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 The golden light has been replaced by white skies.2 degrees today and snow forecast for later.A last look at some Autumn scenes…
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.
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!
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.
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
1kg of “Bouchot” mussels
2 baby leeks
2 small white turnips
2 celery sticks
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!
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.
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)
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.
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”!
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…
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.
Luckily, the little, wild hazelnuts 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!
It has been a fantastic year for “funghi”
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…
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!
The first walnuts are starting to fall. What a delight to see their green husks opening-up gradually, like little hands releasing their closely guarded babies. The nuts seem to be holding on for dear life, secured only by a few white fibres now.
A few kilos have made it out. The sound of the walnuts rattling around in the basket is always a pleasure, reminds me of marbles hitting each other, a reassuring familiar noise. I always feel like I have won a prize when I hear it. We have only harvested the first few kilos, as ripe walnuts fall naturally and are collected from the ground. Thin on the ground for the moment, but rich in texture and taste – the creamy white flesh, with a hint of bitterness is delicious. When walnuts are freshly harvested, they contain lots of water – hence the rather unattractive term “wet” walnuts in English and the soft texture . We do not produce oil with them until they are dry and crunchy (in 2-3 months time).
We are enjoying the fresh walnuts when having an aperitif with friends, with a glass of Savagnin. They are marvellous with fresh figs (French ones are in season now) and goats’ cheese, not forgetting a drizzle of walnut oil. I have never been to Crete but am somehow transported there, tasting creamy walnuts and earthy, spicy figs. These are apparently abundant in the Cretan diet which is known to promote longevity. At this rate we will live to 150 years old.
These big-eyed, brown and white beauties are helping us prepare the terrain around the walnut trees. The first walnuts are starting to fall so we will soon be in full harvest mode. New boots and a woolly hat will be essential with the fresh Autumn mornings. Picnics and wine, equally essential to motivate the troops. For those of you who do not recognise these cows, they are Montbeliardes, the ones who make the milk for the famous Comté cheese. When you buy milk, cheese or yoghurts in your local dairy or “fruitière”, you can be sure they are made from the milk supplied by farmers in the vicinity(8 mile radius, to be exact!). In fact you have probably driven by the said cows munching on the nutritious grass and flowers. Farmers group together to supply the dairy and employ a cheesemaker to create those wonderful, dairy delights. One of the best things about Comté is that it goes very well with walnuts and walnut oil. Recipes: click here, for example. A typical apéritif in Franche-Comté consists of pieces of Comté with a handful of walnut kernels and a glass of local white wine(often the Savagnin grape variety).
At the moment, we regularly stock up on beetroot “chez Bénédicte”, our local organic veg producer. She wisely advised me to try grated, raw-beetroot with apple slices. Not having harvested our apples yet, I looked for the nearest sweet alternative, carrots. Grate a large beetroot(peeled before, wearing gloves if you don’t want purple hands!) and mix together with 2 grated carrots. Add a generous drizzle of hazelnut oil and the juice of half a lemon. Season and serve on little pieces of crusty bread as a great accompaniment to an “Indian Summer” apéritif. The colour is fantastic, almost fluorescent; the sweet, succulent nature of the vegetables creates a surprising contrast with the smooth, woodiness of the hazelnut oil.Bon appétit. This recipe is in French on my new blog www.huileriedesalinslesbains.com. Version française sur mon nouveau blog www.huileriedesalinslesbains.com.
It has been a busy week. Today we officially launched our walnut collector, after months of preparation with a local metal worker.It is exclusively on sale in our workshop. As with our walnut oil, we prefer to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. This has enabled us to develop an effective, sturdy tool with a long wooden handle, that enables you to collect walnuts without bending down.
The torrential rain has attracted more customers than usual into our cosy workshop, which has lead to a lack of stock and frantic shelling activity in order to do another press. It would be nice to have enough oil and sunshine to do some more markets, like this great one in Port Lesney at the Camping des Radeliers. You may have seen this village in Raymond Blanc’s series “A Very Hungry French Man”, when he returned to his native region. It’s a beautiful place on the banks of the Loue river. I call it the Côte d’Azur of Salins Les Bains (although a lot more peaceful), with it’s little riverside beaches and great restaurants.
We have also had a film maker in this week. A friend described the light in the photo below as “rembrandt-esque” – some might say gloomy! – but in any case, the photographer was delighted with the natural light and atmosphere, rather than strip lights and the white coats of many production areas. Jean-Pierre’s beret and braces are much more authentic for a film aimed at tourists. I think he quite enjoyed my yellow plum and hazelnut tart too. Stone enough plums to cover the shortcrust pastry base and sprinkle generously with brown sugar and crushed hazelnuts (or our “pain de noisette”, the block of pressed hazelnuts which remains after each press).Cook until the plums are jam like and the pastry is lightly browned.Watch this space for the film anyway!
Walking through the walnut orchards, I am literally flabbergasted by Mother Nature’s generous offerings for 2014. After 2 years of disappointing harvests, due to unpredictable Spring weather, we are blessed with the sight of bountiful bunches of walnuts, weighing down the branches. I savour the lemony, musky smell of the fruit, maturing in their green husks, which in three or four weeks will start to break up and reveal the woody walnut shell.The calm before the storm…Autumn promises to be exciting (to say the least!), as we have 600 extra trees to work with this year. Thank goodness we have walnut collectors to help us with the task and are also in the process of setting up a “pick your own” system. We have a new website/blog for our walnut and hazelnut oil: www.huileriedesalinslesbains.com. Sorry anglophones! Just in French for now.