Apples aplenty

I would like to dedicate this blog to the memory of Nadine Holm, a dear friend who passed away on September 4, 2017.  She would have enjoyed our outing to this event tremendously!!

There are several villages by the name of Aigues Vives in France – I’ve counted eight of them on the ViaMichelin website!  So it’s important to pick the right village!  The one I visited recently is near Carcassonne, and the postcode is 11800, just so you know.  This village has been holding an apple, rice and wine fair for some time – this year was the 20th time!  Why I’ve never visited before is a mystery to me, but I’m glad I went this year!

Aigues Vives is located on the edge of the Etang Asseche de Marseillette, a drained marsh, where the apples, rice and wines for sale at the fair are grown.  More about the Etang a little later in this post.

The village was beautifully decorated for the occasion – the entrance arch to one of the streets was made from apples and rice straw.

In one of the squares, the iconic Citroen 2CV car had been recreated with apples:

Signs had been specially made to direct visitors:

The rock on which the church stands was decorated with strands of apples:

Near the entrance to the church stood a windmill decorated with apples – the thatch on top was made with rice straw, and the sails were turning!!

There was even a lady with an apple skirt:

Apples were for sale at almost every corner:

Other stalls sold a variety of delicious edible goodies:

In the village hall, a communal meal was served by a caterer – I didn’t go to that.  I did go to the village park, which had been set up as a “food village” with a number of food stalls and tables and chairs under the trees.  A group of musicians were providing entertainment!

Around the park, a number of signs had been put up.  The one below shows the names of all the apple growers in the Etang de Marseillette:

This sign gives the names of the wine, plum and rice growers:

A few sayings:

One grain of rice can tip the scale

Three apples a day – everlasting health

Wine gets better over time, and we get better with wine!

A cider press had been set up on a stage in the village.  The apples (granny smith, golden and gala) were first pulped:

The pulp was collected in buckets lined with large squares of fabric:

Once the buckets were full, the cloth was tied up and the bags were put into the press – soon the juice started to flow.

The apple juice was poured into plastic cups, and everyone could have as much as they wanted!  It was very delicious!!

In order for visitors to find out more about the Etang de Marseillette, a number of guided visits had been arranged.  Two “little trains” were taking groups of people on the guided visits.

The Etang de Marseillette is left over from the time when the Mediterranean sea covered large tracts of land about two million years ago.  When the water levels dropped and the sea receded, a number of lakes stayed behind, and one of them was at Marseillette.  In time this became a marshy salt lake, covering an area of around 2000 hectares (20 square kilometers or 7.2 square miles).  Three small streams fed the lake, and it was often deemed to be the reason for outbreaks of local epidemics.

In the Middle Ages, attempts were made to drain the lake, which were more or less successful, but the drains silted up and nature reclaimed the lake.  In 1804, Marie Anne Coppinger, the then owner of the Etang, carried out immense works and drained the lake, but the returns from the land were insufficient, and she bankrupted herself with the project.  The next owner carried on with improvements.  He built a tunnel to bring water for irrigation from the river Aude.  The tunnel is over 2 km long and in some places it is 60 metres below ground!  In 1852 the Etang was sold once more, and the new owners decided to divide the land and sell off smaller parcels.  With no overall owner, the maintenance of the irrigation and drainage canals was soon neglected again.

In 1901, Joseph Camman, an engineer, bought 800 hectares of land in the Etang and started a campaign to improve the irrigation.  One of the main problems is the fact that salt left in the soil will come to the surface if the land is not sufficiently irrigated.  Plants which grow there, produce only very shallow roots of about 35cm, partly because of the heavy clay soil and partly because of the salt.  Keeping the soil well hydrated is the key to successful cultivation!

Joseph Camman also built a hydroelectric power station, to harness the power of the water coming from the river Aude.  Unfortunately, the power station has long since been abandoned, and the building is in a very poor state of repair.

The pond on which the power station stands serves as a holding tank for the distribution of water to the three main irrigation channels.

In order to keep the canals from silting up, Joseph Camman designed “cleaning boats”, which increased the current in the canals as they travelled through and flushed the silt away.  These days, modern diggers are used.

As we travelled through the Etang, we saw orchards, vineyards and a rice field.  The rice had mostly been harvested, but a little bit had been left standing for us to see.  The apple trees were heavy with fruit, and of course all the fruit you saw earlier in this post was grown here.

There is only one grower of rice active in the Etang.  He produces a number of different kinds: red, long grain, short grain etc.  I bought several different kinds of rice, and I have already tried the mix of red and white rice which was delicious!  And of course I also bought some apples!!

