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.

Great beautiful Britain blighted by bread in bags

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I have been back “home” now for two weeks and seem to have arrived with a fresh eye to view my native region. Strangely, I feel a bit foreign  in my hometown, so am perhaps more objective about it, or perhaps romantic or critical.I’m not sure what I feel yet. Whilst pouring my coffee, from my cafetière “for one”, I contemplate….

Things I am enjoying in Yorkshire:

Pubs with open fires and bitter, yet floral, pale ales, which can even be enjoyed alone, whilst reading the newspaper – something I would never have done in rural France. Women were not seen alone in café/bars – or in groups for that matter.My morals would have been severely questioned and quite frankly, people would have looked at me funny.

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Speaking Yorkshire again. There are some things only a person from York will understand ie. “river’s up”.

The dynamics of an English conversation and our ability to “self-mock”.

Sunday roasts, with Yorkshire pudding, like this one at the Wellington Inn in Nidderdale, a fantastic, dog-friendly pub.

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Swaledale sausage and chutney sandwiches, at The Duke of York pub.

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Hearing the seagulls in the morning (living in Eastern France, I was probably in the farthest French corner from the sea). We are only 45 minutes from the stunning Yorkshire coast here.

Walking the dog, without fear of running into a wild boar or a wolf. Only gangs of youths to worry about now – nothing compared to 90kg of charging, tusked beast! I’d prefer an altercation with a “chav” any day!

The patchwork landscape, bordered by hedgerows and dry stone walls.

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Watching almost tame herds of deer, in frosty fields in the morning – they always quickly scarpered in France, probably fearing that I was a hunter.

Lambs running and hopping.

Pavements!

Hearing my four year old niece in person, growing up so quickly and asking very relevant questions:

“Aunty Claire, when you look in the mirror, how do you know it’s you?”

“Aunty Claire, does a booby trap, trap boobies?”

Things I am finding strange:

Bread in plastic bags that lasts 2 weeks. We had 5 boulangeries in a small town of around 2000 people and we bought bread daily, as most people did. Bread had a crust and was aerated with both small and large air pockets in it, not dense and uniform, like an old sponge. Thank goodness I have discovered those who advocate proper bread.The Ainsty Farm Shop, who make a lovely loaf and Via Vecchia makes superior, artisan bread.

Pre-chopped vegetables. When was it chopped and why? I don’t understand. I went on a trip to a major supermarket the other day and was unable to find leeks or lovely Yorkshire rhubarb which were  not already trimmed.I reluctantly bought some rhubarb which I needed to place on pancakes, steamed and mixed with mascarpone and honey, then topped off with almonds. It was actually very good, but surely the freshness of the vegetable is affected when it is already chopped on both ends.I reiterate: all hail great farm shops. I look forward to discovering local markets.

Perfect lawns. When I used to take Milou out in our somewhat wild garden in France, he would dart in and out of the bushes, in between trees. Here he just stands there, glances at the perfect square of the perfect lawn and looks back at me, as if to say what am I supposed to do on here. It appears to be an extension of the carpeted living room, which he actually adores – a giant dog bed to him and he proceeds to lie down. Around this time in France, wild chives would be peeking out of the grass; the first flowers, purple wild cowslips would soon be appearing, along with violets under the trees in the dappled shade. Morel mushrooms wouldn’t be long, if it is a warm month of March, at the bottom of the garden on the rocky rough ground. I wonder about the effects of the abundance of weedkiller, used to create the perfect English lawn. I always remember my dad saying “bloomin’ eck they’re not very house proud here”, referring to the lack of garden fences and dishevelled nature of the house exterior, in the Jura. If that dishevelled appearance means that fauna and flora can flourish, then i’m all for dishevelled.

I feel the need to become a home tourist, to study what lies within these city walls, which once made me feel hemmed in and encouraged me me to leave, by trying to find a frugal style of living in York/ Yorkshire. There is a tendency for rustic, simple good food to be chic and expensive in the UK, which is not the case in France. I intend to search for those hidden gems which contradict this trend.

As Stendhal said in “La Chartreuse de Parme”: “A quoi bon chercher le bonheur si loin, il est là sous nos yeux”. In other words, “Why look for happiness, so far away, it is here under our noses”.

Frugal French Living, in Yorkshire

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My first supper, since my return to Yorkshire. What better way to start than with pies, pasties and peas at the Boston Spa Beer festival. There couldn’t be a more frugal, “complete” handy-sized meal: meat, vegetables and flaky pastry, washed down with a real ale. I went for a traditional Cornish pasty, an important part of our culinary heritage, dating back to the 13th century, but firmly established as the poor man’s food in Cornwall, in  the 1800s. At this point it contained only vegetables(potato, swede and onion). The meat, usually beef,  was a later addition.

After eleven years in France, circumstances have brought me back to my native Yorkshire, permanently. I won’t go into the details, but I now have to empty lots of boxes filled with memories and have a very confused labrador, who responds only to French.I intend to make the most of this transition and recount a “mélange” of French and Yorkshire recipes, still advocating seasonal, fresh ingredients  – local where possible.Back to my boxes…

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