops, even though we’ve had no rain yet. We sowed lettuce – Rougette de Montpellier, a good autumn and winter variety – Cavalo Nero kale and turnips.

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



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.


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.