Welcome to the visual diary for June….
From The Forest
In The Garden
Saturday 1st June. Creation and destruction: I must confess I am
not coping very well with ‘destruction’. Gardening brings many joys,
yet there is also heartbreak… and such tiny events can be the
trigger… the marigolds I have nurtured from seed for two months
have only just been planted, three in a row, to protect the tomatoes.
I was admiring how healthy they are and today, there are two.
Who or what is the culprit… there is but a fragment of stem
remaining? A giant black slug? Crickets? A little nocturnal visitor?
Questions remain as the same thing has happened in the potting shed
with a melon seedling, and it is closed to intruders…
At the same time as there are defeats, ripe strawberries appear and
the largest artichoke is ready (having consulted a local to find out
what size to harvest this variety at), and as the blettes that have
survived the winter are going to seed, they also have tender new
growth. New flowers open each day, there are many wonderful
surprises through the garden gate as ‘firsts’ continue. I wish I
could let go of the disappointment of the not-so-pleasant sort…
the mole holes and ‘after-Mina’ discoveries that cause my heart to
skip a beat. Nature overrides any sense of man-made order, there
can be no such sadness in the wild where everything finds its own
place, rather than being strategically placed…
Now harvesting: rocket, lettuces, radishes, tarragon, mint, chives,
basil, thyme, rosemary, lemon verbena, sage, coriander seeds, artichokes,
cress, mesculun, three varieties of strawberries (‘gariguette’ are the
most delicious), golden raspberries, raspberries, red and brown onions
and blettes (silverbeet).
Our neighbours (a few kilometres up the mountain road) invited us to
pick cherries (a variety of burlat) from their magnificent laden tree.
After trying many different tactics to ward off the birds, they finally
rigged a bell in the branches and attached a long cord, all the way to
the house, where watch is kept and the bell sounded at every invasion…
it clearly works and the harvest is astounding.
Sunday 16th June. The pendulum has once again swung and days are
suddenly hot. The garden is now finally ready to race ahead with
tomatoes and cucumbers in ground, along with all of the different
varieties of courgette, squash and pumpkin. Yet there are still
disappointments, and everyone seems to be experiencing the same
as we compare notes with neighbours… plants that were healthy in
the potting shed simply curling up there toes when they are bedded
in the earth, like they are ‘in shock’ as conditions are still ‘fluctuating
wildly’ with high winds, sudden downpours and plagues of pests.
Stalks have been snapped and the almond tree has lost much of its
fruit prematurely, yet flowers are very happy – the primroses
and pansies are usually finished and continue to bloom. Wind-borne
spores are causing odd effects and we have lost many of our healthy
seedlings, as quickly as overnight.
Tuesday 18th June. Breakfast in the potager garden, watching clouds
gather over the peaks…
Each time we enter the garden there is a loud ‘plop’ from a frog
who has taken residence.
Thursday 20th June. Found lurking amongst the flowers, where we had just
been removing excess earth to use for other plantations (in other words,
a little too close for comfort), this species resembles a viper (and was
certainly agitated and incredible to watch) yet there are a few telltale clues
that differentiate it… the head is less triangular and the eyes rounder…
and as it prepares to attack (or defend itself!) it puffs up, as a ridged
spine appears along its length. Even safely contained behind glass, it was
enough to make Mina jump as she tentatively reached out her paw (on
Sunday she caught a much larger serpent and was found eating it – it was
also in the couleuvre family).
Exploring The Region
Invited to an artist’s home for lunch, I saw a different aspect to Collioure
which took me away from the familiar waterfront and into the tiny stone
streets that lead under the railway line and up into terraced vines…
Yesterday (Saturday 22nd June) as I walked around the Céret market,
I thought ‘I must never take it for granted’ as it is so easy to fall into
a habitual rhythm and forget that we are lucky to have so much choice
– I heard Australian tourists exclaim “How incredible it was,” and all
I was busy concentrating on was making my way through the narrow
pedestrian streets before the crowds (at 10am the town centre becomes
With a hundred or so stalls to choose from – farm-fresh produce, seafood,
meats, local cheeses, wines, organic produce and breads, olives, artisanal
gifts, soaps, clothing, flowers, plants and artistic creations (etc) –
it has taken a while to choose vendors and to build happy relationships.
Continuity comes with time… being one of the rarer ‘clearly not French
but local’ customers in winter means I now get given celery offcuts for
soups, cracked eggs for baking, parsely, and the odd extra vegetable,
along with new produce to taste.
This week the gift was violet artichoke plants, as I had discussed seasons
and commented on varieties, and my ‘regular farmer’ brought plants to
share out. Decisions on ‘who to frequent’ are based on this rapport, as
well as the more obvious equation of ‘quality of produce, consistency
The market is for encounters – running into locals, exchanging comments
(on the weather, what else?!) – and about taking time to celebrate the good
things in life, the wonderful food that reaches our table. Apricots are in
season, melons, fennel, aubergines, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and
potatoes abound. And on the way home we stop to buy eggs in a nearby
Changeable conditions bring challenges, yet also incredible light displays
as clouds roll in and the mountains alter their mood in an instant… it
is unusual for here as ‘normally’ clear blue skies prevail, as the wind
sweeps away the clouds from our ‘Southernmost corner’ of France. This
time of year is also dry and the grass is golden with hot conditions not
favouring delicate flowers and cooler climate vegetables… yet this year
we have toadstools and red lace fungus appearing amongst the strawberries,
the roses are continuing their reign and the grass is metres high in
places where it remains uncut.
Another dramatic sunset as June draws to a close…
On The Menu
Making the most of cherries we enjoyed a variation on clafouti (named
by a friend with the surname Tixier) which is very light, like a sponge
rather than the heavier ‘eggy’ batter often used, and dusted with cinnamon
on one side – turned to serve, it often sticks but is delicious in spite
of its appearance.
Friday 21st June. As sunny days return we can once again eat on the
terrace. A new lunch favourite is ‘salade de gésiers’ (confit of
duck gizzards). Today’s was a compilation of red feuille de chêne
from the garden (oak leaf lettuce), rocket pesto (garden), soft goat’s
cheese, walnuts, granny smith slices, radishes (garden), cress (kitchen
windowsill) and baby beetroot leaves (garden)… before living here the
mere thought of ‘gizzards’ would be enough to put me off trying them,
but I admit I was surprised (as the texture is just like cured magret)
and now enjoy them – they are served slightly warmed.
Saturday 22nd June. Made the second batch of strawberry jam, with
around 600g of fruit – another experiement to test the amount of sugar
and texture. Added vanilla and a cinnamon stick, as well as lemon juice,
and left the berries macerating for 24 hours… awaiting the taste test…