Weekend harvest

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog and during this time spring carried on its one step forwards, two steps backwards progress, still feeling cold at times but with enough sun – and plenty of rain – to keep the plants growing well. In the garrigue some of the wild flowers are already passing their best. Wild garlic:

1-wild garlic

and wild salsify – I think I’ve posted a photo of this beautiful star-shaped flower before but I’m doing so again because this is probably the last one I’ll see this year.

2-wild salsify


In the garden, our big purple iris is almost embarrasingly big and purple:

3-big iris


and the white cistus – my favourite of the cultivated cistuses – is flowering, its delicate flowers lasting only a day at a time before being replaced by others waiting to burst out of their buds:





We’re thinking ahead from spring to summer crops now and this morning we planted out six peppers that have been nurtured up till now in mini-greenhouses on the balconies. These first six plants are of a variety that we call A and A Spanish as the seeds originally came from our friends A and A who had brought an especially tasty red pepper home from Spain a few years ago.

6-pepper plant


I’m very glad that I sowed two double rows of broad beans last autumn, one in October and another in November, because the second row is now producing huge pods while the first hasn’t finished yet either. In past years I’ve sown one double row in the autumn and then another in February, but I’ve found that the February-sown row never does very well, perhaps because there isn’t enough water for them at crucial times. Autumn-sown broad beans do much better here, as shown by the 4.5 kilos we picked today.

7-broad beans

These (most of which will be frozen), another small artichoke, some wild thyme from the garrigue and some wild flowers Lo Jardinièr had brought home to identify made the kitchen table look full of possibilities:

8-kitchen table


I cooked some of the broad beans straight away for lunch, in an earthenware dish over a low heat in olive oil, adding chopped garlic and oregano leaves and some tomato concentrate, then, once they were cooked which took only 5 minutes, some chopped leftover cooked artichoke hearts.


Green tomatoes

After a couple of cold nights earlier in the week it didn’t seem as though any tomatoes left on the plant would ripen. We picked the few that were left and I made green tomato and paprika jam with them to use as a spicy addition to goats’ cheeses….or anything else. And then, just as we thought we’d finished with tomatoes for the year, a friend gave us a basketful of his green tomatoes. We picked out the best ones and put them in a box with a few red tomatoes – we’ve done this before and it does work, the green tomatoes ripen indoors although they don’t taste quite as nice as fresh ones.

There were about 2 kilos of tomatoes left so I decided to make some more green tomato jam, this time without the added piment d’Espelette. I roughly chopped the tomatoes and added a finely chopped whole lemon and the same weight of sugar – 2 kilos. I mixed it all together in a large pan and left it for a couple of hours.

While I was waiting for the sugar to draw out the liquid from the tomatoes we went for a trip around the hills through Montesquieu and Fos. It was like spring – sunny, 17°C with a light breeze. It didn’t look like spring, though, because the vines are changing colour. This year we’re not seeing the beautiful autumn colours we usually see, though, for some reason. The vines seem to be turning from green to dingy brown to threadbare quite quickly.

But we saw wild olives ripening:

A bright mazet (vine grower’s shelter) in a vineyard:

and another mazet higher up in the hills sheltered by chestnut trees:

There were bees buzzing around the wild mint at the side of the road and around (and above) this arbutus bush:

And at last, on the way home, we saw a vineyard in proper autumn colours!

Then it was home to cook the jam, bringing it to the boil and simmering for an hour or so until it reached setting point (when a spoonful put onto a saucer sets with a wrinkled surface), whizzing it with a hand-held liquidiser half way through the cooking and then bottling it, using Lo Jardinièr’s nice Catalan jam funnel.

So that’s my recipe for green tomato jam: 2 kilos of green tomatoes, 2 kilos of sugar, I lemon and a morning out in the countryside!

And for lunch, while the jam was simmering, we ate some ripe tomatoes given to us by another friend, made into a cool-weather version of tomato and mozzarella salad. I cut the tomatoes in half and put slices of garlic into each half, added some wild thyme we’d picked while we were out, salt, pepper and olive oil and put a slice of mozarella on each half. I put them in the oven at 200°C for about half an hour and they were read to eat, garlicky, thyme-flavoured and oozing melted cheese.

