This is an Official Warning.
A shout to the Wild and Undisciplined Neighbors.
A call to arms to protect my brood, my working grrls & my critters-at-Camont.
When Mr. Fox, probably Mrs. Fox, too, attacked yet again my chicken yard, I knew that changes were in order. Out of 8, they left just our most reliable but ugliest hen and my new prized Black Gascon Rooster. This weekend will be a showdown of sorts and the gloves come off. Electric wires, flashing solar eyes, and reinforced heavy metal mesh fencing.
This is the less gentile side of living in the French countryside. But we need our eggs. They are the color of Camont.
We need our golden eggs for little goat’s cheese cakes, silky plum clafoutis, classic Tourteau de Chevre, Omelette Sucree Soufflée, and my go to summer lunch or tapas- a traditional Catalan Tortilla. Looking for more good ideas for eggs? Browse through my recipe page here and enjoy a golden dish flavored with real farm eggs. Buy from your farmers, markets and neighbors; their eggs are truly worth their weight in gold.
Ste. Poulette de Camont
Beekeeping-at-Camont, Round 2.
A couple summers ago I trapped? caught? coaxed? a wild swarm to move into my waiting hive- la ruche. I savored the summer apiarist antics while discovering the sweet taste of Camont, letting the garden wild up, and learning from my favorite beekeeper- Narcisse Ferronato.
The winter was hard, the swarm was fickle, bee mites attacked and the bees were all gone by the spring. Like many new things I’ve attempted- making charcuterie, growing a garden, and driving an 85 foot barge- you don’t always get it right the first time around. Part of the ‘getting it right’ (or just getting it done) & part of growing up (and older) that I’ve practiced at Camont is learning that once is for dilettantes. Pros work, create, and practice all the time. (Sorry, but cooking once a weekend doesn’t make you a chef!) So at the end of last year, I took my sorry/sad/empty ruche to Narcisse’s small bee farm underneath the Chateau Madaillan and left it with him to over winter for some loving care. Today I picked it up- 3/4 full of fat honey and healthy bees and ready to welcome them back to Camont’s bounty. I am ready to begin again and really learn to keep bees. So what’s bloomin’ at Camont?
When shopping the Le Passage d’Agen market on a Wednesday, I whisper to students and guests that “This man sells the best honey in Gascony!”. I get little patronizing nods, the cameras click away; they love his trim mustaches, the flowing gray locks, his black Stetson hat. He flirts and poses and sells a few more kilos of leeks, garlic, potatoes, persimmons, nefliers and pomegranates. But I wait. I wait patiently for the French ‘central casting’ call to diminish and then announce again.
“THIS MAN SELLS THE BEST HONEY IN GASCONY.”
Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I love honey. I use honey in many of my traditional recipes like pain d’épice, chevre, miel & armagnac tartine or a pan-seared foie gras aux 4-épice. Best of all, I love honey straight from the pot, drizzled over warm toasted bread that has been smeared with fresh salted butter. But I have never, ever had such delicious honey as that Miel de Ronces (bramble honey) from local beekeeper Narcisse Ferranoto.
This year I wished for a bee swarm and got one (see archives here), followed the #Tweehive happening on Twitter and have been planning to integrate more beekeeping in Camont’s resident programs. Only problem was WHO would be our King Bee?
While working on a chapter for my book of French food producers- “Butcher, Baker, Armagnac-maker’, I have long ‘stalked’ this honey man, this beekeeper, this sweet pillar of the market. This week Photographer Xtraordinaire Tim Clinch, fall intern Julia Leach, and I went across the Garonne River and through the woods to discover the sweet secret way of the beekeeper Narcisse Ferranoto at his Ferme de la Chateau Madaillan. After coffee with his smiling new bride, (they have lived together 30 years and just married 5 months ago!), Narcisse told me a few sweet secrets and, at last, I know the answer of just how he makes THE BEST HONEY IN GASCONY.
Want to know how? Then join us this spring in France for the inaugural Apiculture Internship at
La Ruche… outside the Kitchen-at-Camont.
