First sign of Spring: wild garlic and walnut pesto

DSCF1077I always know that Spring is here when i’m walking the dog in the forest and we stumble upon a carpet of luscious, green leaves. All of a sudden our nostrils are filled with the perfume of fragrant, musky garlic.I prefer to eat it fresh, but as it arrives in such abundance, I tend to freeze bunches of it. For best results, the leaves should be picked young , before they flower. It’s very easy to identify – mainly due to the garlicky fragrance which is released when when the ground gets warm in the sun, or when you rub the leaves between your fingers.It is found in dappled shade, woodland areas, often near water. In Yorkshire, I used to find a lot along the banks of the river Wharfe. Do be careful though. It could be mistaken for toxic plants such as Lily of The Valley if you are not familiar with it. Its flowers are small, white and star-like. I always blanch it as you never know if a passing fox has relieved himself on a leaf! Wild garlic is wonderful, simply tossed into pasta, in an omelette, a tart etc…DSCF1081

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“Ail des ours”, or wild garlic (one of my illustrations from my camera-less period!)

 

Below is a recipe I am very fond of which works well with walnuts or hazelnuts.I tend to throw everything into the pasta, but if you have the luxury of a blender, you could always mix the pesto in your appliance and add to the pasta afterwards. I do like the simple approach though!

Blanch a good handful of leaves for 3 minutes.

Drain and finely chop them.

Add to hot pasta and throw-in a handful of ground walnuts (or walnut powder if you have it).

Generously drizzle the pasta with some virgin walnut oil. Of course, i’m biased, having lots of oil to hand(we do ship to the UK and Europe, do contact us if you’re interested). You could, of course, substitute the walnut oil for a good virgin (cold-pressed) olive or sunflower oil.

Mix-in a handful of grated comté (or your favourite hard cheese).

Add a touch of cider vinegar and season well.

Serve immediately.

Scallops before Spring

Pan fried scallops with a walnut-oil and lemon dressing

st jacquesThis is one of the simplest starters to impress your guests, or even yourself with! It makes the most of scallops before they go out of season. I enjoyed some freshly caught scallops in Brittany in December, in a beachfront bistrot, during some unusually mild weather. This was a particularly precious moment, as we live in continental, Eastern France, we couldn’t be farther from the sea. The nearest fishmonger to us is about an hour away, so a holiday on the coast was perfect for enjoying an inexpensive feast of fish for a week. Scallops are in season from October to May, yet sustainable fishing advice recommends not consuming them from April till September, during breeding time.March is time to savour the last of the scallops and a sign that Winter will soon be behind us.

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I am always surprised, as with most seafood, that we don’t enjoy more of it in the UK, being an island. Most of our shellfish is exported, bizarrely. and local fishmongers seem to be a rarety. I feel strongly that we should support fishmongers who are always keen to advise on how to prepare and choose your seafood. Such information has not always been passed on from generation to generation as it has in French coastal regions.Fish and chips are great but there is so much more to seafood! Sustainability is obviously much discussed nowadays and for scallops there is a “good practice guide” to help consumers make an informed decision, when buying.There is also an online guide to fish labelling which makes for an interesting read.

Simply pan fry 2 scallops per person(ready-shelled), in a knob of butter for 2 minutes on each side. When serving generously drizzle with walnut oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Add a touch of black pepper. A pinch of salt may be necessary but unlikely as you will have an obvious taste of the sea.

You will be surpised by the subtleties hidden in these little blobs of white flesh! The tougher, more bitter, orange part of the scallop( the “coral” or “roe”),  can be an acquired taste. Some people also believe it can contain harmful toxins, although all parts of the scallop flesh are classed as “edible”. I feel the coral cuts through the richness of the white flesh, so adds a positive element to the recipe.

Frugal furnishings for a frustrated seamstress

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It may be March, but it is still rather chilly here. We don’t have double glazing but are, in fact, quite glad, as when you’ve got a roaring fire in the stove, it can actually get too hot and I do like a house that breathes – rather than a stuffy, over-insulated airless space.However, as we have a length of wall which is made up of only windows in the living room, when the North wind starts to blow, you really need curtains to take the edge off.Thick material is a great insulator. At the amazing “Musée des Maisons Comtoises“(Franche-Comté Houses Museum), which I have visited many times, I will always remember  the bedrooms in certain houses, literally alcoves containing a raised bed, cordoned off by a very thick curtain, or sometimes a cupboard door. Logical really, energy saving and avoids wasting heat.

