A firm favourite

In our area, autumn is chestnut time, and there are several festivals to celebrate the chestnut harvest.  I’ve written about the festivals before.  You can find the posts here, here, and here.  This year, I went to the Chestnut Festivals in both Saint-Pons and Olargues – over the years they have become firm favourites of mine!

The weekend the festival took place in Saint-Pons, the area was experiencing a cold-snap:  temperatures plummeted to 6 Celsius, well below the seasonal average!!  The stall-holders were well wrapped up against the cold!  Below is a picture of a very warmly dressed Lex Page from Love la Foret!  Lex and her husband Andy specialise in dried mushrooms – I bought some delicious cep (porcini) mushroom powder from them a little while back, and I needed a top-up!

The festival in Saint-Pons always has a large number of exhibitors and I found many familiar stands!

I adore roasted chestnuts, so I made a beeline to the square where the chestnuts were being roasted over open fires!

The hot chestnuts were delicious AND they warmed my hands!!

Bands of roving musicians provided entertainment, and there was lots to see and taste.  Despite the cold weather this was a very enjoyable festival!

The Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau (the festival of chestnuts and new wine) took place in Olargues a week later.  The weather couldn’t have been more different – it was beautiful!  The sun was out and there was a marked difference in temperature – absolutely no need for thermal underwear!!

I had of course come for the roasted chestnuts!!  The set-up in Olargues is much smaller than it is in Saint-Pons, but the chestnuts were every bit as delicious!

On a recent visit to L’Auberge de l’Ecole in Saint-Jean de Minervois, I tasted a tiramisu which had been made with creme de marron, a sweet chestnut puree made from broken pieces of marrons glacés.  This was a very delicious dessert and I have attempted to recreate the recipe for you below.  When you next visit L’Auberge de l’Ecole, you’ll be able to taste Brigitte’s authentic version!

Tiramisu with creme de marron

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A delicious tiramisu, with a special flavour of autumn. You can make this in individual serving dishes, or use one large dish.

Ingredients

  • 250g mascarpone (1 tub)
  • 3 eggs
  • 125g creme de marron (chestnut puree)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 12 sponge fingers (also called ladyfingers or boudoir biscuits)
  • 200ml strong coffee
  • 2 Tbsp Rum

You will also need six to eight individual serving dishes (I used glass preserving jars), or a single serving dish, large enough to hold 6 sponge fingers in a single layer.

ingredients for chestnut tiramisu

Ingredients for chestnut tiramisu

Directions


1. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.
2. In a medium-sized bowl beat the egg yolks with 1 Tbsp sugar until white and thick. Add the mascarpone and the creme de marron and mix until lump-free.
3. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form.  Add the remaining 1 Tbsp sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
4. Fold one third of the beaten egg whites into the mascarpone mixture to ‘loosen’ it.  Then add the remaining beaten egg whites and fold in until the mixture is smooth.
5. Pour the cold coffee into a shallow bowl and add the rum.
6. To assemble the tiramisu, put some of the mascarpone mixture in the bottom of your dish (one third of the mixture if using one large dish).  Dip each sponge finger briefly into the coffee and arrange in a neat layer in your dish.  Top with another third of the mascarpone mixture and repeat with the sponge fingers.  Finish with the last third of the mascarpone mixture and level with a spatula. If you are using individual serving dishes, break/cut the sponge fingers to make them fit.
7. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge to chill for four to six hours.

Before serving you may wish to dust the tiramisu with cocoa powder but try it without the cocoa powder first. I find that it can overpower the delicate flavour of the chestnut puree.

Note:  In her version, Brigitte uses chestnut brandy, which is pretty impossible to find.  I found rum to be reasonable substitute, but if you can find chestnut liqueur it would be even better.  Brigitte also omits the coffee and uses only alcohol to soak the biscuits in.  

