Back to the garden

I realise it’s been a while since I’ve posted much about the garden. That’s not because nothing is happening there and not because we haven’t been there much. Everything is growing well in the slightly damper than usual, but still warm, weather we’ve been having this month and on dry days we’ve watered, still using the good supply of free water from the stream that runs down the hill from the source – La Resclauze, or La Resclausa in Occitan – and usually keeps running until at least the end of June.  Yesterday evening we spent a couple of hours in the garden, watering, weeding and tying tomato and cucumber plants to their supports, and I took some photos of what’s happening there now:

The sweetcorn plants have grown incredibly quickly – some of them are as tall as I am now – and the male flowers are starting to appear at the tops of the plants.  These should soon be followed by female flowers.

The aubergine plants are flowering – they’re such pretty flowers that if these plants weren’t useful suppliers of vegetables I think they would still be grown just for their decorative qualities – and one tiny aubergine is beginning to grow.

The snails are enjoying some of the aubergine leaves, but so long as they don’t eat too much I don’t mind.

One of our apricots is beginning to ripen and we still have a good crop on the tree despite the rain and strong winds last month having knocked a lot to the ground.  This Roussillon variety is a late-ripening apricot and we usually harvest the fruits at the beginning of July – of course, they’re the tastiest apricots I’ve ever eaten!

Oleanders are flowering everywhere, especially in villages where they have been planted in public spaces, and in our garden.  There are several variations of colour in the flowers, from white to apricot pink to dark red, but this pink is my favourite as it reminds me of the oleanders outside our house in Libya when I was a child. (They’re pretty, but beware: every part of this plant is extremely poisonous.)

Today we took some time off to go to the sea and found it surprisingly rough and the beach almost deserted.  Not tempted to swim, we had coffee and rose-water flavoured pastries at a new Tunisian café next to the beach.

Invention, inspiration, influence

artichokes

I bought another bouquet of small artichauts violets in the market and Lo Jardinièr asked me to do them ‘as I usually do them’.  Well, he should know that I rarely do exactly what I’m asked to do and I couldn’t resist trying something new with these, something very simple that may have been done by someone before me, but it was a first for me.  I cut the ends of the leaves, trimming down to the heart, peeled off the outer leaves and removed what little choke there was, all the time covering the cut edges with lemon juice to stop them browning.  I mixed a couple of tablespoons of stoned green olives, 3 cloves of garlic and a piece of stale bread in the liquidiser until they made a stuffing which I put into the hearts of the artichokes.  I then put them, stems pointing upwards, in a good layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan and added a glass of white wine and some salt and pepper, brought it all to the boil and simmered gently for about an hour until the artichokes were cooked.  Some of the stuffing escaped but that just seemed to add flavour to the oil and wine sauce.  Served cold with a slice of lemon they were delicious and luckily Lo Jardinièr agreed.

I was interested by a recent post by Cooking in Sens and the comments that followed about whether or not chefs ‘invent’ recipes.  As she says, ‘In cooking, there is really nothing new under the sun.’  But recipes do not always have to come from books or television programmes, or even the Internet.  I love cookery books and books about food and I have shelves of them – by Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Giorgio Locatelli, the Moro couple, and many many more – but I rarely follow a recipe.  I use the books as inspiration, added to the knowledge I’ve amassed over more than forty years of cooking, from my mother, from talking to friends, especially here in the Languedoc (where no one I know uses cookery books at all), and from my own experience and experimentation.  I think if you have a grounding in cooking, from any of these sources, and a knowledge of which ingredients go well with which others, you can be inspired, influenced and then invent.  The salad that Lo Jardinièr made for lunch, which he described as a Mediterranean salad, for its colour and flavour, is another example of this:

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Local goats’ cheese, chorizo, lettuce, wild rocket (picked in the garden this morning), pickled yellow peppers (from the garden last summer)….and garlic, of course.

In the garden today we planted out the corn plants, a Greek variety resistant to drought, grown from seed we saved last year – we had 44 very healthy looking plants.  I also saw what I think is a Wall butterfly, looking slightly battered:

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the Lucque olive tree about to flower:

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a snail enjoying a good meal of rosemary – we have plenty, we can spare some!