Narcisse Ferranoto by Tim Clinch
French Beekeeper Teacher at Camont
Created by Julia Leach, 8-week stagiere at the Kitchen-at-Camont.
I love it when I feel I am in the middle of something. It doesn’t happen often being a bit of a “living on the edge” sort of person- in all senses. But when it does, I feel that delicious “a-ha!” moment welling up out of my back brain and jumping out of my mouth onto The Keyboard.
- A-ha! Locavorism is my way of being a lazy bum- what’s growing outside the door? dandelions? rosemary? rosehips?
- A-ha! Organic Gardening is also wonderfully lazy, no schedules to follow for spraying or bottles of poison to sort out by use by date.
- A-ha! Canning & Preserving in small batches is fast and easy. 4 jars of quince here, 5 jars of salsa there; faster than going to the supermarket.
- A-ha! Butchering & Charcuterie making on the farm with artisan French butchers is part of the yearly cycle here.
- a-ha! Farm-to-table does work when you live surrounded by fertile fields in a wealth agriculturally based society. “France” in a word.
- A-ha! Urban farming works as long as you have Wi-Fi and can Google “mysterious chicken diseases”.
- A-ha! The Back-to-the-Land movement I joined in the 70′s on Lopez Island, WA never went away, it just got better music.
So when the I see this big kahuna wave swelling around me, I’ve been sitting on my long French board for about 20 years, it makes me want to start paddling faster and faster. Catch that wave now! And at last, I can be the #1 Surfer French Farm Queen-Dudette in town.
This week’s wave is all over the web on blogs and news sites. Kim Severson writes an article at the NYT about some of the of the problems people are having raising chickens in an urban environment. And today, Alex Williams writes about the new “do-it-yourself butchery” taking place around the country in shops, cooking schools and well as bars. Like preaching to the choir, I want to join in and shout Amen! or Hallelujah! After all, I learn by doing, too. And while I want to encourage and applaud these Good Food neophytes, I want to bang them on the head, too.
Like parents that think Easter chicks are cute- for a week, I imagine those chickens abandoned by someone who found out that a living breathing animal eats, poops and needs attention just like we do. I think about the wasted meat not cooked from that lovingly raised porker by someone whose stomach was turned by the smell of too much raw meat or the serial killer smell of fresh blood. I know some of that good meat will end up in the garbage uncooked. I know what happens not just because I see it when fresh students and interns show up in France all starry-eyed or because I have years of experience of sheltering the delicate Gourmet-reading gourmand from knowing too ‘much ado about foie gras’, or the ‘truth behind truffles’. I know what happens because I, too, have been there. And I am willing to admit it.
I’ve learned a lot these two decades of eating France. Yet, I still have a lot to learn. About Charcuterie- did you know that the age of the pig (minimum 12 months) affects the acid level produced in the meat muscle and thus affecting the quality and curing of the jambons, saucissons and chorizo? I didn’t either until this summer when Camas D., Jonathon K. and I sat down at teh lunch table with the Brothers Chapolard for a Q&A about their pig farm and artisan charcuterie operation. About Chickens- after a year with my own layers (11 hens- 1 rooster) and losing a couple to neighbor dogs (including Bacon the teenage gangsta pack member), I am soooo glad I have chicken-raising neighbors who coached me through my first crisis (one too many rooster) and told JK and me exactly where to stick the knife. The Coq au Vin was as good as any I have cooked and eaten.
Interested to learn more? Not on the web but live and in person with people who love their food and make it too. It’s easy this winter. Come to France (air fares are looking good, children!) this November (read about it here) or meet me in the North West this New Year 2010 as I pack my Gascon bags with lots of ideas and tons of experience on making cassoulet, rendering duck fat, confit and natural foie gras with Neal Foley on his Podchef Island and Robert Reynolds at his wonderful Chef’s Studio in Portland.
Now about that wave… let’s keep it swelling. There are a lot of delicious rides ahead.