 

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And still more to come …

Just because summer is coming to an end, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing going on in and around Saint-Chinian!  Far from it!!  The theatres in Beziers, Narbonne, Pezenas and elsewhere are starting their seasons and there’s much to see and do.  Here is a selection of events:

11eme Festival Les Troubadours Chantent L’Art Roman – 7 May to 25 November 2016

This festival pairs romanesque architecture with ancient music, such as in the concert I went to last year at Fontcaude Abbey.  This year I went to hear the Troubadours Art Ensemble in the church in Cruzy, where the picture below was taken.  There are still a few concerts left this season!

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Orchids at Fontfroide, Fontfroide Abbey – 7, 8 and 9 October 2016

An orchid exhibition in the magnificent surroundings of Fontfroide Abbey is taking place this weekend.  A great excuse (if you need one) to visit this wonderful abbey – the picture below shows the cloisters.

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Grand Deballage, Pezenas – 9 October 2016

This Sunday will see another mega flea market, the second this year, in this town well-known for its plethora of antique shops.  There will be over 2km of stalls!!

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Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau, Olargues – 29 and 30 October 2016

The chestnut festival in Olargues is always enjoyable!!  Whilst it is not as large a festival as the one in Saint-Pons-de-Thomieres, it has a great selection of stalls, and the roasted chestnuts are always great!!

olargues

Conilhac Jazz Festival, Conilhac – 29 October to 26 November 2016

The little village of Conilhac (850 souls) has been hosting a jazz festival every year since 1987, staging concerts by musicians of world renown!  The programme can be found here.

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Truffle fairs and markets – 10 December 2016 – 24 June 2017

The truffle markets are much-anticipated by some people.  If you have ever tasted a real truffle, you’ll know that, love it or hate it, the flavour is unlike anything else!  A good introduction to truffles is to visit a truffle market, to smell their heady perfume and to taste the scrambled eggs.  A list of events can be found here.

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Frozen in time

At the beginning of November last year, I visited the Fete de la Chataigne in Olargues.  Whilst walking around the village, to see what was happening where, I discovered a gem of a place:  the Taillanderie Galibert or the Galibert Forge!

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I had walked down this street many times before, and admired the ancient, timeworn doors and shop fronts, but nothing had hinted at what lay hidden behind some of these shutters.

Outside the door stood an old bicycle and a few pieces of old equipment, as well as a storyboard.  My curiosity was piqued when I saw the open doors – I couldn’t resist having a look!

To step inside is to step back in time – to a time when mobile phones and internet were totally unknown, and when colour TV was still in its infancy!  The Galibert forge closed its doors in the 1970s.  After the last blacksmith died, the workshop was shut up and left as it was – since then almost nothing has been sold or removed.  The house still belongs to one of the descendants, and it was one of the grandsons of the last blacksmith who was demonstrating the machinery and giving the visitors some insights.  Here is the video I took of the machinery in action (e-mail subscribers, please visit the blog site to view the video):

This grandson created an association last year, with the aim of bringing his grandfather’s workshop back to life.  It will be open for educational visits (school classes) and prearranged groups, and to the general public on special days, such as the Fete de la Chataigne.

Have a look at this Aladdin’s Cave of amazing stuff:

All the machinery is driven by a belt and pulley transmission – every health and safety inspector’s nightmare!  But the electric motor still works, and so do the machines – they were built to last!!

It’s a fascinating visit – well worth the trip to Olargues.  For details of opening hours please contact the Tourist office in Olargues: avenue de la gare, 34390 Olargues, Tel +33 (0)4 67 23 02 21, e-mail olargues@ot-caroux.fr

Knights in shining armour and New York?

What do the two have in common?  The answer is at the end of this post 🙂  !  Each year in mid September France along with most of Europe celebrates its heritage; museums are open free of charge, there are guided visits, and often buildings which are not accessible to the public offer visits.  In honour of the occasion the village of Olargues put on a Fete Medievale this year, and I just couldn’t resist to see what it was all about!  Olargues is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, and when you approach from the direction of St Pons the view from across the river is just gorgeous.

