Summer landscape

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.

June landscapes

At this time of year as the temperatures rise and the land dries wild flowers and grasses produce seed heads and then die back, waiting for autumn rains to bring them back to life in a ‘second spring’.

Only the vines, with their deep roots searching for water between the rocks, are green.

Summer is here

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.

Rainy May

Most years we get hardly any rain at all in May.  Some years we get no rain apart from the occasional thunderstorm between the beginning of April and the end of September.  The last few days have been very wet and grey.  It’s a bit gloomy (although good for the garden and the water table), but it makes the colours of the fresh new vine leaves stand out against the damp earth and stone.

vines 1

vines 2 

In the olive groves the trees are covered with flower buds, all about to open:

olive buds 1

olive buds 2

And in the garden the mangetout peas are flowering at last:

pea flowers 1

pea flowers 2

I picked our only artichoke – a perfect small one:

artichoke

I wanted to taste its full flavour – and share it between two people! – so after removing the outside leaves I sliced it thinly and fried it in olive oil.  This really concentrates the flavour and the slices are delicious served with just a sprinkle of salt.

cooked

I first ate them like this in a restaurant in Figueres in Catalunya and since then have often copied the idea at home. Recently Maddogtvdinners posted a tempting photo of this dish, eaten in a restaurant in Barcelona, but I don’t think I can cut them quite as finely at home!  This is one of the simplest artichoke dishes, but you need to use very young artichokes without a choke.

The beginning of this year’s wine

I was excited to see some leaves appearing on these old vines this morning, the first I’ve seen so far this year.

IMGP1125

And it was only when I looked at this photo on the screen that I could see that the sap definitely is rising.  It’s clearer in this enlarged crop:

IMGP1125-001

I also bought some bulbs of fresh garlic, another sign of spring.  It came from Egypt, rather a long way away, but I justified it by telling myself it’s good to buy from a country struggling to create its own democracy, and I love the flavour of it after the deteriorating quality of the bulbs stored over the winter.  What a treat!

IMGP1131

Breezy olive trees and quiet vines

We’ve had some very strong winds over the past few days, with gusts of up to 100 kilometres per hour, but no serious damage luckily.  I like the way the olive leaves turn their silvery under-sides in the wind, in our garden and in the olive groves around the village.

breezy olives 1

breezy olives 2

breezy olives 3

The vines, on the other hand, are in their quiet winter phase of hibernation, being pruned by the vine-growers and preparing for spring.

quiet vines 1

 quiet vines 2

La Sainte-Catherine

One of the many sayings and planting rules often quoted to us by gardeners here applies to today: À la SainteCatherine, tout bois prend racine – on St Catherine’s day (25 November) all wood takes root, in other words, it’s the day for planting trees.  One of our friends and gardening neighbours has promised us an off-shoot from his hazelnut tree but by the time I got to the garden, rather late in the morning after having to spend a few hours at my desk first, he had already dug the hole for the apricot tree he was going to plant and had gone home.  I dug the hole for our hazel tree so that it will be ready next time we see him, probably over the weekend, when we can transfer the sapling from his garden to ours.

Now that the clouds have gone and we have some real autumn sunlight, it’s not too late to see some of the colours of the different varieties of vine leaves in their small parcelles, forming a sea in the wide valley just north of the village.  This morning the air was wonderfully clear and the remaining colours bright:

IMGP6110 

nov vines 1

nov vines 2

nov vines 3

I took these photos from almost exactly the same position as I took those on my post on 8 October so you can see the difference in the vineyards from six weeks ago when the vines were still green.

In the garden, the broad beans that I sowed two weeks ago have all germinated so there is a nice double row of small plants coming up.  It’s a good feeling, to have the first crop of spring on its way.  It suggests that winter will pass, and the sunshine in the garden today was so warm I could almost have believed it was spring.  We cut bamboo leaves from the high plants bordering the garden to protect the beans from possible frost over the next couple of months.

IMGP6164

There are broad bean plants under there, somewhere!

Another hopeful sign for next spring is the healthy new growth on the artichoke plants.  They always die down completely during summer when it’s so dry and it’s always encouraging to see the strong leaves coming up again after the rain in the autumn.

artichoke

We got home at lunchtime, very hungry and with nothing prepared so I made a very quick pasta alla carbonara, with fusilli rather than spaghetti because it has a shorter cooking time.  I fried some lardons (small pieces of bacon), beat an egg into the remains of a pot of crème fraïche, added some grated Cantal cheese, chopped garlic and a lot of ground black pepper and stirred it all into the cooked pasta.  Then garnished it with some parsley I’d just picked in the garden.  It was all ready within about 15 minutes and, of course, it was just what we needed after a morning’s work!

carbonara

New to me – a grape variety and a delicious chocolate dessert

IMGP5876

I’ve often wondered which variety these vines were as I pass them on my way to Roujan.  After the torrential rain we’ve had recently, including another storm last night, they are past their best autumn colour now but they are still a much deeper red than the other varieties we see in the vineyards around the village.  Last night I asked a vine-growing, wine-making friend and he told me they are Alicante Bouschet.  This is a teinturier variety whose dark red grapes deepen the colour of red wine when mixed with other, paler varieties.  It was created by Henri Bouschet in 1866 when he crossed Petit Bouschet (a variety created by his father) with Grenache.  It’s grown in many wine-growing areas around the world, especially in France, Portugal, Italy, California and in south-eastern Spain where it is called garnacha tintorera.

IMGP5887

Being so busy while our daughter was visiting, I forgot to post the delicious chocolate tart she made for us:

IMGP5699-1

I don’t make desserts very often but this one was so good I’ll be making it again.  And, best of all, it doesn’t need cooking, just time to set in the fridge.  She made the base by mixing 150 grams of biscuits (Breton short-cake type biscuits from our village shop, but you can use digestive biscuits) made into crumbs with 60 grams of ground hazelnuts and 80 grams of melted butter, then pressing the mixture into a loose-bottomed cake tin lined with a circle of grease-proof paper.  Then she melted 200 grams of dark chocolate, mixed in 25 cl of crème fraïche (in Wales she uses whipping cream but that’s not available here) and spread this mixture on the biscuit base.  After a few hours in the fridge it was ready to eat.

Going shopping

We realised we were running uncharacteristically low on wine so, with our son arriving tomorrow, we thought it was time to go to our favourite domaine d’Estève in Roquessels to buy some of their excellent Faugères red.  It’s still a few weeks early for the real autumn colour in the vineyards but the leaves are beginning to turn and the views on this clear blowy morning were wonderful.

vineyards near Castelsec

Roquessels is the village on the hillside on the left of the photo above.

Roman rock

The rock in the centre here remains uncultivated and is said to be unchanged from Roman times, with many of the same varieties of plants that were growing there at that time.

mazet near Roquessel 

A mazet, or vineyard shelter.  Many of these remain among the vines although they are no longer used.

vines near Roquessel

Vines near Roquessel growing in rocky schist or shale.  It’s said that vines must suffer to make good wine and these vines certainly have to work hard to find water.