 

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Garden fresh

During my recent blogging holiday, I had many delicious meals: at home, with friends, in restaurants, and at festivals …

On a day out with friends in Perpignan, I went to Restaurant La Galinette, following the recommendation of one of my guests (thank you, Tove!!).  Christophe Comes, the chef proprietor of the restaurant, has a potager of 3 hectares which he cultivates with the help of his father.  The produce from this vegetable garden plays a starring role on the menu!

La Galinette has a star in the Guide Michelin – my friends and I decided to order the tasting menu!  Without further ado, here are the food pictures – :

Salmonejo de tomates “Green Zebra”, basilic pourpre, feta.

For the Salmonejo, a cold tomato soup was poured into the plate – it was so tempting to eat that I totally forgot to take another picture!! 🙂

Collection de nos tomates anciennes; huile de l’hort et condiments

The collection of heritage tomatoes included Black Krim and Ananas, and the plate was as pretty as a picture!  It also tasted divine.

It still looked like a (modern art) picture when there was nothing left!!

Saumon sauvage a peine cuit, oseille de Belleville, concombre epineux et pain noir.

Wild salmon served on a sorrel puree, spiny cucumber and black bread.

Vive sauvage de Mediterranee, fine brandade de morue, jus de piperade au chorizo.

Wild sting fish (greater weever), served with salt cod puree and piperade sauce (made with sweet bell peppers and chorizo).

Epaule d’agneau catalan confite, pulpe d’aubergines “di Fierenze”

Slow-cooked shoulder of Catalan lamb, surrounded by various preparations made with aubergines: roasted, deep-fried in panko crust, braised, and puréed.

Pasteque rafraichie d’agastache anisee, sorbet melon “piel de sapo”

A generous slice of watermelon topped with candied melon and melon sorbet – very refreshing!

Peches “duras” d’Ille sur Tet, idee d’une melba

A take on peach melba, made with “duras” peaches from Ile sur Tet, with raspberry sauce and peach and vanilla sorbets.  The berries at the front of the picture are sugar frosted redcurrants.

This was a very memorable meal, every course as delicious as the previous/next!  If you are in Perpignan you should definitely try this restaurant!  If you are not already there, perhaps you want to plan a visit – it’s a wonderful town to explore!  The lunch menu is priced at €25 for three courses, the tasting menus are €48 for six courses and €54 for eight courses, served for lunch or dinner.  La Galinette is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.  Reservations are recommended!

I leave you with a few random pictures taken in Perpignan:

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I’m back!

It’s been a wonderful summer – very busy with one thing and another, but wonderful all the same.  Now that I’m sitting down again to write, I don’t know where to start!!  Perhaps I’ll start with my most recent outing, as it’s still so fresh in my mind.

This past weekend, the village of Bize-Minervois hosted a festival called Tastes en Minervois.  It billed itself as a wine and gastronomy festival, and this was the third time it was being held.  I had completely managed to miss the previous two festivals, which took place in Homps in 2015 and 2016 – quel dommage – I was thrilled that I was able to go this year!

For the festival, the old centre of the village had been closed off.  The entrance fee was 15 EUR, which included a wine glass, a voucher for a meal at one of the four restaurant tents and free wine tastings throughout the village.  A fifth restaurant spot was reserved for children.

It was all incredibly well organised – and it had to be!  The organisers were expecting around 10,000 visitors over the two days!!

About 100 winemakers from the Minervois AOC area participated.  Each winemaker was assigned a wine barrel, and allowed to showcase one wine for tasting.  Orange polo shirts denoted volunteer stewards or wine makers – their names were printed on the back of the shirts!

The restaurant tents had been set up in four different places around the village, and each had its own distinctive theme.  Cuisine du Monde was on the promenade along the river,  and its musical accompaniment was by a flamenco guitar group.

Cuisine traditionelle had been set up near the Mairie, and the music was provided by a group of three women, calling themselves USB – a play on words – they are super branchées, which means either connected or trendy.  Their music was great: festive and rhythmic, it really made you want to move!

Cuisine Carre Vert was near the church, and the musical entertainment there was very original!! Eric van Osselaer makes music by using vegetables as his instruments!!  He made flutes from carrots, a kind of clarinet with a carrot, a cucumber and a mini pumpkin, leaves of Belgian endive served as reeds – it all was highly original.

Cuisine Street Food was in a newly created square in the heart of the village, and the music was provided by a group of DJs.