On this picture you don’t quite get the full effect, the branch is obscuring the tower at the top of the hill, the only remainder of the château which once stood there. Anyhow, Olargues has plenty to remind us of its medieval past, such as the small narrow streets, and the remains of the gates into the village.

All along the “main street” through the old village, market stalls had been set up, selling all manner of things.

I was particularly taken by the nougat – can you tell?  It’s made with lavender honey and almonds and there were all kinds of flavours:  pistachio, fig and date, cinnamon and orange, chestnut, caramel….

The chapel in the former headquarters of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem (there must be a better name for them in English?) was open and in the courtyard one of the associations of the village had set up tables selling spiced wine and cider.

Eventually I came to the square where the MEDIO EVO group had set up camp.  Beautiful tents, and just opposite a spit roast – in readiness for the communal meal.

The communal dinner looked great, but I’d already made other plans.  As I arrived there sat a knight waiting for his adversary.

Soon enough someone showed up, and they went for it – very good fighting with swords…

After all that excitement there was still time for a little more walking around Olargues, and more to discover of course.

On the drive back home I caught the most stunning view of Caroux, fabulous blue skies!

And then on along the way I took a little detour via New York!

There she stands, Lady Liberty in all her splendour!  And in the village of Lugne!  A plaque on the pedestal explains that this scale copy of th statue of Liberty graced the bow on the Maxim’s des Mers in 1987 (perhaps on a voyage to New York?), and that the captain of the ship, Albert Abelanet is a native of the village.  From the meager info I could find on the net, the Maxim’s des Mers was a small luxury cruise ship designed by Pierre Cardin.  And there you have it all!

A day at the Fetes

Last weekend the fete season was in full swing, with a number of villages celebrating spring!  Prades sur Vernazobre had its annual Foire Artisanale de Printemps, celebrating the diversity which exists in the village, with the various nationalities representing their countries mostly through food.  I stopped at the British stall, where I met Jane from Restaurant Les Platanes in Poilhes, who had helped making some of the delicious treats on offer.  I took home some of the carrot and lemon cakes as well as a couple of their pasties, and all of it got eaten up very quickly – it was yummy.  I wonder what the French locals made of the cream teas and the pasties??  Other stalls were offering treats from La Reunion (very nice looking spicy food), Germany (pretzels, sausages & beer), Holland (more beer and sausages) and Maghreb (delicious pastries), and the local Comite de Fete, the organisers of the day, were offering oreillettes (crispy thin sheets of deep-fried pastry) and grilled sausages with fries.  Further up was a stand with mussels done the Catalan way.  In between were stalls selling a variety of handicrafts, plants, gifts and someone was offering magic.  The band (La Fanfare “Paradix”) in their pink shirts and white trousers played a terrific mix of jazz and the sun shone brightly – what more do you need??

The very same day Olargues was holding its annual Fete de la Brouette (wheelbarrow fete).  The town hall building glowed against the blue skies and the whole village was awash with people browsing the essentially plant based selection of stalls.  There were rare varieties of tomatoes, some beautiful roses and lots of other flowers, and even a local saffron grower, who reassured me when I asked why my little patch of six saffron bulbs had not flowered this spring  and the leaves were drying up.  Apparently that’s completely normal, they’ll flower in the fall!!

We decided to have lunch at the cafe/restaurant opposite the old station building at the end of the high street. A lovely terrace in the shade of old plane trees, and there was just one table available. It turned out to be a memorable meal, but unfortunately not for the right reasons. The kitchen could not cope with the volume of customers even though the food was fairly simple (salads, omelette, steak etc), the very friendly but inexperienced waitress got her orders mixed up and the wait seemed interminable, but we did get fed and it was great to see the world go by. Perhaps better to be tried on a day when they are not run off their feet!? One definite plus of sitting on the terrace was the view of the band Les Buffarels who came to play just across the road. This was a traditional band of wind instruments with two drums, and their speciality were the bagpipes. I’d never seen bagpipes like these;  here you can see that they are made from the skin of a lamb or small sheep, and they did sound pretty good.