Wild flower time

On a short trip into the hills just north of the village this morning I saw that, in spite of a cold north wind, spring is definitely in the air for the wild flowers. 

The asphodel flowers are just beginning to open:


There are pink cistus and lavender flowers growing out of the rocks, it seems:


and white cistus too (it’s not called rock rose for nothing):


thyme growing between a rock and a hard place, at the side of the road:


and common broom flowering next to Spanish broom which is about to flower:


With the vines beginning to sprout fresh green leaves and the few deciduous trees in the valleys now in leaf, the countryside is beginning to change, to look more spring-like.

Almost spring in the garden

1 rose buds

The roses are about to flower and the climbing Rosa banksiae (below), which doesn’t usually flower until April, has buds about to open.

2 climbing rose

Lo Jardinièr trimmed the bamboo canes, cut from the end of the garden, so that we’ll have them ready for the tomatoes later on in the year.

4 canes

Convenience food?

And then we came home to make lunch with the nearest thing to convenience food our village shop offers – paupiettes de veau.  I know that beef farming is not sustainable for the planet and is a luxury available to those of us who live in the better-off countries which can choose to exploit the resources of their own agricultural lands as well as those of others.  For this reason, although I like steak and beef stews I don’t eat them very often.  Veal calves can be another point of dispute for those who involve themselves in food issues. But the way I see it is that if people eat cheese made from cows’ milk then calves are an unavoidable side-product of its production.  So I have no qualms on grounds of sustainability about eating veal.  Food, Photography and France was struggling with similar conflicting sides to his food preferences the other day.  However, when I saw some paupiettes de veau in the village shop yesterday, stuffed with minced veal and rolled and tied up ready to cook, I didn’t struggle much as I realised they would make an easy and delicious Sunday lunch.

5 paupiettes 1

I sliced two echalottes and sautéed them in olive oil until they were soft then added a couple of sliced carrots.  In a separate pan I seared the paupiettes and then put them on the bed of onion and carrot slices with some chopped garlic, thyme that I’d just picked in the garden and the last of our small crop of olives.  I poured a large glass of white wine over them all, brought it to the boil and simmered for 45 minutes.

6 paupiettes 2

Lo Jardiniér sautéed some potatoes and within an hour of returning from the garden we had a very good Sunday lunch on the table.  Very convenient food!

7 paupiettes 3

It’s good to be home

Some of the ingredients I miss most when I’m away from home are good olive oil, aubergines and garlic (although I did take a bulb of garlic with me and surreptitiously added it to some of the food I ate while we were travelling – not in people’s homes, I hasten to add).


Luckily there were a lot of aubergines waiting to be picked in the garden when we got home.  We had a long day’s journey yesterday, by very comfortable high-speed train because we don’t fly, but we were too tired to spend much time cooking so I simply sliced this aubergine and fried it in olive oil, adding chopped garlic, salt and thyme leaves after cooking.  The scent of the fresh thyme leaves told me I was home. We ate this with some delicious tender pieces of corn-fed chicken.


>Apricot buds and a new cold frame


One of the good things about writing a garden blog is that I can check back and see how this year compares with last year and the year before.  Spring seems to be late this year, but looking back to last February I can see that the apricot buds are at about the same stage this year, although the daffodils are certainly later.  Last year we had daffodils in flower in time for St David’s day – that won’t happen this year.

DSC01890 DSC01892 The apricot tree should be in flower in a few days’ time.

I sowed some mangetout peas about a month ago and had almost given up hope of the plants appearing.  I thought the seeds had been washed away by some of the heavy rain we’ve had and today I decided to sow some more in the same place.  Luckily I had a close look first because I noticed that they’re coming up at last.  We’ve covered them with chicken wire because the birds seem to like them.

DSC01893 mangetout peas emerging and, right, the garlic doing well. DSC01906 DSC01901 But the daffodils are late this year.

We’ve already got two rustic-looking cold frames in the garden, but our neighbour gave us an old window so Lo Jardinièr decided to make another one – they’ll all come in useful when our pepper and cucumber plants need a bit of protection before being planted out.  He made a base of sand covered with old terracotta floor tiles, made walls with concrete blocks and rested the window on top – very simple.

