Two seasons in one



This morning I could see snow on the mountains to the north and mimosa flowering in the sunshine below the church in the village. Two seasons in one, the distant snow tangible in the cold wind and the first sign of spring in the yellow blossoms.

Pruning of the vines goes on through this month, next month and into March. It’s a cold job for the viticulteurs. An experienced vine grower can prune 500 vines in a day. This one has been pruned and is ready for the new spring growth when it comes.


Vineyard on the last day of the year


These vines have been pruned, leaving one long branch to grow next season. All the vines will be pruned between now and March. In some of the larger vineyards on the plains this is done mechanically but here in the hills, with smaller parcelles, it is usually done by hand, vine by vine, through the winter. Wild rocket is growing here between the vines – it’s a wild plant that seeds itself in cultivated land. It’s ploughed into the earth and fertilises it.

It’s considered unlucky here to make wishes for the new year until it arrives, so I won’t do that today, but I’ll just wish you all an evening spent celebrating in the best way for you.

Winter market

winter market-1

The last market day in the village before les fêtes and a chance to stock up with a boxful of Spanish oranges, lemons and clementines, as well as more local garlic and fennel, and apples from northern France. I was pleased to see a new stallholder, who says he will be coming every two weeks from now on, selling Catalan fuet – cured sausage – in many different flavours. By the time there is another market the days will be getting longer again and we can look forward to spring. The panforte I’ve made today, to more or less the same recipe as last year, will be finished too!

Another warming casserole

The temperature hovered around 0°C last night. I know that isn’t cold in some places but it is here. But the days are bright and the cold wind has dropped. The small plants from our first sowing of broad beans are doing well although those from the second sowing haven’t appeared yet. Everything else in the garden seems dormant apart from the herbs: bay, rosemary, thyme and parsley. I picked a large bunch of each for a casserole today. I love making casseroles because they seem to combine fresh ingredients in a magical way that creates something more than the sum of them all. And you can go out for a Sunday morning stroll in the sun, leaving it all to cook gently, and return to the appetising smell that fills the kitchen, as we did at lunchtime today.

beef + red wine-1

Beef and red wine casserole – for 4

600 grams stewing beef (I used jarret or shin), cut in chunks; 1 onion, finely chopped; 3 carrots, finely chopped; 6 cloves of garlic, chopped; sprigs of rosemary and thyme; 2 tablespoons chopped parsley; 3 large bay leaves; 2 tablespoons juniper berries and 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar; 2 dozen black olives; 500 ml red wine; 1 large glass Cartagène or brandy (optional); 1 tablespoon flour; olive oil; salt.

Cook the onion and carrot in a little olive oil in a cast-iron pan until the onion has softened. Add the pieces of beef, stir and allow to brown slightly. Add the garlic, juniper berries, peppercorns and Cartagène and stir again. Cover the meat with the red wine and add the herbs and salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 hours, checking occasionally that there is enough liquid and adding the olives after about 2 hours. 10 minutes before serving mix the flour with a little of the liquid from the casserole then add the paste back to the pan to thicken it.  Serve garnished with the chopped parsley, with rice or, as we ate it for lunch today, with potatoes mashed with olives and garlic.  Guaranteed to warm on a winter’s day!

beef + red wine-2

Winter warming


On one of the first evenings when it’s really felt as though winter was on its way, with the shutters closed against a howling wind (and gusts of 100 kilometres per hour forecast), I was glad that I’d made this chicken and vegetable casserole.

Chicken and vegetable casserole (for four)

600 grams chicken breast meat, cut into chunks

1 large onion, sliced

half a large bulb of fennel, or 1 small one, sliced

300 grams of carrots, peeled and cut into smallish chunks

6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks

200 grams mushrooms, halved (or quartered if large)

3 large cloves of garlic, chopped

2 bay leaves

enough white wine to cover the ingredients in the casserole

olive oil, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of chopped parsley

Slowly cook the onions, fennel and carrots in a little olive oil in a cast-iron casserole dish until the onions are soft. I find that adding a little salt at this stage helps to make the onions sweeter. Add the chicken pieces and lightly colour in the hot oil. Add the chopped garlic and stir for a minute or two. Add the potatoes, wine, salt and pepper and cover all the ingredients with white wine. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour. Towards the end of the cooking time lightly fry the mushrooms in olive oil and add them, with the parsley, to the casserole for the last five minutes or so.

(I was making this mostly for a friend who was coming home from hospital today, keeping just enough for me and Lo Jardinièr to have for supper. If I’d been making it just for us I probably would have added a chopped piment d’Espelette or some dried paprika for extra flavour, but it was very good without it.)

Serve on a cold night with a thick slice of fresh bread.

Cold weather comfort

The temperature has dropped by 10 to 15 degrees over the past two days and there’s a cold wind blowing from the mountains to the north. It seemed like a good day to turn to winter food and a substantial warming soup for lunch. This is loosely based on the Welsh dish cawl. The Ceredigion version of cawl, as enjoyed by past generations of my family on subsistence smallholdings where they kept a pig and grew their own potatoes, leeks and carrots in the field, is made with a bacon or lamb joint (in richer, lowland areas of Wales beef is used too), leeks, onions, carrots and potatoes. I used what I found in the kitchen cupboard and the village shop this morning:

I cooked a sliced onion in olive oil until it softened, then added 300 grams of sautée de veau (braising veal), a thick slice of poitrine salée (you could use a couple of thick slices of salty bacon), a sliced leek, a few potatoes cut into chunks, a cupful of green lentils (like Puy lentils, but these are grown locally), four cloves of garlic, roughly chopped, a few bay leaves and sprigs of thyme, and a chopped piment d’Espelette. I covered them all with a cupful of white wine and some water, added a little salt and simmered for about an hour. I didn’t add very much salt because I didn’t know how salty the poitrine would be – it’s best to add salt to taste once it’s cooked.

It was very warming! And, of course, some of the warmth came from the accompanying glass of red wine which wouldn’t be found with the traditional Ceredigion version!


It doesn’t happen very often, in fact I’ve never seen it before, having missed it two years ago when it thawed before I got there.  The river Thongue/Tonga has frozen.  In the bright sunshine it’s the only visible sign of the cold weather, but the wind-chill in the north wind is bitingly cold and the temperature didn’t rise above zero while I was out this morning.

cold ducks

frozen river 1

frozen river 2