A fallen vine leaf caught in the rosemary spears.
These teasels seemed to symbolise the day for me – a day when the temperature reached 40°C, which is a bit too hot, even for me and I like hot weather! It’s far too hot to do anything in the garden apart from water the plants, in the evenings so that the water doesn’t immediately evaporate. Hoping to feel some cooler air we took our lunch to eat by the lakeside at the Barrage des Olivettes, but even there, in the shade of trees at the water’s edge, it felt hot. I try to remind myself that soon enough I’ll be complaining about it being too cold in winter! Once again there were several varieties of dragonfly zipping from reed to reed and from leaf to leaf over the water – and once again I wasn’t quick enough to catch on camera the small blue darting ones or the large blue ones, but I did get some more views of the Scarlet Dragonfly:
Most of our lavender flowers have died now, but I was glad there were one or two left this morning to attract this butterfly, even though it’s hardly a rare variety – either a Common White or a Southern Common White, it seems.
And even more common in our garden today were these red peppers – a real treat to come home to after a few days away.
Some of these are paprka peppers for drying, and the bigger ones are a mix of Red Marconi and Kandil Dolma. I decided to preserve the Red Marconis by pickling them – I held each one with tongs over the gas ring until the skin was blackened (it’s best to do this over a barbecue as I did the other day, but it was just too hot today to light the barbecue). Then there was the rather fiddly job of peeling them – made easier, but not easy by charring them like this.
When they were (roughly) peeled I brought to the boil a cup of water, a cup of cider vinegar and a cup of sugar in a pan then added the peppers for only 5 minutes or so, because they had already been partly cooked in the flames. I put them straight into a sterilised jar and sealed it. They’ll be nice in the winter eaten in salads or as tapas.
I made salads for our lunch with goats’ cheese, sliced fresh raw peppers, chopped garlic, green olives, parsley and local olive oil – lovely flavours and crunchy peppers.
Much of south-western, central and eastern France is suffering from a canicule – heatwave – this weekend, with temperatures of 40° C which must be unbearable in those humid regions. Here in the Languedoc we have normal summer temperatures of 30 to 35 degrees – it’s hot, but then it’s dry which makes the heat more tolerable, and we’re used to it and know how to cope with it. This is the Mediterranean summer. We go out to the garden early in the morning, close the windows and shutters during the day and open them at night for some refreshing cooler air, and drink plenty of water….and some chilled wine too, of course!
Everything is very dry now in daytime temperatures of more than 30° C – good weather for lizards. In the garden we leave the tomatoes and peppers to ripen, harvesting and watering in the evening but doing little other work in the heat.
We seemed to lose most of our olive crop earlier this year, not long after the tiny fruits had formed (and others have reported the same odd phenomenon), but I’m pleased to see we have a few olives on each of our trees, and I’ve changed the header on this blog to celebrate. What a relief – I had thought I might have to rename this blog since the artichokes didn’t do very well this year either!
In the vineyards the grapes are beginning to ripen and the leaves are still the only touch of bright green in the landscape, but even with their deep roots the vines look a bit hot and drooping in the heat of the day. The grasses and other wildflowers at the edges of the vineyards are just dry seed heads now.
In a week or so the white grapes will start to be harvested, at night to keep them cool, and we’ll begin to hear the sound of tractors and machinery in the early hours of the morning all around the village while the red grapes will be left for a few more weeks to sweeten in the sun. August feels very different from July, there’s a sense of the natural cycle coming to its fruition everywhere.
Lo Jardinièr and I have both turned 60 this year so we thought it was time for a party. We’ve been planning it for months and inviting friends and family from the village and around and from Wales, London and the Basque country too. Finally on Saturday night everything and everyone came together and with a lot of help from a lot of people we had a fantastic evening that went on into the small hours in the garden belonging to some very good friends. A threatened thunderstorm turned up 24 hours early so we didn’t have to find shelter for the fire and all the guests after all – everything went to plan. I’ve long wanted to have a meshwi – a whole lamb roast – although I’d never done this before, but fortunately our friends B. and M-J have done this many times and they took charge of the cooking, starting the fire at about 3 in the afternoon, stuffing and sewing up the lamb with couscous, putting it all on the spit and feeding the fire with the vine wood we’d collected, basting the meat and then carving it – the latter with a lot of interested help and in the dark too by the time it was cooked!
