This little cook wished for lambs a couple of years ago. Lamb is quite dear here in France. Why? No idea!
So I decided to grow my own. After all the grass at Camont is lush and green all summer. And we already had chickens, ducks, cats and Bacon to tend. What could be so difficult?
The two little lambs were cute. CUTE they were, with black lunettes de soleils spots and meaty haunches… and voracious, challenging and naughty. Eventually they made more work than sense for us here at Camont once they passed the gamboling spring lamb stage. Fences were destroyed, gardens were attacked, and even Bacon was butted into submission. Salvation came in the guise of a good neighbor.
M. Gimbal has a thriving canal-side flock of sheep just down the country lane at Brax. I went to ask him for advice on slaughtering the sheep and returned instead with a promise. He’d take Margot & Marguerite (ewes of the prized Causse de Lot or Quercy breed) in exchange for some lamb meat later. A deal was struck to great satisfaction on both sides. That was 2 years ago. Time moves slowly in France.
Yesterday, returning from the UK with a thousand emails to answer, a book proposal to finish and a garden overgrown by spring rains, I found a refrigerator full of lamb. Yes, a whole lamb- butchered and ready for wrapping and freezing. Just one small thing. My Very Limited Freezer space is already packed. So I consulted my handy “How to stuff a lamb in a jar…” guide. Read More
May Day. All is quiet this early morning but the vast aviary outside my kitchen door. In France, this first seasonal holiday, Labor Day, is the promise of Summer to be. Although it still smacks of worker’s right and labor issues, waving red flags or lily of the valley, it is just a very quiet day in the Gascon countryside.
Mayday- Mud! The famous Garonne River Fog is late this year; it has rained, rained, rained these last two weeks. So much rain now that with the soggy bottom clay silt soil holding moisture like a sponge, the promise of a clear sunny sky later makes morning fog. My own little micro-climate at Camont alongside canal & river is good for the garden…if I could only get to it though the muck.
This week’s market also shouted “Mayday” with a rouge abundance of rhubarb, strawberries, peppers and early tomatoes. Instead of pique-niques, boat rides, country walks, and gardening, I’m sticking close to my Keeping Kitchen and brewing up some seasonal treats- micro batches, single jars, starter vats. Here’s the list from the market booty…
- a place for making food to keep for the winter.
- an edible way of keeping traditions alive.
- a gathering then sharing of abundant harvest.
Over the years, I’ve referred to my French pantry, the way of keeping it stocked, and the very kitchen at Camont as the “Keeping Kitchen”. Within these stone walls at Camont, I have been keeping the traditions of Gascon cooking alive as well as adding to it with my own fresh take on authentic recipes- folding in a new good idea here, leaving out an old bad habit there but always keeping true to the spirit if not the actual letter of the laws of the kitchen.
Good friend and co-conspirator in Italy, Judy Witts- the DivinaCucina diva and I hatched the idea of another combined blog effort like the Going Whole Hog blog project we did a couple years ago. We wanted more than a way to keep tabs on each other’s gardens, kitchens, and lives in Tuscany and Gascony. We want to share our euro-view of what surrounds us as not-quite natives/not-quite-expats. Trends come strong and fast up the internet pipeline but from here they can actually be old world news. We decided to share our everyday cooking habits for stocking the Euro-Larder otherwise known here as the Keeping Kitchen.
Think mid-summer madness minus the fairies and Shakespeare; add sugar, spices and moonshine to the unripened walnuts. ‘Unripened’ means that under the thick green outer husk, the nut meat and shell are still unformed, a juicy white tannic miracle growing on heavy laden branches.
For me, noix verts herald the long days of looking at Camont’s fruit and nut trees, gardens and potagers as a living larder. White peaches for ice cream, summer pears for jam, blackberries and raspberries for liqueurs. But it is this very first recipe I learned to make at the hands of Claude and Vetou Pompele some 20 years ago that reminds me of my most important job here at the Gascon Kitchen– hands-on teacher of artisan culinary traditions.
The walnut tree has been growing for over the 20 years I have lived at Camont. It was a leggy12-foot sapling when I spared its life. Now it reaches up over 30 feet and spreads a deep shade for the lambs, chickens and us. I used the bottle of eau de vie made by old man Dupuy over 40 years ago. A gift from his daughter, Monique, I had tucked it away in the back of the boat cellar a few years back. Antique moonshine. The recipe was taught me by Claude Pompele and I published in “A Culinary Journey in Gascony”. This has been a story in the making for a long time.
Last week I had the pleasure of hosting accomplished food stylist Karen Gillingham for a Natural Light Natural Food photography workshop with Tim Clinch. We are delighted with the sort of easy camaraderie these workshops encourage. Between bouts of refilling the pink carafe with good local rosé, we talked about the change in food photography from the film years to the digital decade. How good food has grown and shaped our lives. How both experienced and ingenue eyes discover rich content in the tradition-steeped farms and village and markets of Gascony.
While Tim is loading the first student galleries to the www.clinch-hill.com site, I thought I share a sneak peek of a few of Karen’s photographs of the Vin de Noix I made on June 24 2010.
Vin de Noix- traditionally made on June 24
24 green walnuts
24 sugar cubes
750ml eau de vie
3 literes of inexpensive rosé wine
handful of lemon rinds
nutmeg shards, cloves and cardamon to taste
smash the green walnuts outside on board. wear aprons and gloves.
place all the above in an earthen ware crock, glass jar, stainless steel bucket.
cover with an old plate.
let sit 24 days.
filter, bottle and drink at your leisure in the cold short winter days.