DSC01904 DSC01907

While he was doing that I sowed another double row of broad beans and a row of spinach.  We lost at least three sowings of spinach to heavy rain in the autumn, each time I re-sowed them there would be another storm and no sign of spinach plants, except for a solitary one which has survived the winter.  We miss having the young spinach leaves in our salads, so we hope to grow some now before the weather gets too hot and dry. 

Today’s harvest:

DSC01909 DSC01927

Rosemary, thyme and bay, which the garden provides all through the year, whatever the weather, chard, which is just recovering from the cold weather and starting to grow again, and cabbage.

>Some flowers in the garrigue / Quelques fleurs en garrigue


It was a lovely clear sunny morning and from Montesquieu we could see Mont Canigou and the Pyrenees, the peaks still covered with snow.  / Il a fait beau et clair ce matin et de Montesquieu on a pu voir le Mont Canigou et les Pyrénées, leurs sommets couverts de neige.

canigou from montesquieu_1

Olive trees live for centuries and often the original tree has died while new young trees have grown up around the beautiful shapes of the hollow centre.  / Les oliviers vivent pour plusiers siècles et souvent l’arbre original est mort et des arbres nouveaux ont poussé autour les formes belles du centre creux.

olive trunk 1_1_1 olive trunk 2_1_1
olive trunk 3_1_1 olive leaves_1_1

In the garrigue, the scrubby vegetation that grows on uncultivated hills, this is the time of year when the plants flower before dying back during the dry summer.  /  Dans le garrigue, la végétation broussailleuse qui pousse sur les collines, les plantes fleurissent à cette saison avant de perdre leurs feuilles et leurs tiges pendant la sécheresse d’été.

I find the website http://www.maltawildplants.com/ very helpful when I’m trying to identify Mediterranean plants.  It is an incredible work by one man, Stephen Mifsud, who is cataloguing and describing the flowering plants which grow in Malta.  Many of these are common to the area all around the Mediterranean, so it is an extremely useful data base.

Today we saw / aujourd’hui on a vu:

cistus albidus   wild asparagus_1_1 cistus close up_1 Cistus albidus
clustered sulla_1_1 Clustered sulla, Hedysarum glomeratum Lathyrus clymenum_1_1
Crimson pea, Lathyrus clymenum
thyme   wild asparagus_1_1

Thyme and wild asparagus growing together.

Le thym et les asperges sauvages ensemble.

asphodelus albus_1_1 asphodel
Asphodelus albus
aphyllanthes monspeliensis_1_1 aphyllanthes close up_1
Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

new salad box_1_1 Back at the garden, Lo Jardinièr finished making a new raised bed and planted out lettuce plants our nighbour had given us.  He made a wooden frame with some cast-off planks, put it on a patch of rough ground we haven’t used before and filled it with a mixture of half compost and half soil.

Lo Jardinièr a construit une parterre pour les salades.

>A cold market and garlic soup / un marché froid et la soupe à l’ail


It’s cold and grey today.  The woman on the fish stall, where we bought a squid, said she has got used to being outside all morning and not wearing gloves but she was shivering behind her display of cold, wet fish.  The charcutier told us there was snow in his home village of Lacaune, in the mountains to the north-west.  We bought some warming produce – poitrine salée to use in split-pea soup, fresh and cured sausage, garlic and some beautiful lemons.

market purchases_1_1

Aujourd’hui il fait froid et gris.  La poissonière duquelle nous avons acheté un encornet a dit qu’elle s’est habituée au temps, mais elle grelottait derrière son étalage de poissons froids et muoillées.  Le charcutier nous a dit qu’il y a de la neige chez lui à Lacaune, dans les montagnes au nord-ouest d’ici.  Nous avons acheté des produits qui vont nous chauffer – de la poitrine salée pour la soupe de pois cassés, de la saucisse fraîche, du saucisson sec, de l’ail et des beaux citrons.

Garlic and thyme soup / la soupe à l’ail et au thym

garlic soup ingredients_1_1_1

I used the recipe in one of my favourite cookery books, André Soulier’s La Cuisine Secrète du Languedoc-Roussillon.  He gives several recipes for garlic soup and this is the simplest.  He says that it is eaten in Nîmes as a morning-after remedy for those who have over-indulged at the ferias.  I can’t give any guarantees about this, but it certainly tastes as though it will keep the winter germs at bay!