Here’s some of the food:

On the tray with the small bottle (milk shake) is Cuisine Street Food, and on the other tray you see Cusine du Monde.  Both were very delicious!!

It was great wandering around the village, glass around my neck and stopping for a sip here and there!!  Here are my favourite wines from the evening:

As the evening went on, the lights came on, and the atmosphere became even more magical!

In a courtyard, a little tucked away, a coffee bar had been set up.

The coffee was delicious, and accompanied by a few mignardises, small sweet bites, each of the four chefs of the evening having contributed one.

Darkness fell and people were still arriving, the numbers swelled perhaps by the inhabitants of the village, who had all been given passes.

With the fading light, the decorations in various places also came into their own!

For me it was time to head home, but here’s one last look, from across the river:

The festival is due to take place again in Bize Minervois in 2018.  More information on http://www.leminervois.com .  To book your stay in Bize, visit http://www.midihideaways.com/figuier

 

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Canalside dining

There’s something special about restaurants which overlook the water, be it the sea, a river or lake, or the Canal du Midi.  Many years ago, I spent an evening at a restaurant in Grau d’Agde called Les Ondines.  It’s terrace was on a pontoon in the river Herault, not far from where the river meets the sea.  I don’t quite recall the meal, but the sunset was absolutely wonderful!!

Sunset at Grau d’Agde

Along the Canal du Midi there are many beautiful spots for a variety of restaurants – some are very simple, others very fancy and then there are the ones in between.  Today I want to take you to three restaurants.  We’ll work our way from west to east, starting with the Auberge de la Croisade, at La Croisade, a tiny hamlet built at a crossroads.  I remember the building in the picture below when it was just a shell, before it was renovated and turned into a restaurant.  This was in the days before digital photography, but here is a picture of the restaurant as it is now:

Auberge de la Croisade by the Canal du Midi

Over the years I have eaten at this restaurant many times, and I have seen it evolve and grow.  One constant has been Bruno, the maitre d’hotel, who is unfailingly friendly and cheerful – a truly wonderful host!  I went to the restaurant with a group of friends not long ago, and we had a great time!  Here are some of the delicious starters we ate:

Main courses followed:

La Croisade has been serving a selection platter of desserts since the restaurant first opened:There was also delicious ice cream:Another great canal-side restaurant is located in Poilhes – La Tour Sarrasine.  It has a terrace from which you can watch the boats glide by as you sip a glass of perfectly chilled rose wine!  Another meal with friends, this one was to celebrate a birthday! 😉 The picture below was taken at the end of our meal – such a lovely spot!

The starters tasted as good as they looked!

Main courses followed – very nicely presented, expertly cooked and very tasty!

The cheese platter was very nice too:

And dessert was heavenly!

Farther east lies the village of Colombiers, where there’s an old favourite of mine: Restaurant Au Lavoir!  I’ve been there countless times, and I’m sure that I have mentioned the restaurant before.  There’s something old-fashioned about this restaurant, but in a very positive sense.  Here you can eat the kind of food that you don’t often find in restaurants anymore: cote de boeuf, soufflé, crepes Suzette etc.  The silverware is real silverware, and the glasses and tablecloths are beautiful.

Three of us went for dinner earlier this year, and what a feast it was!!  Here are three starters:

… and three delicious main courses:

We passed up on the cheese, although the cheese trolley looked very tempting!  Instead, we headed straight for some wonderful desserts:

If you fancy eating at any of these restaurants, do make a reservation to avoid disappointment.  And do tell them that you saw them on my blog! 🙂  Bon appetit!

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Full of cheer

I’ve just received a lovely message from Noelle, one of the regular readers of this blog, and resident of Saint-Chinian:

I just wanted to thank you for a suggestion on your blog: “La randonnee de Bacchus” from Berlou.

Lucien and I took the hike on Sunday June 4.
After a week of not knowing if it was going to rain, we woke up to a beautiful day, sunny, just a little breeze.
As per instruction we were at Berlou for 10:30 AM. After registration we were given a glass to hang around our neck, and then we were on our way. Since we were among the last group to depart I never felt crowded on the walk. I was told we were around 350 people but I never saw such a crowd. Actually I thought a lot of the time Lucien and I were the only ones on the trail. At each stop the crowd was only around 50 people. The wines and matching food were excellent. Plenty of time to drink and eat, seating sometimes in the shade of a tree on the ground, on a long table with chairs, or on fallen tree which served as a bench. At each of the 7 stops we tried different wines: a sparkling wine, 2 roses, 1 white, 2 reds and a sweet wine. I thought I would get drunk drinking the mix but with plenty of water it did not happen.
The trail is not an easy one but the views are grandiose on the top of the mountain. With such a day, we were able to see very far, the sleeping Lady, towns, wineries…  We were even able to pick some cherries from a lonesome tree on the side of the trail – just refreshing. We did met a few people, mostly Belgiam English and French, living close by.
We ended the walk through the narrows streets of Berlou, a small and pretty village with many flowers on balconies, and on the bridge. At this time of the year it was a feast for the eyes with all the different colours.
Thank you again for suggesting this “randonnee”!
Have you followed in my footsteps and visited any of the places I have written about?  I’d love to hear about your experiences, feel free to share them!!

