Sunday, 6 October 2013


An unusually intense sun mixed with a warm September rainfall has ensured us a plentiful supply of mushrooms this autumn and Ovoli, Oronge or Amanita Caesarea has to be the best mushroom in existence.
As the latin name might suggest, Julius Caesar loved them but didn't die from eating them but he just might have if he got one mixed up with a hallucinogenic fly agaric or the putrid devil's bolete which can resemble it when young. 
Every year at the same period in Autumn, we are so happy to find maybe one or two  growing under the same oak tree in the same part of our forest but this year our private crop has been bountiful beyond expectations. 

First we found their closed white and fluffy coat peeping from the ground, which needed to be covered by heaps of dead leaves to hide it from the "kickers" (mushroom hunters who trample or destroy every mushroom that is not a perfect porcini) before returning the following day to discover the perfect orange-capped ovoli, the size of a chicken's egg peaking through its fluffy protection.  Its really only worth picking at this stage as the mushroom within hasn't even formed properly in the first 24 hours and it's best just then for serving raw when the texture is firm. Leave it another day or two and it blooms into a marvellous, safron-coloured cap with feathered lemon-yellow gills but by then its fragile and has lost a lot of flavour but does well sauteed with heaps of garlic and chopped parsley.

With so much to harvest within the confines of Mailhos throughout the summer and autumn, we forget the existence of meat. I haven't eaten beef for probably six months as it's so hard to find decent grass fed herbivores. 
The local blonde d'aquitaine was invented in the early 60's by some nuts in a laboratory to eat little but the local hybrid corn that pollutes the marvellous local valleys. Those scientists took a garonnais, a quercy and a blonde des pyrenees and mixed them all together, twiddling a few genes along the way to produce the perfect consumer of high protein maize. Of course, the meat of this poor creature looks attractive and marbled but has little taste and is lacking in omega 3 which is found of course in a healthy grass. Stupid as I am, I still believe that cows should eat grass and grass alone and a blonde d'aquitaine can only be unhappy and unhealthy living on such a starchy and protein-based diet. 
Locally, town fairs and tourist brochures celebrate that poor Blonde as the cow of the Bearn but the true holder of the title is the Bearnaise, whose image adorned their money and insignia and flags for centuries and the powerful seed companies and farmers unions have successfully wiped from the collective memory.

This Bearnaise with its elegant wheat-coloured coat, lyre shaped horns and strong and agile body is handsome, hardy, intelligent, an excellent mother and its meat is reputed for its finesse. Unfortunately there are fewer than 300 animals left locally. We have so far, visited over ten different farmers in the hills of the Pyrenees south from here and  hopefully by next year we will have a couple of pregnant ladies feeding from our 10 hectares of grassland.
I have absolutely no intention of tasting their meat and will continue to collect ovoli and porcini from the forest and fruit and vegetables from the garden but we will just try to make sure that this magnificent animal will not be forgotten and perhaps, one day, we can help re-populate the fertile fields of the Gave d'Oloron with lovely Bearnaise instead of corn.

Raw Ovoli Salad
(for 4 as a starter)

5 ovoli mushrooms
salt and pepper
30g a parmesan shavings
the best olive oil

Peel the mushrooms of their white coat and wipe the caps with a damp cloth.
Cut away the bulbous lower stem.
Using a sharp mandoline or knife, slice the mushrooms very finely through the caps and stems. Lay the slices on a plate and scatter over the parmesan shavings, the salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizle with olive oil and serve.


  1. wow ..... i havent seen those mushrooms before

  2. Dear Friends,

    I see a hint of blue in the eastern skies & from yesterday's delivery to Mill Valley Market, I suspect that our neighbors over the hill have no idea how socked-in & chilly we've been that last couple of days.

    Wonderfully, the low marine layer has kept the temps from dropping as much as they have in clearer areas, so the fields are still looking quite happy.

    We're in the process of preparing for the winter cover cropping ritual whereby we sow oats, vetch, bell beans & cow peas to send down their roots & keep the ground open, uptake the abundant water (as well as prevent compaction from the rains) & set about fixing nitrogen in the roots of the legumes. Prior to sowing, we chop the remaining plants up as small as possible, tractor-drag the offset disks through the field to "flip" the soil & bury the green manure & then use an 18" chisel plow to break up the clay hardpan created by using the disks all season long.

    Much work still to be done to get the fields ready for rest!

    From my local food drop this week, which sounds just like you !