Inspired by those bedrooms and tired of the North wind, I set out to make some curtains. However, my sewing machine, annoyingly is in England, so I wanted something quick and easy without a lot of sewing by hand. I am a real fan of “friperies” & “ressourceries”, French junk shops, often great initiatives which provide jobs for the local community and also recycle old objects, furniture, clothes etc.I found a huge piece of old, thick,grainy, cream-coloured linen. 6m for 5€, bargain!

I also stumbled upon some unusual square, wooden, curtain rings, which seem to have been made in the Jura in the 80s.

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I then discovered these great curtain clips, which simply attach to the material, no need to sew on curtain hook loops etc. I also discovered that my thick linen did not fray when cut. I simply folded over and ironed the top hem, which wasn’t really a hem, but thought 2 layers would make it stronger. A hazelwood rail chopped off one of our hazelnut trees, a mixture of wooden and wrought iron brackets, to fix the rails to the wall and my curtains were born.They may look like something from The Flintsones, but I like to think they have a rustic charm. In any case, we have certainly conserved a lot of heat this winter, which would have otherwise escaped through the meagre windows.

An absent camera and the yellow wine festival

Snowy Salins Les Bains

Snowy Salins Les Bains

Documenting things, food, drink, events, non-events has been very difficult lately. Preferring to live in the moment, rather than step back and view events as a blogger has been an eye opener.I have been very busy making and selling walnut oil, of course, but have also written a cookbook full of recipes using walnuts, hazelnuts and their cold-pressed oils; have been working on the blog for our local veg-basket group; oh and we have developed a walnut jam with a local artisan jam maker.

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Our new jam, created in partership with a local jam maker.It’s more like a spread, but fearing association with a certain quality of nutty spreads, we thought jam was a more elegant name! I also discovered I can take pictures with my laptop, which I won’t be doing very often. Although, somehow like the grainy effect…

I have been somewhat forced to live without a lens, as a blogger’s worst nightmare has occurred…my camera is broken, beyond repair. Yes, I know. What to do?  Anyway, to cut a long story short, after several hours of sitting with my head in my hands, lamenting the sparkly snowy, sunny scenes outside, fearing they will be lost forever as not documented, I started to question my reliance on my camera and insistance on describing things. My absent camera has actually forced me to start drawing food! Illustrated recipes to follow soon!

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Scallops with a walnut oil and lemon dressing

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Coquilles Saint-Jacques

 

 

 

 

 

Below are my last photos, before being struck by camera deficiency, and thoughts on the wonderful yellow wine festival.

 

 

La Percée du Vin Jaune“, literally the “piercing” of the barrel containing yellow wine, is an annual event in the Jura.The wine is aged for 6 years and 3 months, so on the first weekend in February, breaking open the barrel is celebrated in a different wine producing village each year. This year it was in Montigny Les Arsures, near Arbois.

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The village square in Montigny

This enigmatic wine is sold in 62cl bottles, the amount remaining from a litre of wine after the evaporation process. The alcohol which  evaporates is poetically called “La Part des anges” (the angels’ share). Made from the savagnin grape variety, for me, as with all great wines, you drink vin jaune with your eyes and your nose before you taste it! It has a glossy, golden yellow colour and fills your nostrils with walnut, dried fruit and spicy saffron aromas. This is particularly relevant for us, as walnut and walnut oil producers, it makes for a perfect apéritif: a handful of walnut kernels and a glass of “vin jaune”. It was a cold, snowy day, but our cheeks were soon glowing as we wandered from cellar to cellar, walnuts and cubes of comté in our hands and a special tasting glass in a little pouch around our necks!

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Devastated that one of my last photos was a terrible selfie…

Some of my favourite Jura wines:

The wine festival is not just about yellow wine. It allows you to taste the various wines made from different grape varieties.

“Trousseau” (a red grape variety unique to the Jura) .Domaine Daniel Dugois‘ trousseau is excellent with subtly intense red-fruit flavours.

