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!!

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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!

Fresh Walnuts, Figs and Goats’ Cheese

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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.

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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). 

 

DSCF0649We 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.

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The cows are tidying-up

DSCF0589These 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).

Bénédicte’s Beautiful “Beets”

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Bénédicte’s beautiful beets!

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.

The “Squirrel” is launched!

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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.

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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!

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Getting ready for the walnut and hazelnut harvest…

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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.

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Succulent Cèpes

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Pan fried cèpes on a bed of blanched chard, sprinkled with chopped walnut kernels and parsley,topped off with a drizzle of walnut oil and lemon juice.

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The 2CV, filled to the brim, with foraged mushrooms and chard from our local organic veg grower

Chez Bénédicte, "Le radis qui Pique". If you are ever in the area, she sells her vegetables, directly to the public, on friday evenings and Saturday mornings

Chez Bénédicte, “Le radis qui Pique”. If you are ever in the area, she sells her vegetables, directly to the public, on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings

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A feast for foragers

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Back in France for the summer, I am delighted to see a bumper crop of cèpe mushrooms in the forests. I am regularly feasting on them, fried with chopped shallots and garlic in olive oil. Serve them with a handful of chopped parsley and season well. A well deserved treat after a trudge through the forest.If you decide to go foraging, do so with caution as many mushroom varieties are poisonous.