Harvest begins!

Harvest begins!

This week we started picking the early olives, mainly Cayon, Petit Ribier and Brun, a variety which produces beautiful, totally black olives. We went to the mill first thing in the morning with our olives and a bag full of fresh croissants and pains au chocolat. After watching the olives cleaned and washed (photo left) and lifted into the malaxeur, we sat down to coffee and croissants and lots of chat about growing olives with the family who run the mill. Two hours later, we saw a glittering golden stream spilling from the centrifuge machine (which cleans out the impurities and separates water from the oil), and the yield was 13.0%, which is quite decent for an early crop. “It smells delicious,” the miller told us. “The taste is excellent and well balanced. What more could you wish...
The Lord preserve us!

The Lord preserve us!

Gerry has preserved the last of the produce this year (so she thinks). Jars of quince jelly, pure and with rosemary, are plied up in front of bulging pumpkins, for pumpkin and chestnut soup. The onions, bay leaves and rosemary are Step 1 to make red chilli pepper chutney, followed by the peppers and balsamic vinegar in Step 2. Lip-scaldingly good. Those red peppers from the garden are on fire. A real ring stinger. And the temperatures have dropped this last week, so quantities of our last green tomatoes in the vegetable patch have been turned into chutney – using quinces instead of apples, and ginger – which is excellent with cheese and cold...
More nuts

More nuts

Meanwhile, we picked our first crop – if that’s what ten nuts amount to – of walnuts. The green fruits split and, when the split opens enough, the nuts fall to the ground. They are delicious, fresh and milky, not at all bitter, quite unlike the dried walnuts found on sale at...
Acorns

Acorns

And these are a selection of the acorns in abundance round here which the squirrels are after. The deciduous oak (left) is the Sessile Oak or Durmast Oak (Quercus petraea). It’s similar to the English Oak but the acorns have no stalk while the leaves do, which is the opposite of the English Oak. It’s very common, native to Europe and West Asia. The evergreen oak is the Holly or Holm Oak (Quercus ilex, top right) which is found throughout the Mediterranean. The other evergreen has small, spiny, extremely spiky leaves, like holly, and is the Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera). It’s native to the western Mediterranean, the Maghreb, Portugal, Spain and as far east as Greece. Apparently, this oak can live for 700 years. All of them have produced a rich crop of acorns this year, which the wild pigs are particularly chuffed about: as the acorns fall, they rootle for them through the damp surface...
Wildlife round the house

Wildlife round the house

Clients staying this week took trouble to watch out at dusk and were rewarded by seeing an eagle owl, which the French call a Grand Duc (Latin: Bubo bubo). With a wing span of nearly 2 metres, it was cruising in the half light over the trees on the hunt for prey (see this fantastic clip www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/08/slow-motion-eagle-owl-video_n_921033.html of one of these big birds in slow motion). And the prey it wanted was probably one of small red squirrels our guests spotted running about in the high branches of the huge oak tree by the house, chattering as they searched for acorns. These little creatures (Latin: Sciurus vulgaris) make a delicious hors d’oeuvre for the Grand Duc, and for the Bonelli Eagles (photo left, Latin: Aquila fasciata) which they saw during the day floating high above the cliffs behind the house. These eagles are often about, advertising themselves with their high-pitched cries. They live in the cliffs and barres among the 3,000+ hectares of wild plateau between us and Aubagne on the outskirts of...

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