“Pinot Noir”, Château de Quintigny, blackberry and chocolate flavours, with a hint of woodiness from the oak barrels.

“Ploussard”, again a grape variety only found in the Jura. Not to be mistaken as a rosé, this grape variety is made into wine using the same techniques as a red, but the finished product has a natural, pale red colour. A light fruity wine, with hints of raspberry contrasted with peppery, earthy undertones. The organic Domaine Hugues Béguet is one of my favourites.

“Vin jaune”, Domaine de La Pinte.Next time I go to the wine festival, I shall take a note book. So many wines to savour, 70 winemakers were there this year. This one really struck me, however, due to its rich walnut flavours. This is an organic vineyard in Arbois, a picturesque winemaking town.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are so many fantastic wine producers here, different “terroirs” from village to village and of course different vintages, of which my list does not take account. The best thing to do is to come and visit the Jura and meander around “La Route des Vins“! If you are unable to do so you can find details of stockists on this blog about Jura wine:

http://jurawine.co.uk/uk-stockists/

Apologies for my wine vocabulary.I probably watched too much Gilly Goolden during the 80s(wine critic on BBC’s Good Food program). That was a great programme by the way. Loved her perm and sparkly jumpers. I am definitely not a wine professional, but have got to know quite a few bottles since i’ve been here!

Incidentally the Jura is the department with the largest proportion of organic vineyards in France(15%). I shall definitely be going to the organic wine show next month, Le Nez dans Le Vert .

Hopefully I will have a camera by then!

Au revoir Autumn fairs, bonjour Christmas markets….

As I adorn my thermals and woollies, the extremely mild Autumn we experienced seems very far away. The golden light has been replaced by white skies.2 degrees today and snow forecast for later.A last look at some Autumn scenes…

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The Autumn market in Pouilley Français. 170 stalls and lots of seasonal produce

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Squashes galore in Pouilley Français

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Ready to sell fresh wlanuts and walnut collectors in Pouilley Français

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Golden , Autumn, evening light, as seen from my living room. The Fort Belin and “La Roche Pourrie”, literally the “rotten rock”, famously painted by Gustave Courbet.

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Gatsby makes the most of the walnuts drying in the sun

Michelin starred chef, Jocelyne Lotz-Choquart, cooking live on the radio with Jean-Pierre!

On friday morning, Jean-Pierre was delighted to be invited, as the guest producer, on Jocelyne Choquart’s radio show. She concocted a surprising dish: organic mussels with garden vegetables and walnut oil.

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Jocelyne Lotz-Choquart, was the proprietor and Michelin-starred chef of the famous “Mungo Park” restaurant in Besançon, from 1990 to 2006. She now has a radio show on France Bleu Besançon, where each week she puts local food in the spotlight, as she creates a recipe using a product she has chosen when visiting farmers’ markets in the region.It takes place live in the bustling, covered market in Besançon, in the presence of the said producer.

The result was spectacular: the salty, tender mussels worked perfectly with the sweet crunchiness of the vegetables. The delicate walnut flavour added a soft, almost creamy contrast to the dish. Topped off with the walnut powder (grated pressed walnuts, which remain after pressing), this added an earthy kick to the dish.I was familiar with scallops and walnut oil but had never thought of associating these ingredients. What a discovery! Perfect for the season and the imminent arrival of Christmas feasts!

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The outing also enabled us to rediscover the covered market (Marché des Beaux Arts), which has been somewhat revived by the arrival of a restaurant and bar in the centre of the building, where you can enjoy a great “plat du jour”, inspired by the fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from the surrounding stalls.

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I had no idea that organic mussels even existed, but apparently it is a very recent phenomenon, first recognised officially in 2011. The organic label is mainly based on the quality of the water, the mussels are grown on shellfish beds in special conservation areas that our free from pollutants, with regular tests being carried out.The term “bouchot”, the sort of mussels Jocelyne uses in her recipe, designates a traditional method in aquaculture, whereby the shellfish are grown on ropes, attached to wooden poles in the sea.The term also has an AOP (“appelation d’origine protégée”), meaning that to be called  “Bouchot” mussels, they must originate from La Baie de Mont St Michel, on the coast of Brittany and Normandy. Organic mussels are also produced in Scotland and Ireland.