J’ai utilisé la recette d’André Soulier dans La Cuisine Secrète du Languedoc-Roussillon.  C”est la plus simple de ses plusiers recettes.  Il dit qu’elle se mange à Nîmes le landemain des courses des férias quand "la soupe au thym apaise les maux de tête et les aigreurs d’estomac".  Je ne peux pas offrir une guarantie, mais je suis sûre que les saveurs offrent la protection contre les microbes d’hiver!

To a litre of boiling salted water add the peeled cloves from 1 head of garlic (M. Soulier uses 6 cloves, but I like garlic so I added more), a bunch of thyme, 3 bay leaves, 1 onion studded with cloves.  Let it cook for 1 hour.  Put it through a chinois or a mouli légumes and reheat.  Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

garlic soup_1_1

Squid rings in batter / calamares à la romaine

squid plate_1 

We bought a lovely fresh squid in the market so that Lo Jardinièr could make one of his specialities.  The recipe will be on the Mediterranean food blog.

Nous avons acheté un joli encornet pour une des specialités del Jardinièr.  La recette sera sur le blog La cuisine mediterranéenne

squid_1_1 .


>October weekend / un weekend en octobre


Today was a perfect October Saturday – an almost cloudless sky, a mid day temperature of 25 C and not too much hard work to do in the garden.

Aujourd’hui c’était un samedi parfait d’octobre – le ciel presque sans nuages, le temperature à midi a été 25 C et il n’y avait pas trop de travail dur dans le jardin.

garden 25 oct panorama

The garden is rather untidy at the moment, in transition from summer into autumn into winter, and the shadows longer, but it’s still somewhere to enjoy lunch in the sun. I like to decide what will go in the salad as I’m walking around the garden, looking to see what is ready to eat.

Le jardin est un peu fouillis en ce moment, en changeant de l’été en automne et vers l’hiver. Les ombres sont plus longs mais c’est toujours un endroit où on peut profiter du soleil et prendre le dîner. Il me plaît de choisir la salade quand je fais un tour du jardin, en regardant quelles plantes sont prêtes à manger.

garden salad_1_1

Today I found a colourful mix of lettuce, wild rocket, tomatoes and thyme. / Aujourd’hui j’ai trouvé un melange aux couleurs vives de laitue, rouquette sauvage, tomates et thym.

We ate it with grilled pork and green peppers from the garden. / On l’a mangé avec du porc grillé et des poivrons verts grillés du jardin.

Mizuna update / mizuna mise à jour

Before we went away the snails had eaten some of the mizuna plants which Kate planted for us. We put lavender cuttings around them and this seems to have turned the snails away. The surviving plants are growing well and will soon be ready to be added to salads.

Avant de partir nous avons vu que des escargots ont mangé quelques plantes de mizuna que Kate a planté. Nous les avons entourées de boutures de lavande et elles ont découragé les escargots. Les plantes qui surviennent poussent bien et bientôt seront prêtes à ajouter aux salades.

>Mediterranean summer

What is it that symbolises the Mediterranean for me? The olive tree, of course. It grows all around the Mediterranean, as well as in other parts of the world, and this kind of climate is the only one it thrives in. People in the Midi, as in other Mediterranean countries, have a special attachment to it. Its such an important tree that it deserves a post all to itself – and Ill do this one day soon. For now Ill just say that I think it is the most beautiful of all trees and I cant imagine now living anywhere where it doesnt grow.

Then theres the smell of thyme as I crush its leaves when I walk through scrubby garrigue, the flowers at the side of the road in springtime, the taste of it in cooking, leaves sprinkled on tomatoes, on goats cheese. We grew it in Wales, too, but without the heat of the Mediterranean sun it was never the same.

Summer begins properly for me when we hear the cicadas – theyve just started here in the last week. Their chattering begins when the temperature reaches 26 degrees C, and as the sun rises in the mornings and reaches higher up a hillside you can hear each tree being switched on as the cicadas sense its heat.

And oleanders. Their flowers in different shades of white, pink, red, are all coming out now, lining the road at the entrance to villages, in gardens and parks. Theyre all beautiful (although poisonous), but for me its the pink ones which are the real oleanders – the ones we had in the garden when I was a child in Libya.


And the Mediterranean sea itself: