Friday, 29 July 2011

Burgaronne Market

Burgaronne is a minute hamlet sitting on the top of a hill to the south-east of Mailhos. There is a church, a town hall and not much else but every year Leanne and Sylvain organise a meeting of local producers; organic or/and local and make Burgaronne groovy.
This year there were vegetables from Felix...

sheep milk ice-cream from Ostabat...

blueberries and jam from Ogeu les Bains...

bread and cookies and buns from Latabat's miller and boulanger...

Mrs Moulinaoü and her ducks from Andrein...

Mr Erban's son and his sheeps cheese...

Fresh cows milk and cheese from Orthez..

a man who sells pate ...

artisanal beer from the Basque country...

black pig and beef chorizo...

scones, jam and more from Annie and Paul...

the village mayor's honey, fresh eggs, wine from Navarre, Monein peaches in jars and plenty of soap.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Boletus Edulis

News was spreading that there were mushrooms to be found after the long spate of rainy days. I went one way into the forest and Jean Francois the other but I didn't have the eyes to find more than a couple of deadly amanita muscaria and a giant yellow sponge-like exploding mushroom but super-husband-hero found something more edible....

Saturday, 23 July 2011


Honeybee has hatched 5 babies and it looks like they're all from different fathers...






Thursday, 21 July 2011


My childhood memories of beetroot are not happy ones; jars of vinegar-swamped, soggy cardboard root slices stinging my gums with a product I now use for cleaning limescale off my toilet bowl.
It still surprises me when I think of all the crap we ate growing up in Ireland when something like a fresh beetroot is not only easy to grow but it would love irish weather. Why is it that I didn't taste my first fresh beetroot (with leaves attached) until my 35th year?
Despite this early torture, I'm a true beet lover. I grow them golden, purple, stripy and scraggly. - Golden Burpee, Black-Flat Egyptian, De Chioggia and Crapaudine to be more precise and they are all delicious but some just that little more than others.

Beetroot are so practical and so easy to abuse. I grow them in pots early in March in the greenhouse. From every seed, three or four plants germinate which you can just yank out of the pot when it has more than three leaves, manhandle it and stick it into the soil and it will still grow into a fine root. I'm still planting out beets which will provide juice sustenance throughout the cold winter months. The crapaudine has a scraggly long rooty root that can survive any frost in my garden so its the one I keep for this purpose and is being planted right now in some shaded spots, although its needs a tractor to pull it out of my clayey, difficult soil when the time comes .
Beetroot are perfect in every way. The leaves can be used when young in salads, when old as a better alternative to spinach. The roots either raw and grated with dill, olive and walnut oil and lemon, marinated and served with grilled mackerel or sardines or roasted with garlic and balsamic vinegar or drunk as a juice to cleanse the kidneys or in risotto with beurre blanc... Cook the roots with their skins attached otherwise you and your kitchen will look like a royal murder scene. Buy the smallest and youngest of beets and never marinate them in toilet vinegar...

Beetroot Risotto with Beurre Blanc

4 people

200g Carnaroli rice
1 medium red onion
10g butter
20g grated parmesan
4 medium red beetroot
1 litre vegetable stock

Beurre Blanc
10cl dry white wine
1 shallot
50g cold butter

Peel the beetroots and juice in a juicer. Set aside.
Chop the shallot finely and reduce in a heavy bottomed pan with the white wine. Incorporate little by little the butter, whisking all the time. Season and add a few more drops of white wine to increase the acidity. Keep warm.
Chop the onion finely. Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion. Cook over a moderate heat until transparent but not coloured. Add the rice and stir until well covered with the the butter and onions. Little by little add the stock followed by a little beetroot juice keeping the risotto constantly moist and cooking slowly. Keep on going until all the beetroot juice is used up and the risotto rice is just al dente. Stir in the grated parmesan and half the beurre blanc. Check the seasoning.
Serve with the rest of the beurre blanc on the side.

Honeybee Update - getting closer to hatching day and this chicken has absolutely no instinct for the work that lies ahead of her. I think I've made a grave mistake choosing her over other perfectly capable chickens who grew up with normal parents and went to the right school. 
She sits on her eggs like a sphinx until I have to carry her myself out into the courtyard where she can barely hold herself up on her legs. Only then does she go to the toilet which is a surprise seeing she doesn't even deign to eat anything (a mouse that shares her bed with her finishes off the food I serve). Yaya, the rooster comes to visit her on these forced daily outings and she just fluffs up her feathers trying to look menacing and runs in my direction and pecks my feet until I bleed. Honeybee used be such a nice character before these hormonal, false-maternal urges and now I'll just have to hope for the best. What can you expect from having a mother like me?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Basque Black Pig

Andre Eyhéramendy from Pagolle in the Basque Country is a man who adores his pigs and you have to visit the farm to know just why. They are not just sleek and handsome but they are also affectionate, tactile and almost give kisses. 
Jean Francois bumped into Andre a few months ago on a trip to Alain Domini to collect our monthly yoghurts. Andre was there to collect petit lait or milk curds for his newly-born baby, piglet family and they both got talking and since then Jean Francois has been insisting that we visit his large family. 
The black basque pig or Pie Noir or Euskal Herria are the true pig of the western pyrenees and more precisely the hidden valleys of the basque mountains. They live on the higher pastures on steep inclines that a human would slip and slide on but they are true mountain men and love the high, flowery fields in the summer months and in late August, once the acorns fall from the oaks, spend their days snuffling through the forests gobbling up their fruits and then in September they have the chestnuts to plump them up for the cold winter months.

Dressed like dalmation dogs with tails like corkscrews, they sniff their way around the mountains as they have practically no vision with those gigantic ear curtains covering their their eyes and yet they are the cutest of all creatures...

