School elocution lessons included ‘the rain in Spain stays mainly in
the plain’ – well here it wasn’t the case, and it blew in from the
south and stayed clinging to the mountains for two weeks (the verb
accrocher, to hang, hook, stick), as the river went from dry to
overflowing and the potager (vegetable garden) was flooded, as was
the garage, luckily with no damage.
From The Forest
The champignons arrive…
When the coulemelles, or ‘lépiote élevées’ arrived, they came ‘en masse’
– popping up everywhere, and all at the same time. The largest
measured 27cm across with a stem height of 55cm. We had so many we
didn’t know what to do with them and experimented, peeling off the
outer skin and drying them in segments on foil, placed on a wire rack
over the woodfire. They diminished and dried in a day and have stored
well in preserving jars – adding a rich nutty flavour to our winter dishes.
They have a distinctive scent; once I recognised it I could test each to
ensure it was in the same family group. There is a risk of confusion with
a similar variety that is not ‘comestible’. Another ‘caution’ was the
effect of the rain – washing off their spots or outer coating, making them
much harder to recognise and engorging them like sponges. As with all
the bounty of nature here, we also had to be quick – we were inundated
by locals (and those from further afield) who arrived with baskets to
search for themselves. Although it is ‘private property’, during the
mushroom season, as with chestnuts, it is the ‘first there on the day’
who benefits – so I would survey the mushrooms that weren’t quite ready
and hope that they would remain.
Note: as with all the mushrooms that appear, it was a challenge to make
sure they were not only edible, but highly prized – with the aid of a
guide that uses illustrations, diagrams, descriptions and photos we were
able to identify more unusual varieties.
Les Guides Nathan, ‘Reconnaître les champignons sans peine’.
Recipes: I added coulemelles to a savory lentil dish (made with the tiny
‘lentilles verte du Puy’), with lardons (bacon pieces), stock, rosemary,
bay leaves and wild thyme. They were delicious in risotto and with white
beans and Catalan sausage. However, they are not good in omelettes as
they often retain too much water, even when patted dry.
‘Fairy circles of toadstools’ – that is how I would describe these
mushrooms that I easily dismissed. They appeared over a few days in
golden clusters that stretched for a few metres. – their tiny hats
starting as a little peak and then spreading as they matured, the
largest barely 2cm across. They proved to be delicious in omelettes
and also with pasta, risotto and other savoury dishes – easily dried
and brought back to life.
Pied-bleu, Tricholome Nu
Violet and smelling like raspberries, they were the last mushrooms
I expected to be eating. Completely hidden by leaves, deep in the
forest at the base of trees we found them in clusters, and they were
the most delicious – with a delicate flavour and meaty texture.
Lactaire Délicieux, Barigoule, Vache Rouge
Lactaire délicieux, or commonly here ‘roubillous’ – barely distinguishable,
which is surprising given they are bright orange or ‘carrot’ in colour.
They were the last mushrooms to appear in the forest, tucked under a
blanket of pine needles and oak leaves they grow only in one place here
– following the line of a trickle of water that creates the right conditions,
spanning the path that leads to another ‘Mas’ and hidden in the roots that
hold the bank intact.
In The Garden
The Last Tomatoes
The green tomatoes were destined to become jam but they all ripened
inside, with the warmth of the sun and the fire – supplying us for
salad well into the autumn months.
Exploring The Region
Raclette is a favourite for cooler nights – slices of Richemont cheese
(considered the best, with a choice of pasteurised or lait cru) are
grilled in little pans which sit under an oval table-top grill (crepes can
also be cooked on top), and with a tiny spatula, eased on to hot boiled
potatoes accompanied by cornichons and a selection of cured meats:
coppa, salami, jambon cru and ham.