If you approach Olargues from Tarrassac the first thing you see is the old railway bridge, spanning the valley. A sign below it proudly proclaims it as the Pont Eiffel, 1889 – a claim which is dismissed on Wikipedia. Last year the bridge, which now carries a walking and cycling path (La Piste Verte) across the valley was re-painted bright red.

On the way back from Olargues we stopped at Roquebrun to have a drink, and a rest from all the activity of the day, in the local cafe. Sitting once more in the shade of old plane trees, we watched the world and the few tourists go by, including a group of motorcyclists with some serious gear! I am always fascinated by the fading signs on some of the buildings around the area – this one hints that the building might have housed the post office and telephone exchange at some point in the distant past, perhaps in 1911?  Driving home to Saint Chinian there was a field of irises in full flower. I just couldn’t resist and had to take a few shots!

May day, may day

May has arrived and with it a slew of bank holidays.  May 1st is one of the holidays which are very strictly observed in France; hardly anything is open on Labour Day.  The next one is May 8th – VE day and again it falls on a Tuesday, which means that a lot of people take the “pont” and have Monday off.  On May 17th we celebrate Ascension, and finally May 28 is Pentecost Monday.  Then there are no more bank holidays until Bastille Day on July 14th!

The week really started well – a visit to Floralies in Florensac – a fete which was conceived entirely around plants and flowers. The blooms were fantastic and the local brass band was great at keeping us all entertained!

After that a quick trip to Marseillan for a light lunch – the sun was out and the terrace at the La Taverne du Port open – and yes, there was a table for two! A starter of Sardines en Escabeche, followed by gratinated oysters and mussels. Just perfect and oh so good!

The reason for the light lunch was that I had gotten a little carried away in the market that morning:  found some very young broad beans, wonderful fresh goat’s cheese, white asparagus and our butcher cut me two veal escalopes.  I cut the broad beans into finger long pieces and steamed them, dressed them with good olive oil and lemon juice, with a little salt and sugar, and left them to cool.  To serve I just spooned a little of the dressing over the beans and crumbled some of the goats cheese over.  I’d forgotten to pick some parsley in the garden – ho hum….  

White asparagus needs peeling, but to me it is well worth the effort.  It also takes a little longer to cook than the green stalks.  I decided to serve it with a veal escalope, simply pan fried, and some orange flavoured hollandaise sauce.  For that, two tablespoons of freshly squeezed orange juice and one tablespoon of apple vinegar were reduced to half and left to cool.  I then added the egg yolk, salt and butter cut into pieces and placed the pan in the simmering water, which was waiting for the asparagus.  Stir and stir until it is the right consistency et voila!  The veal was one of the tenderest pieces of meat I have ever eaten – I went back to the butcher to find out what cut it was and he told me it was Merlan, a small piece near the shoulder blade, and that it exists both in veal and beef.  I’ve put my name down for the beef version when he next gets it in.

May 1st saw me at a Vide Grenier in Olargues, where I found two bargains!  One was a stove top waffle iron, which I’d been thinking of for some time.  It looked in need of a good clean but that was easily achieved at home with soda crystals and hot water.  The other was an old linen sheet with a decorative hemstitch edge, which was still brand new.  After a few washes and being run through the mangle it is now on the bed, and just the right size too!   With all that exercise of walking around and bargaining lunch at the Fleurs d’Olargues restaurant was just the ticket.  Their food is very well prepared and beautifully served.  It was a little too cool to sit out on the terrace by the river, but I enjoy the dining room, which is airy and spacious without feeling as though you’re in an old garage workshop (which is what it was before it was converted into a restaurant some years ago).    The restaurant is owned and run by a Danish family, and in addition to great food they also offer fantastic bread, which is home made.  I always have to watch that I don’t have too much of that, so easy to eat…

It looks very much as though this is turning into a food blog, so I will have to make sure that those of you who would like to read about other things wont get short-changed!!