Andre feels just the same way. When we arrived to see him, we were first introduced to the five dogs, the sheep who has just given birth to twins and the wild, prolific plum tree. Further up on the hills we could see the bigger and older pigs on the steep pastures where they while away their mornings. The younger pigs stayed together lower on the slopes and as we walked uphill they came rushing down in droves as if there was a big bear chasing them. Andre explained that it was midday and time for the midday mud bath. As we sat on the upper hill, the older and wiser clan, lumbered down to the stream and splashed around until well coated in mud before making their way to the canopy of trees to take siestas.

The older mothers lazed alone while Andre massaged Gaxuco's well worn abdomen and the younger crowd just snuffled together. (Andre has just announced that Gaxuco has given birth to 8 sprightly piggies in the last 24 hours).

One of the ladies had given birth to 15 pink shiny and spotted piglets and she was proud to show off her brood.

Andre is the only certified organic basque black pig producer in the region and its rare to meet such a lover of his animals. Tears come to his eyes when he holding a young piglet or massaging a grande dame or even visiting his three pregnant cows. I cannot imagine him bringing his animals to the slaughterhouse or even eating the pork and yet we not only collected a 5 kilo box of pork but we also went back to the village where Beatrice, his wife, runs the local restaurant and served us a plate of sublime salt cured ham (without any  toxic saltpetre or nitrites) and a fine slice of roast ...

Thursday, 14 July 2011


Its  light, liquid and lemony looking but tastes of the delicate Acacia (Black Locust) flower. Its really our first year to have a pure Acacia honey as usually in the week when the flower blooms, a big, bold storm arrives and knocks all the the petals to the ground but this year the two weeks of blossoms passed so calmly and the bees did a tremendous job.
Angela, our sweet friend, who helps us with the bees and harvest has just arrived with our 40 pots of half a kilo each, decorated with her own handwritten label. Next week we will have our chestnut and meadow flowers honey but nothing can beat acacia.

The honeybee travels to thousands of flowers delving its proboscis into their centres, dusting its knees in pollen, which is carried to further flowers, fertilising them and creating a most marvellous symbiosis .
70% of crops are dependent on them.
Its incredible to think that each bee carries just 0.06g of nectar (its nonetheless half of their bodyweight)  back to the hive, perhaps 20 times a day to flowers two kilometres or so from their home. This collected nectar is 75% water and just 17% honey. Once the bee is back at homehive the "house bees" remove most of that moisture by constant and repeated regurgitation and evaporation. Over a period of around 3 weeks, as the air in the hive circulates from the beating of the bee's wings, the nectar dries further until sufficiently concentrated to resist bacteria and mould.

One bee would need to travel a distance equivalent to three times the circumference of the globe to produce one normal jar of honey.
Once July arrives, apart from the virgin vine and the odd flower in the vegetable garden, there is not enough to feed the 35 hives here in Mailhos so this week they have all left on holiday to the heather forests in the Landes and the sunflower (organic or course) meadows in the mountains where the chestnut trees are also still in flower. If they stayed here, they would have gone further afield to find supplies and ended up on the industrial maize and poisoned themselves on their pesticides. It was time to get them out!

Honey is just fine on a piece of toast. I couldn't imagine heating or cooking it although its used to make cakes and glaze meat. Trickled over fresh figs or a day old goats cheese. Thats how far I can go...

Sunday, 10 July 2011


After Apricots its the turn of the sweetest and most delectable of all fruits and this is not just any peach but a Pêche Roussane from the town of Monein in the foothills of the Pyrenees. 
Its enormous, curvy and juicy and and has a spectacular yellow, nectar-trickling flesh speckled with red. Ripe earlier than other varieties of peach, abundant but impossible to transport as its skin is so delicate and bruises easily. 
We planted four trees on arriving in Mailhos and were seen by our neighbours as very adventurous and overly optimistic as the hometown of this variety is Monein which is built on a stony, south facing hillside and I planted them in a clingy, cold, clay soil facing east. The first died of a winter frost. The second grew into another type of tree which I haven't yet managed to recognise and it doesn't produce any fruit to help me in my quest. The third is a stickler for peach leaf curl and has not grown a centimetre in four years and intermittently, causes much excitement when it produces one dried-up fruit. The fourth is a monster and has grown to twice my height and apart from a light spring attack of leaf curl (but aided by a plantation of garlic at its roots) gives us enough peaches for those two whole weeks.  I'm very grateful to have one tree appreciating this foreign, cold soil. 
Peaches only ripen on the tree so to pick them early, and transport them hundreds of kilometres makes them just disappointing and taste like wool. The Pêche Roussanne bruises easily so you have to either grow a tree or buy very, very locally during the two weeks of its annual harvest. 
A peach at breakfast is the most positive way to start  a day and is an excellent end to a rich meal. They work in so many recipes but especially when they've travelled far.
This week Jean Francois and I will devour peach crumble and softly spiced chutney, runny jam, caramelised peaches with a roast pork belly and peach sorbet, of course. But my favourite to serve with afternoon tea and shortbread biscuits and retain all the original peachy taste...

Stewed Peaches with Verbena

6 perfect Peaches
20 Verbena leaves
3 tbsp cane sugar
25 cl boiled water

Place the peaches in a small saucepan so that they just fit. Add the sugar, verveine leaves and pour over the boiled water. Cover. Bring to the boil and then cook over a moderate heat for 10 minutes.
Take off the heat. Take off the lid and leave to chill. Peel and eat.

Honeybee update....  She left her eggs yesterday to stretch her legs and two hours later she hadn't returned to the home base. Found her in the chicken house on another set of eggs. She was quickly shifted back to her original family and hasn't moved since. Luckily its warm so the eggs never really cooled down but this lady needs to be watched. So much for her family loyalties...