From The Forest
The blackberries arrived at the same time as the hazelnuts and many
dried before they had a chance to ripen. I monitored the bushes in the
forest and in the sunnier fields lining the route, and eventually
there was enough juice in them for a harvest. I started with pressing
them to make blackberry jelly, and then a jam with the entire fruit
as many were tiny – using sugar with pectin already added, and
lemon juice, to reduce the sugar in the recipe. The result is a rich
jam that preserves all the natural flavours of the fruit.
Hazlenut trees line the river and usually, the nuts start to fall
naturally when ripe – so we were surprised to find them on the ground,
still green and far too early. We gathered them, hoping they
would ripen, but discovered that most of the nuts hadn’t had time
to mature. The trees produced early due to the ‘Indian Summer’
that persisted, and although we tried harvesting at different altitudes,
following the river, it made no difference – only a few nuts when opened,
contained a treasure. Mixed with walnuts, we enjoyed our hazelnuts
in chocolate brownies.
In The Garden
I was familiar with baby yellow squash or ‘scallopinis’, but patissons
are meant to be harvested when they are large. After trying different
recipes I came to the conclusion ‘that they look more interesting than
they taste’. Part of the wider courgette family, they are more like a
marrow with large seeds.
We had two varieties of courgettes that flourished at the same time,
and the following recipe proved invaluable.
Gâteau de Courgettes
(Maman de Frédéric)
4-5 medium courgettes, partially peeled to form stripes,
then cut into fine rounds.
1 ‘glass’ of plain flour (I use 1 1/2 cups as my ‘glass’ measure)
1 glass of finely grated gruyère or emmental (or cheddar, parmesan)
1 sachet of levure chimique (11g of baking powder)
1/2 glass sunflower oil
Salt and pepper
Makes enough for baking dish approximately 30cm x 23cm x 6 cm deep
Peel and slice courgettes. Butter and flour the oven-proof baking dish.
Prepare flour, baking powder and emmental in a large bowl, season,
adding beaten eggs and mixing in oil. Fold in courgette slices and
mix well. Turn batter into dish (when cooked in a dish this size
will be around 4 cm thick). Bake until golden – at 180 º C for
20 – 30 mins, depending on the oven (test).
Note: The levure chimique or baking powder can be mixed with a little
milk to activate it and added last (optional). This recipe works for
all kinds of courgettes when sliced, I also tried grating them coarsely
but they retain too much moisture. I also added parsley, or basil,
or chives. It is best served hot (cooled slightly) and can accompany
soup or a salad, or meat, but also works as a cold dish for a summer
picnic with tomatoes (a coulis or sliced) or even a yoghurt and cucumber
based sauce like tzatziki. I cooked two platters for our summer fête de
village and cut them into squares for the buffet lunch – everybody
loved it and the recipe is easy to remember and pass on.
Exploring The Region
In August there is much to choose from as many villages hold their annual
fête, and everybody is out enjoying the sunny days and warm evenings.
We experienced incredible variety – from a flamenco performance
accompanied by a giant paella and sangria, to a folk festival with a
Mexican ballet and mariache band, to medieval village reenactments with
cavaliers, falconry, games and jousting – at the height of summer
anything is possible.
The Sardane (Catalan ‘Sardana’)
A familiar sight, young and old join hands in the traditional circular
dance of the region. Laced espadrilles are the most comfortable – they
tie at the ankles as the steps are very active and light (mine don’t have
laces and came off my ankles). The dances are held in the heart of each
village – often in a special circular arena or place – and accompanied
by the ‘Cobla’, an orchestra of 11 musicians playing wind instruments,
a double bass and a tamborí (a very small drum). Joined hands are raised
or lowered in time with the change of beat from short to long steps and
its origins are connected to the cycle of the sun and angle of its rays.
The Mediterranean Coast
While Mina enjoys the sun, we are too hot and eat in the shade. I spend
the morning reading in the dappled light cast by our little olive tree
in the garden, and the afternoons somewhere in the riverbed; the cooler
air is refreshing. We explored downriver – following a deep gorge – and
found the perfect waterhole, half an hour away.