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and some tiny wild violets:

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New Orleans in Languedoc

I’ve been quite busy the past few days helping with organising a dinner and jazz concert put on by the Cercle Occitan in our village.  With very little knowledge of New Orleans among members of the group we created our version of a suitable dinner for almost 100 people.  Lo Jardinièr and I made the first course: accras (salt cod fritters) with sauce made from mayonnaise, paprika, capers, chopped olives and parsley, served with red bean, green pepper and sweet corn salad.  Marie-Jo and a huge number of helpers made colombo, chicken in spicy tomato sauce with rice.  I’m sure some of my readers here will know a lot more about this cuisine than I do and may find the menu inauthentic, but everyone enjoyed the food and the music, by Ray the only one of us who has been to New Orleans, was even better.

The food Lo Jardinièr and I prepared was simple but the quantities meant that we seemed to be chopping and frying most of the day.

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Ready to serve!

Sweetcorn

This is the first time I’ve ever grown sweetcorn and these are the first two we’ve picked. The plants were grown from seed sent to me from Greece by Gaia’s hope. They’re a variety that need very little watering, so they’re well suited to the conditions here and in Greece. They’ve produced some nice big cobs, and this evening we peeled off the outer leaves and cooked these first two over charcoal on the barbecue, with one of our small aubergines. When they were cooked we added salt and some olive oil and they tasted wonderful.

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Bees and lizards – it must be summer

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A honey bee on the lavender flowers….

IMGP0744 and a lizard on the wall of the shed.  I don’t know why this one has a black mark on its back.

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The apple crop is looking good from this tree we planted as a small sucker about 6 years ago.

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This is one of the female flowers we were hoping for on the sweet corn plants.

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These scabious flowers grow as a weed in the garden, but they’re pretty.

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These Californian poppies aren’t weeds – we planted them, and I love their intense colour.

Work in the garden today: tying up tomato and cucumber plants, pinching out side shoots on some of the tomato plants, especially the Languedocian ones which just want to grow in all directions and have some quite large tomatoes on them now, taking out the mangetout pea plants and planting out some lettuce seedlings given to us by a friend.

The rain stops and the lizards come out

It rained all day yesterday so we were pleased to see that it had stopped this morning and we set off in sunshine to Roquessels, a village up in the hills about 5 kilometres from here where we buy red wine from Domaine d’Esteve – our favourite Faugères red.  The vines were bright green with new growth, stretching into the distance, and this lizard was out in the sun.

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When we got back to the village we saw a friend who asked if we wanted to pick cherries from the tree in their garden, so we went and picked a box full (about a kilo), which I used to make clafoutis, leaving plenty for eating just like this.  They have a wonderful flavour and are just ripe enough, but not too ripe – what a treat!  I’ve seen them in the market for about 5 euros a kilo, so we’re lucky to be able to pick them ourselves for nothing.

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I noticed that the sweet corn plants have flowers which we think are male flowers.  The female flowers will follow, we hope.  It’s the first time we’ve grown sweet corn and these plants are from seed sent to me by a blogger in Greece, at Gaia’s hope.  This variety is very drought resistant….not that this quality has been tested much during the past few days.

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The Languedoc tomatoes are growing well, too:

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>Planting out aubergines and finding a green lizard

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We’ve planted out about a dozen aubergine plants our neighbour gave us – six of them next to a row of peppers on the left below.  We usually grow the grafted plants, bought from a garden centre, because they produce so many more aubergines than the ordinary plants, but this year we’ll try these, as well as a few grafted ones.  The Greek maize I planted out a couple of weeks ago is doing well (on the right below).

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Sweet corn (maize) and a row of lettuce.

We also planted a row of chard, also given to us by our neighbour, next to the two rows of haricot beans which are growing quite well.  I picked the rest of last year’s chard today as it was going to seed, and we ate it this evening with pasta and cured ham.

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Our ‘big’ iris has started to flower (left below), later but more spectacularly than our white and mauve irises, and the red salvia was attracting a few bees (right).

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And the green lizard under the olive tree

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They’re much more shy than the brown wall lizards, so I was lucky to catch this one on camera!

IMGP9247 Our garlic is growing quite tall, but I don’t think it will ever be as good as the garlic I bought from this stall in Pézenas market on Saturday.  It’s very fresh and tastes wonderful chopped raw onto salads and other vegetable dishes.

And home to lunch….

IMGP9331 After working in the garden this morning we came home to a lunch of aubergine puréed with olive oil, garlic and oregano, some broad beans straight from the garden cooked with cured ham, and goats’ cheese from Roujan with thyme from the garden and olive oil that was milled in the village from olives from Servian, only about 10 kilometres away – all local, fresh and delicious!