Relishing summer

I have heard that there are places where, in summer, people dare not leave the windows in their parked car open, or their screen doors unlocked, for fear that someone might drop off a bag of courgettes (zucchini if you are from North America!).  Of course that’s a joke, but I’m sure there are people out there who are inundated with courgettes and can’t give them away!!

This has been a year when there was definitely a glut of courgettes in my garden – it didn’t last very long, but it was fun while it lasted!! 🙂

The courgette plants got a little out of hand, and at one point I missed picking one of the dark green courgettes.  Wouldn’t you know that by the time I spotted it, the courgette had turned into a rather monstrous looking thing??

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Is it a cricket bat?  Is it a club?  No, it’s a courgette!!  I didn’t weigh it, but it was pretty heavy!!  Just a few days before the discovery, friends from Georgia (USA) had been telling me about their recipe for courgette relish. I called on them right away, and begged for a copy of the recipe.  Better still, I told them, come on over and help me make it.  They graciously agreed, and we’all got stuck in, peeling and chopping!

Here are the main ingredients – onions, carrots, red peppers, sugar, and cider vinegar:

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We also used mustard seeds, dill seeds, red chillies and all spice.  You’ll see, at the end of this post, that the recipe calls for celery seeds, which I could not find in Saint-Chinian.  The lady who sells spices in Saint-Chinian’s market on Sundays had dill seeds instead, and they were a very good substitute.  I also added chillies and allspice, neither of which was called for in the recipe.

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Dill and mustard seeds and allspice berries

We made two batches of relish since the courgette was rather large.  One batch was made with red peppers and the other with carrots.  The courgette pieces were chopped in the food processor – it took no time at all!!

Here are all the ingredients chopped and grated:

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Once the vegetables had been assembled in their respective bowls, we added salt, mixed it all well and covered the vegetables with cold water.

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Chopped courgettes and onions, grated carrots and salt, before mixing.

Now we had some time to while away – the vegetables were supposed to stand for two hours.  To make the time pass more quickly, I whipped up a batch of scones.  Once we had cleaned the table, we sat down to a rather decadent afternoon tea, complete with the warm, freshly-baked scones, home-made preserves, cream and Earl Grey tea!!

Here are the vegetables, rinsed and drained:

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Vegetables after draining

The cooking was very easy and quick.  Vinegar, sugar and spices were brought to the boil, the vegetables added, and once it boiled again the mixture was simmered for 10 minutes.

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The cooked relish

We potted the relish up right at the end of the cooking time, while it was still boiling hot.  Twist-off jars are great for this – the lids were screwed on right away, and the heat of the relish sterilised the remaining air inside the jar and created a vacuum.


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What didn’t fit into the jars is in the two bowls above – it was great to taste the results of our labours!!  This is a very delicious recipe and a great way to use up courgettes.  I can see that this recipe is going to be a keeper!  Thank you, Jane and Ham!!

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Courgette Relish

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chopped courgettes
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped red peppers or grated/chopped carrots
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 cup cider vinegar

Method

Combine the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, mix well and cover with cold water. Leave to stand for 2 hours. Strain, rinse thoroughly and leave to drain in a colander. Combine the sugar, celery seed, mustard seed and cider vinegar in large saucepan. Bring to the boil and add the drained vegetables. When it comes to the boil again, turn the heat low and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. At the end of the cooking time, immediately pot the hot relish in twist-off jars and screw on the lid.  Leave to cool, label, and store in a cool, dry place.

This is a delicious relish which can be eaten right away and goes very well with all kinds of food:  cold meat, cream cheese on crackers, goats cheese . . .

What would you eat it with?

This recipe is modified from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

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Fairground nostalgia

In Beziers (Languedoc) there is a very pleasant park in the heart of town, called Plateau des Poetes.  I’ve written about this park in some detail in an earlier post, which you can find here.  My most recent visit was prompted by a little flyer I picked up somewhere.

Beziers had a wonderfully prosperous time during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.  Someone thought that it would be a good idea to capture some of the spirit of the fairgrounds of that era, and so the whole summer long a small fairground was installed in the middle of the park for the Fete 1900.  The fairground was essentially aimed at families with children, but I didn’t care!  I was a child once… 🙂

I went along one beautifully sunny afternoon in late August, when not many people were about.  The families with children were probably all getting everything ready for the rentree, when it’s time for the children to go back to school.

When I was little I used to love going on the swingboats, but that afternoon they were deserted, and those boats were too small for me to have a go on 😦

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To one side of the fairground was the circular basin with a statue of a little boy, holding a rather large fish.

On the other side of the fairground rides was a kiosk, which sold drinks, snacks and ice creams, and there were tables and chairs in the shade of the ancient trees.  Guess what?  I just had to have an ice cream!! 🙂

After my ice cream break, I took a little walk to explore the rest of the park.  The park is built on a hillside, and on that hillside there is a monumental statue, which dominates the lower part of the park.  Near the fairground, the back of the uppermost part of the statue was visible:

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I am not sure if that face is benevolent – what do you think?  From the bottom of the hill you get a great view of the statue – if you crane your neck a little!

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In lower part of the park there are a series of ponds, populated by all kinds of animals.

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The swan and the goose seemed to have something going between them, they were floating alongside one another all the time I watched them!  Could it be that this little creature below is one of theirs??  What, you don’t think so?? 😀

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Just as I was about to leave the park, I noticed what looked like black lumps in amongst the foliage of some of the plane trees.  Closer inspection revealed the black lumps to be peacocks and peahens.  The males had lost their tail feathers, and all of the birds were high up in the branches, resting or grooming themselves.  I’ll have to go back in the spring, when the males will be strutting about the lawns in their full regalia!!

