Happy bees and wet olive trees

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog, and it’s been a typical spring week – a mix of warm sunny days, on one of which we ate lunch outside a café by the sea, feeling hot in the sun, and grey, gloomy days like today.

First, a happy bee, one of many buzzing around a wild Coronilla shrub at the edge of the village:

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And then the olive trees – unfortunately the rain had to fall on the day fixed for an olive pruning demonstration organised by the Moulin de Casso in the village and the local branch l’Association Française Interprofessionnelle de l’Olive. We’d been told that if it rained we would be treated to a slide show in the salle des fetes – I wasn’t surprised because here in the Midi hardly any one goes out if it rains. But I was surprised to find that we did after all go to the olive grove and watch the real thing – much better than slides, of course.

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In spite of the cold and the rain we were given a good idea of how to get the best out of olive trees – in our case only two small ones, but the course is aimed at all olive growers, from large-scale professionals to people like us who have a few trees in their gardens. And readers of this blog, and anyone who knows anything about the Midi, won’t be surprised to know that the morning ended with apéritifs accompanied by tapenade made from last year’s crop from these trees, followed by a very good lunch of charcuterie, cassoulet, cheese and apple pie, with white and red wine and muscat de Rivesaltes with the dessert… and a lot of Occitan joia e convivença (happiness and conviviality).

Flowering

Lavender flower

The lavender buds are just opening into flower….and so are the oleanders.

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I picked the rest of the broad beans so that we could put some extra pepper plants in that row.  We have so many good pepper plants and can’t bear to throw out healthy plants so we’ve given away quite a few and are trying to find places for the others in the garden, remembering how good the small green ones were last year when I pickled them.  We’ll do that again if we have too many to eat straight away.  With some of the broad beans I made cold broad bean soup from a recipe in Frank Camorra’s Movida Rustica.  After liquidising the beans with garlic, bread, water and olive oil I put the mix through the mouli legumes and was left with a paste of peel and bean that seemed too good to throw away.  So I made fresh felafel with them, forming the mixture into balls and frying them in sunflower oil.  They made a tasty dish at lunch time accompanied by some yogurt with chopped garlic.

Fresh bean felafel

The new blog

I’m still getting used to posting on WordPress, so I’d welcome any suggestions and comments on what readers think of it so far.  I’ll carry on exploring ways of bringing in all the features I had on the other blog, including searchable categories/labels.

And some bad news at the garden….

When we arrived at the garden this morning we found that we’d suffered our fourth break-in in seven years.  Maybe it’s fortunate that our shed is in such a mess because nothing seemed to have been taken and the thieves just seemed to have said, as I do, ‘I can’t find anything in here!’  The gate had been pushed off its hinges, but we needed a new one anyway, and the lock on the shed door had been broken, but otherwise everything was fine.  We’ve since heard that there were break-ins at other gardens around the village and some people had valuable items like water pumps stolen, so they were not as lucky as we were.

>April in the garden

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It’s the greenest time of the year, after the spring rain and before the summer drought, so the weeds as well as the flowers and vegetables seem to grow visibly from day to day.  We’ve eaten our first artichokes – thinly sliced hearts sautéed in olive oil until the edges of the leaves were browned and the centres were soft.  All they need then is a little salt and pepper – it’s one of my favourite ways of eating artichokes.

The cistus flowers are out now, each lasting only a day but being replaced by others the next day.  This cricket was resting on one of them:

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>Planting out the maize and lettuce

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I was sent 10 Greek maize (sweetcorn) seeds by Gaia’s Hope and they all germinated.  They’re a variety that are very drought resistant, so I hope they’ll do well here.  Today we planted them out, as well as some lettuce plants that our neighbour gave us.

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I sowed the seeds in compost in toilet rolls (left above) and soon after they germinated they had huge roots and were outgrowing the tubes.  I took the cardboard tubes off before putting the plants in the ground in case they dried out too much and stopped the roots growing through properly. 

Spring flowers and an alien appearance

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The first cistus flowers are starting to appear – this one (above, left) is by the path to our garden on a neighbour’s plot.  The Muscat d’Hambourg table grape vine has tiny flower buds on it (centre).  And work continues on the housing development next to the garden, with the incongruous appearance of a theodolite above an ancient dry stone wall (right).

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A green salad (left) made from leaves from the garden – lettuce, spinach, broad bean, rocket, celery – with slices of cou farci we made with one of the duck necks we brought back from the Gers.  I mixed sausage meat (100 % pork) with raisins soaked in white wine, salt, and pepper, and used it to stuff the skin of the duck neck.  The stuffed necks were then added to the pan with all the duck fat and the legs to make confit, and simmered gently for two and a half hours.  They can then be stored in a cool place covered with fat for weeks, or even months, although I don’t think ours will last very long.  The leeks (in the right) are some remaining from our very poor crop this year.  They were very tasty, though, cooked in white wine, left to cool and eaten as a first course with salt, pepper and a vinaigrette dressing.

>Vines and roses

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In the vineyards, the vines are growing bright green new leaves:

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The wild cherry trees, given to us by our neighbour a couple of years ago as very young side shoots, are flowering for the first time:

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At midday we have to shelter from the sun to eat our lunch, yesterday a tuna salad with leaves from the garden:

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And the Banksiae rose has flowers and plenty more buds about to open:

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>Spring lunch

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At last the rain stopped and we were able to have a long, lazy lunch in the garden with friends.

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We started with onions straight from the ground and grilled on the barbecue…..

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served with romesco sauce (ground almonds, red pepper, paprika, garlic, tomato) and a bottle of excellent rosé brought from Navarra by our friends.

And the jasmine flowers are out:

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