Organic “Bouchot” Mussels With Garden Vegetables and Walnut Oil

Serves 4

1kg of “Bouchot” mussels

2 baby leeks

2 small white turnips

1 carrot

2 celery sticks

2 shallots

1 heaped dessert spoon of double cream

10cl of chardonnay

4 dessert spoonfuls of walnut oil

50g of walnut powder (or ground walnuts if you can’t get this. Do contact us if you would like to order some!)

2 dessert spoons of neutral flavoured oil(rice-bran or organic sunflower oil)

1. Rub the mussels with a knife to remove any dirt stuck to the shell.

2. Rinse them in cold water, rubbing them together. Leave to one side in a colander.

3.Wash, peel and finely chop the vegetables.

4. In a large pan, sweat the vegetables in the rice-bran oil until tender but maintaining a crunch.

5. Add the wine, cream and some ground pepper. Leave to reduce for a few minutes.

6. Add the mussels to the pan. Cover and leave to cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly until they open.

7. When open, check the flesh which should be tender and not rubbery.

8. Shell the mussels by using another shell to pull out the flesh. To prevent them from continuing to cook, you will need to remove some of them with a slotted spoon and leave to one side in some foil.

9. While you are shelling, place the remaining sauce in a frying pan and cook on a low-heat for 5 more minutes.

10. Put the shelled mussels back into the sauce and heat for a minute or two.

11. Serve using a ladle. Add a generous drizzle of walnut oil and the walnut powder or ground walnuts.

12. DO NOT ADD SALT. Mussels are naturally salty. Bon appétit!

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The recently inaugurated tram in Besançon

The recently inaugurated tram in Besançon

Cep and Walnut Soup – Soupe aux Cèpes et aux Noix

???????????????????????????????2014 has been a really good year for cep mushrooms. We collected a good few kilos throughout July, August and September. We had too many to consume fresh, so we sliced, dried and stored them in jars. This is such an easy soup to make and was a picnic staple in the thermos, throughout the walnut harvest period.

The cep mushroom(Boletus Edulus) needs wet conditions, yet during hot weather, as the ground needs to be warm. This summer was perfect. They exist in Great Britain, apparently, when the conditions are right, where they are known as a “penny bun”. The Italians call them porcini. The strong earthy flavour and melting steak-like texture makes a great soup. Although marvellous fresh, simply pan fried in butter with shallots and a sprinkle of parsley; or in an omelette; soup is a good option for dried ones, as you don’t need a large quantity to create  strong flavours and a creamy texture.

Remember that foraging for mushrooms can be dangerous as many are toxic. 50% of the Jura consists of forest, so it is second-nature to go forgaing here: parents transmit their knowledge to children, hunters learn to identify mushrooms while out in the woods. Most people,however, restrict themselves to the consumption of 3/4 types, with which they are very familiar . In France, it is common practice to take any mushrooms you are unsure of the local pharmacy, where they will identify them for you, free of charge. Certain organisations in the UK, such as The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust organise “fungi” outings, where an expert takes you on an informative foraging trip.

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Do not worry! If you don’t fancy foraging, many specialist shops sell dried ceps.You could even try this recipe with field mushrooms. 2 large ones should do the job, added directly to the shallots and pan fried in the butter.

Recipe (serves 4)

40g of dried ceps

2 medium sized potatoes

2 shallots, finely chopped

A handful of ground/crushed walnuts (or grated “pain de noix” – the leftover pressed walnuts after oil-making. This is what I use. It becomes like a flour when grated and thickens the soup. Available soon online)

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25cl of full-cream milk + a dollop of cream if you prefer a rich soup

Dry bread and grated Comté or Emmental (optional)

1. Rehydrate the mushrooms in tepid water for at least 3 hours.

2.Boil 2 medium-sized potatoes.

3..Rinse the mushrroms thoroughly in a colander.

4. Heat the mushrooms in around 50cl of water. Blanch for a few minutes. Drain but keep the flavour-filled water to use later.

5. Finely chop the shallots and soften in a large pan with a knob of butter.

6. Add the ceps and leave to cook for a few minutes in the butter

7.Chop the cooked potatoes roughly into cubes and add to the pan.

8.Add the mushroom water and the milk.

