From The Forest
The morilles seem to have been and gone and although there are stories
of locals who harvested hundreds, we only found a few, and in the most
surprising place – bursting through gravel in a parking area. They are
said to like hêtre (beech) and frêne (ash) trees, but are equally happy
growing on the side of the road.
We enjoyed them in a cream sauce with muscat (a regional apératif)
– when I reached for the white wine in the fridge, I chose the wrong
bottle and invented a new recipe.
The cariolettes that came after a spate of rain have now disappeared.
The small harvest is now dry; they rehydrate well in warm water, guarding
all their flavour.
The wild cherry trees (merisiers) are covered in fruit that is still to ripen
(the season has officially commenced, with the first cherries from Céret
being offered to the new President, François Hollande). The tiny fraise des
bois have flowers – I am keeping vigil…
In The Garden
A visitor in our midst – not venomous but nonetheless impressive, found
on the belvédère.
The work is now constant, planting and keeping up with the flourishing
weeds. The new rocaille (rock garden) is filled with all the plants that
love this hot and dry environment – cistus, lavender and thyme, as well
as tiny succulents that grow like moss.
The basin (which was enterred before winter) has now been planted with
water-loving plants as well as ferns and mosses from the river, which
are now starting to adapt to their new home, and cling to the rocks.
The new flowers and ground cover plants (from our local plant exchange
day, and holiday) are under the almond tree, and beside the newly
constructed stone steps, which lead from the reservoir basin to
The potatoes are growing vigorously and the new grape vines (old varieties,
green and black) are starting to become established in the sunniest part
of the garden. The tomatoes are producing flowers – in the cabin where
it is warmer and more humid – and will now go into the ground as it
heats up. The courgettes and cucumbers have been struggling to take hold
as temperatures flucuate wildly from ‘below to above average’. I am still
building rock borders to delineate the garden beds and help prevent weeds,
mainly using the local schist as it is finer than river stones. Sweet peas
are growing up a new frame made of hazel wood, and we are now
picking the first strawberries. The beetroot seedlings have been planted,
next to the blettes (like silverbeet) and artichoke.
It is now the end of May. We are harvesting rocket, and the lettuces are
ready.The last plants to go into the ground are beans, celeriac (céleri rave),
celery, chou de Milan (a wrinkled dark green cabbage), courgettes rondes
(for legumes farci, or stuffed vegetables), radishes, mache, red and yellow
peppers, chillies, amaranth and physalise (lanterns with edible fruit inside).
In comparison with lower altitude gardens in the region we are behind, yet
everything is now growing quickly.
Exploring The Region
Even though it is not far as the crow flies, I had never ventured into
the forest that we look out to from the lounge window. ‘Up the hill’
at higher altitude (for it is really a mountain) there were completely
different flowers, and a beech wood that held a secret – giant sequoias
are to be found in its midst, planted at around the same time as ‘font
Manel’ was created, in 1862. Unravelling the history, I discovered
Manel the shepherd…
Diades d’Albera Viva 11th, 12th and 13th May
I was sound engineer for a theatre production – helping a local troop
as part of a celebration of the Catalan culture – a three day festival
(diades) organised by Albera Viva, a ‘cross-border’ group: an evening
of theatre at a local village; a traditional cobla orchestra and the
sardane (Catalan dance); and a hike in the Albères followed by a ‘fideua’
– a communal lunch. I helped prepare the fideua in giant paella dish:
garlic (incredible amounts of crushed garlic and whole cloves) was
sautéed in olive oil until golden; vermicelli was added (fideus,
which gives this dish its name) and fried until it too is golden;
water is gradually stirred in, until it covers the noodle mix;
calamari, mussels and prawns that have already been sautéed are then
mixed in, along with powdered fish bouillon and ground pepper – when
the noodles absorb the water, the dish is ready. It is served with aïoli.
Saturday 26th May, Céret. ‘Temps des Cerises’
It is time for the Fête de la Cerise, or the cherry festival, with a
large street market, musicians, a communal lunch and various challenges
like stone spitting. The renowned black ‘burlat’ cherries from Céret have
already finished and the newer variety ‘bigalise’ – large juicy cherries
with yellow flesh – are being sold for 2.50-6.00 euros per kilo, depending
on where you shop; stopping at local homes we can buy directly from the
Saturday 26th May Castillet, Perpignan
Latino! Fiesta Argentina by Violeta Duarte, with an evening tango concert,
followed by a traditional ball…
There is new produce arriving each week at the market and we have been
dining on white asparagus (peeled, steamed and dipped in a mousseline
sauce), artichokes and garriguette strawberries. Like everywhere in France,
many vegetables come from Morocco and Spain (melons, tomatoes and
aubergines) and although it is better to wait for local produce we
start changing to a more Mediterranean cuisine as the days warm up,
eating outside, a glass of chilled rosé to complete the picture of life
in the sun, the reward, after a morning in the garden when all is done.
Each night a rossignol, or nightingale has been singing – it is lovely
to sleep with the window open, now it’s warming up. All the birds have
been very active as their young hatch and demand food; we have ‘chirping’
coming from cavities in the garden wall. They have been stripping the
doormat – when we came back from holiday it was looking bare – using
the coconut fibre to line their nests (caught in action or I wouldn’t
have believed it, so close to Mina’s territory).
There are veau or baby cows everywhere, playing in the fields or lying
on the road, they are caramel coloured and curious. Not yet tagged or
wearing bells, they make driving our mountain road more challenging
as they are happily grazing on the wildflowers and fresh grass – they
have come over the mountain from Spain, preferring a French menu…