This was the main course for 40 people, that followed entrées we’d made – rice salad, felafel, tomato salad, ratatouille, charcuterie. The lamb, specially ordered direct from a farm in the Aveyron by a wonderful arrangement with the caveau at the Domaine des Pascales, where we buy wine and where I exhibited my photos earlier in the summer, was perfect – tender, tasty, perfectly cooked. We followed it with Roquefort and goats’ cheeses from Mas Rolland and then Turkish pastries I’d made and local peaches and nectarines. We also had our friend Ray and his excellent jazz band to entertain us before and after the meal. It was a night to remember!
We’ve had two long and very hot days going to Lodève for the wonderful Voix de la Méditerranée festival which is on all this week, a week packed with poetry in all the languages spoken around the Mediterranean and music from all its cultures. It’s my favourite cultural event, one that I look forward to from year to year.
Among many other excitements, we were exhilarated by two hours of non-stop Turkish gypsy music by Burhan Öçal & l’Ensemble Oriental d’Istanbul, and cooled while we listened to poetry in the welcome shade of the Cours Casablanca.
But it was hot, 38°C yesterday, and tiring so it was a pleasure this evening to sit quietly in our garden, eat our supper which included tomatoes and peppers picked straight from the plants, and water all the vegetables that are just beginning to come into full summer production.
First add the sound…
then magnify it by a lot. I’m not sure where this clip was recorded, but the cicadas sound a lot more polite than ours!
Now imagine the scent of fennel wherever you walk at the edges of the vineyards where the fennel plants are just begin to flower:
The vines are green, their leaves hiding this year’s grapes, sheltering them from the heat while they’re still growing.
At the roadsides and in the uncultivated spaces the wild flowers are almost over and the plants are dying back, to re-emerge when rain comes again in the autumn.
Through the dry stems I could see right down to the sea – the hill rising in the distance on the left is near Le Grau d’Agde where I swam the other day – and still the cicadas were singing, wherever I went when I was out this morning.
Suddenly, summer has arrived and it’s too hot to go out much in the afternoons – better to stay in, close the shutters and even the windows to keep the heat out and wait till evening when it’s warm enough to sit eating supper in the garden as the sun goes down. It’s my favourite time of year and one of the reasons I love living in the Midi so much.
While we eat, we gradually move the hose around the rows of vegetables filling the watering trenches with free water, while it lasts. Some time around the end of June or, if we’re lucky, in July the stream of excess water from the village spring, La Resclauze, will stop running and we’ll have to start using mains water for the garden. For the moment, we’re making the most of it and the reservoir at the top of the hill is still quite full.
The wall holding the water in this reservoir is ancient and may even date back to Roman times. It is certainly built in Roman style with square-cut and chiselled stones:
A very different style from the more common higgledy-piggledy way of building walls seen elsewhere around the village:
The grasses and other wild flowers are dying back now in the hot dry weather. Only the vines become greener and greener as their deep roots search out water in the rocky soil.
If you can’t (or haven’t this year) grown it yourself, this is the best way to buy garlic – locally grown, very fresh, from a vegetable and fruit stall near Agde.
All our tomato, pepper, aubergine and courgette plants in the garden are doing very well, flowering and beginning to fruit as they should, and so are the grasses, supposed to be weeds but looking beautiful in the evening light when we were having tapas for supper there last night..
There were the first tiny signs of olives after the recent flowering:
We’ve been out and about a lot with our family, to the sea where we swam for the first time this year in quite warm water, and to the nearby lake where the light through the cork oaks (Quercus suber) was lovely on the hillside and the water sparkled in the breeze – we swam there too. Summer has come at last!
The exhibition opening went very well (I even sold quite a few photos!), after Lo Jardinièr and our son worked very hard hanging the frames on the stone walls of the Caveau des Pascales.
If you’re interested you can see a Flickr set of the photos here