What a wonderful way to spend a summer afternoon!  I do hope that the Fete 1900 will be repeated again next year!

Figgy Jam

There are so many foods to taste and cook before summer is over!  With figs being abundant at the moment, there’s no better time than right now to prepare fig jam!

To stock up on a taste of summer I went on a little expedition to gather black figs, and then set to work, with a knife and the camera!! 🙂

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This year, the summer in Saint-Chinian has been very hot and dry, and as a result the figs are even sweeter than they usually are!!  For my jams, I always use less sugar than the received wisdom of 1 part sugar to 1 part fruit suggests.  I never use more than 1 part sugar to 2 parts fruit, but I use the kind of sugar which contains pectin.  That way the jam always produces a nice set, and the jam only needs to be boiled for three minutes.  The end result is bags of fruit flavour and none of the overpowering sweetness, which some jams have.

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Another important ingredient for my jams is lemon juice.  In this case I had to use lime lime juice – I had run out of lemons and it was Sunday afternoon, with all the stores closed!!  How could I possibly have  forgotten the lemons … 🙂

The figs only needed a brief rinse to remove any dust, and once they had drained I cut them into quarters.  Here’s a purely gratuitous picture of half a fig:

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Once the figs had all been cut up I added the sugar and tossed them so that they were all coated.P1000322

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The sugar draws out all the juice, which will cook to a lovely jelly!  After a few hours (or overnight), the figs were glistening lusciously, just like this:

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The contents of the bowl were all scraped carefully into a large pan, and the lemon (or lime) juice was added.

On to the cooker on medium high heat, stirring regularly.  Once it reached boiling point it only took three minutes.

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Luckily, fig jam does not froth like strawberry jam – there’s no risk of its bubbling right out of the pan!  Before I knew it the time was up – the jam was done and ready for potting up:

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Every last bit was scraped from the pot to fill five jam jars.

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Luckily there was a little left on the spoon for me to lick off 🙂

Those five jars will be hoarded away for a taste of summer, for when the days grow shorter and the weather colder, and when the supply of locally grown fruit has been reduced to apples and pears.  I just know that those jams will not be around when spring starts next year!!

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How do you enjoy your fig jam – on toast, with yoghurt, or . . . ??

 

Cracking the whip!

The town of Narbonne has been twinned with Weilheim in Germany (Bavaria to be precise) since 1974.  Ever since then, there has been a regular exchange of culture, and delegations from one town have visited the other.  As part of these activities, Narbonne hosts a Bavarian festival every other year.  This year was the 13th edition of the festival!  You can find the programme of the event here.

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The contingent from Weilheim arrive in several buses, and there are a few trucks laden with food and beer!  For entertainment there is the brass band and the Trachtenverein, a group performing traditional dances.  Of course there are also various vendors selling traditional Bavarian specialities, including beer brewed in Weilheim.

I went one evening to enjoy the atmosphere – and the food and drink, of course!! 🙂  In front of the town hall, large tents had been set up around three sides of the square: one tent for the stage and the musicians, and the other two for the public, with trestle tables and benches.  The tents were all open sided, protecting the performers and revellers from the sun and perhaps a drop of rain or two.  The fourth side of the square was lined with booths for the vendors.  The booths are normally used for the Christmas market and still had some fake snow stuck to them. 🙂

Fetes like these are more fun if they can be shared, so I went with friends.  We arrived early enough to catch the “warm-up” band, playing French chansons.  We had planned to have our dinner there, so we started off with some large pretzels, and some beer.

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The brewery from Weilheim, Dachsbräu, had three beers on offer: lager, white beer, and dark beer – all of them served well chilled!!  The pretzels were perfect too!

After a little break we went to get some more food 🙂

There were stuffed cabbage leaves with roasted potatoes, meatloaf with potato salad, and grilled sausages with sauerkraut or potato salad.  All very yummy!!

We had another break, and then we hit the food stalls once more for dessert!! 🙂

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Apple fritters, apple strudel, plum streusel cake, cheese cake AND a doughnut!!  We went a little over the top, but we did manage to eat it all!

While we were stuffing our faces, the Bavarian musicians were getting ready to entertain us.

Soon they had started playing – there’s a video of the brass band after the picture below (e-mail subscribers, please visit the blog website to see the videos in this post).  YouTube tells me that the piece the band is playing is called Riviera and that you may see advertising before or after the video.

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Next came some traditional Bavarian dancing: a Schuhplattler, a dance where the men slap the soles of their shoes and various parts of their legs with the palms of their hands.  The women watch them intently and get to have a bit of a dance with the guys when they take a break from the slapping.

Then there was a Bankerltanz – literally translated, a bench dance.  It originated in the days long before radio and television, when people had to make their own entertainment with whatever was handy!!

By now it was getting quite dark, and the atmosphere in the square was magical.

You have probably been wondering about the title of the post for some time now.  Well, that has to do with the Goasslschnalzer, the guys who crack the whips.  The whips were used by carters in the olden days, much in the way that we would hoot the horn on a car these days.  The custom appears to be particular to upper Bavaria, and a competition is held each year, to see who can do the whip-cracking best. 🙂  The stick is made from glass fibre, the rope is braided hemp, about 110 cm long, and the tip is made from polyamide fibre.

The cracking noise is made when the tip reaches the speed of sound – it takes a great deal of skill to get the whips to crack in time to the music!

We all agreed that this was a great evening out!!  The next Bavarian festival will take place in Narbonne in August 2017, so make a note in your diary now!  If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, please visit the midihideaways website.