Dine at the Auberge

It has been nine years since I first met Sylvie and Claude Clapiers.  At the time, they had only just opened their restaurant, L’Auberge Vigneronne, in the tiny hamlet of La Bosque near Combejean.  Claude had retired from the police force, and Sylvie had always wanted to run a restaurant.  Claude’s parents were from La Bosque – they had vineyards there, and when it came to setting up the restaurant, they were very supportive.  An old farm building was converted to house the kitchen and dining room.

A former vineyard was turned into a car park.  A plot of land was cleared to house the bird enclosures.  Sylvie and Claude decided that they would raise all their own poultry:  chickens, geese, guinea fowl, turkeys and ducks.

They have made a name for themselves for roasting their poultry on a spit over an open fire.  In the winter, this is done in the big fireplace in the dining room, and it’s wonderful to watch.  For the summer months, Claude has a second fireplace outside, and it was there that I took the following picture:

The drive to La Bosque is along a sinuous road, winding up and up.  From a number of places along the way you have beautiful views!  When you get out of the car at La Bosque, you might notice the quiet calm all around you – only the sound of birds is usually heard!

My brother is visiting right now, and he badly wanted to go back to L’Auberge Vigneronne!  I was more than happy to oblige 🙂  It had been a little while since I’d been to eat there myself.  So on a balmy evening we sat outside on the terrace at La Bosque, with the sun setting behind us, enjoying a glass of delicious, chilled rose, whilst waiting for our starters to be prepared.

The food at L’Auberge Vigneronne is very unpretentious and down-to-earth.  Sylvie wanted to serve Cuisine de Grandmere in her restaurant, updated versions of her grandmother’s cooking, and she’s been doing just that with great success since she opened the restaurant!

The menu is very straightforward:  four courses for 22 Euros or five courses for 27 Euros, with a choice of dishes for each course (excepting the dessert).  There were four of us, and we decided to have two menus with four courses and two menus with five courses, so we could all have a taste of the fish course.

These were the starters:

Salade du Jaur

A salad with smoked trout, both hot and cold smoked.

Aumoniere de Chevre Chaud

A crispy parcel filled with goat’s cheese and leeks.

Salade Auberge

Gizzards, bougnette (a kind of large dumpling, made from stale bread, pork, eggs and seasonings) and melsat (a kind of sausage made with the same ingredients as the bougnette), all regional specialities.

For the fish course we ordered the scallops in wild mushroom sauce.  They were perfectly cooked and utterly delicious!!

Scallops in wild mushroom sauce

My sister-in-law opted for osso bucco for her main course.  She loved every mouthful of it!

Veal Osso Bucco

The rest of us ordered the spit-roasted chicken! 🙂  The chicken arrived on a large platter, already cut into pieces, along with some more mushroom sauce.  On our plates were creamy courgettes, a toast with chicken liver pate, sauteed potatoes and green beans.

We did manage to eat all but one of the chicken pieces – it was very delicious, but we were getting full!!

As night started to fall, we attacked the cheese board! Claude had prepared a great selection of cheeses.  I had vowed to skip the cheese course, but my resolve weakened the moment the platter was placed on the table! 🙂

Cheese board at L’Auberge Vigneronne

Once we’d done justice to the cheese board, Sylvie served the dessert, which was a selection of three mini-desserts:  cherry clafoutis, chocolate mousse and pannacotta with blackcurrant sauce.

What a wonderful evening we had, and what delicious food we ate!  I’m so glad my brother suggested it!

L’Auberge Vigneronne is one of the few restaurants which is totally off the beaten track; most of its patrons live locally.  The restaurant is open on Fridays for dinner, on Saturdays for lunch and dinner, and on Sundays and bank holidays for lunch only.  Groups of 10 and more can be accommodated during the week.  Be sure to telephone to book your table on +33 467 893 411 or +33 670 704 513.