9. Blend the soup and heat for a further 5 minutes.

10.Season and add the ground walnuts, dry bread and grated cheese (and cream, if you are feeling luxurious!). Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

You can also add a chopped clove of garlic to the shallots and some thyme, but I find that the ceps are so rich that it is not necessary.

Autumn – so much produce and so little time

beautiful, lumpy, non-uniform apples!

beautiful, lumpy, non-uniform apples!

According to the Greek philosopher Epicurus: “Nothing is sufficient for the person who finds sufficiency too little”.For me, nature’s generous offerings in Autumn are more than sufficient.The abundance of simple, natural, local produce, either grown or foraged is a large step towards Epicurus’ “pursuit of happiness”!DSCF0448

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Autumn is a key time for us, obviously, due to the walnut and hazelnut harvest, but also because there are so many delights to pick and gather. It is almost inebriating!

Jean-Pierre made around 30 litres of apple juice, many of which we gave to friends and some of which we froze in plastic bottles(open, to prevent them exploding!). Freezing means that we maintain most of the vitamins. Sterilising in glass bottles is another possibility, but you lose the vitamins.The freezer method allows us to enjoy apple juice, in all its glory, all year round.We have some great varieties here, such as  “La Belle Fille de Salins” – a strange but lovely name for an apple, literally “the beautiful girl from Salins”…but then I suppose Granny Smith and Pink Lady are a bit weird too…

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Our hazelnuts are beautiful this year, almost as if the stripes had been delicately painted on by a squirrel! However, due to the lack of sun in July and August, we harvested less than usual.

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Amazing Autumn light in the kitchen

Luckily, the little, wild DSCF0594hazelnuts in the countryside are abundant this year. They don’t need as much sun as the cultivated , large variety. We have already pressed some hazelnuts for a few customers – the public can bring their walnuts or hazelnuts to the workshop and we produce their oil. In exchange for our services, we keep a quarter of their production. Wasted walnuts and hazelnuts are no more in the region, thanks to our rejuvenation of the tradition of oil-making!

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From July until now, we foraged for many a basket of mushrooms: cèpes, girolles, chanterelles d’automne, trompettes de la mort etc..Now it is colder we will be looking out for gris de sapin, which grow under the pine trees and a few géotropes. Although there are certain mushrooms I prefer to eat fresh, we are obliged to dry a large amount, to avoid wasting them. We can then eat them all year round. You simply have to soak them for a few hours before blanching them.. Thank goodness for the dehydrator, an essential investment for keen “mushroomers”.This enables you to dry them fairly quickly before storing in jars. We have already thrown them into various dishes ie. “poulet au vin jaune” with a handful of trompettes de la mort sprinkled around the chicken towards the end of cooking. To follow, a great recipe for cèpe soup and also plum and hazelnut crumble…

L’huile de Noix Nouvelle est Arrivée!!

huile nouvelle 2014

Our new poster is unveiled! A tongue in cheek allusion to the ad campaigns for “Beaujolais Nouveau”!

We are delighted to be starting to press the first walnuts of 2014! It is, as usual, thanks to our cold-pressing methods, a beautiful pale golden colour; subtle, smooth and mild; yet, full of fruity, nutty flavours.It is a real pleasure to be consuming it regularly after two years of meagre harvests. Oil had consequently become rare as the stock diminished. I even  have it for breakfast sometimes on a fresh baguette!

Normally we start making oil, at the very earliest, in December after 2-3 months of drying, but this year is exceptional. Not all walnuts fall at the same time. It depends on a number of factors such as the variety of the tree – certain types flower late and fall late to avoid the threat of frost disturbing the fragile pollination process. We are mainly dealing with the common walnut tree, (Juglans Regia) –  the weather and position of the tree, affecting its exposure to the elements, are the main deciding factors, as to when a tree releases its fruits.  Our early nuts, harvested in September, fell in almost perfect conditions(sunny and dry) which encouraged the natural dehydration process.Hence the frantic shelling process which I began at the end of October! I cannot believe it has been two months since my last post. It really has been a “nuts” couple of months! We haven’t just been producing. Details to follow soon of the most colourful Autumn markets we attended, recipes for comforting dishes that helped us through the physical harvest period and the wonders of nature that have inspired us!