(Almost) all is safely gathered in…

Regular readers will know I’ve got into the habit, once a month or so, of revisiting an old post. And I’m reminded of what October used to mean in France. Blackberrying’s over now in England (the devil spits on the fruit as soon as October kicks in, didn’t you know?), but my inner-Frenchwoman has been squirreling away scavenged apples, pears, mushrooms – even a few unimpressive walnuts. It all reminds me of France, where foraging is a way of life…

October 25th, 2012

‘All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin’ *

Autumn colours mean it’s harvest time for foragers.

I’ve written before about the ‘au cas où’ bag: the carrier you always have with you on a walk, ‘just in case’ something tasty turns up and demands to be taken home and eaten.

Well, at this time of year, it isn’t really a case of ‘au cas où’ .  You’re bound to find something.  A fortnight ago, for instance, Mal and I went on a country stroll from Lieurac to Neylis.  We had with us a rucksack and two large bags, and we came home with just under 5 kilos of walnuts, scavenged from beneath the walnut trees along the path.  A walk through the hamlet of Bourlat just above Laroque produced a tidy haul of chestnuts too.

Yesterday, we Laroque walkers were among the vineyards of Belvèze-du-Razès.  The grapes had all been harvested in the weeks before, but luckily for us, some bunches remained on the endless rows of vines which lined the paths we walked along.  We felt no guilt as we gorged on this fruit all through the morning.  The grapes had either been missed at harvest-time, or hadn’t been sufficiently ripe.  They were unwanted – but not by us.

The walnuts we’re used to in the Ariège are replaced by almonds over in the Aude.  You have to be careful: non-grafted trees produce bitter almonds, not the sweet ones we wanted to find.  But most of us returned with a fine haul to inspect later.  Some of us found field mushrooms too.

Today, the destination of the Thursday walking group was the gently rising forested and pastoral country outside Foix known as la Barguillère.  It’s also known locally as an area richly provided with chestnut trees.  Any wild boar with any sense really ought to arrange to spend the autumn there, snuffling and truffling for the rich pickings.  We walked for 9 km or so, trying to resist the temptation to stop and gather under every tree we saw.  The ground beneath our feet felt nubbly and uneven as we trod our way over thousands of chestnuts, and the trees above threw further fruits down at us, popping and exploding as their prickly casings burst on the downward journey.

As our hike drew to an end, so did our supply of will-power.  We took our bags from our rucksacks and got stuck in.  So plentiful are the chestnuts here that you can be as picky as you like.  Only the very largest and choicest specimens needed to make it through our rigorous quality control.  I was restrained.  I gathered a mere 4 kilos.  Jacqueline and Martine probably each collected 3 times as much.  Some we’ll use, some we’ll give to lucky friends.

Serious business, this scavenging.

Now I’d better settle myself down with a dish of roasted chestnuts at my side, and browse through my collections of recipes to find uses for all this ‘Food for Free’.

Jacqueline, Martine and Maguy’s chestnut haul.

* Two lines from an English hymn sung at Harvest Festival season: Come, ye thankful people, come’

A contribution to Six Word Saturday, and Jo’s Monday Walk: it’s more than one walk Jo.  Extra value?  Or disqualified?

Breakfast like a king…..

When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do….

Every time we come to Spain, we know we could easily buy a carton of orange juice, a pack of coffee, a box of cereal and some milk and make our own breakfast. But where’s the fun in that?

No, when in Spain we do as Miquel does. We do as so many Spanish do. On our way out to begin the day, we call in at a local bar or bakery-with-café attached.

We sit down, maybe glance at one of the newspapers lying around, and order a coffee and a pastry and enjoy a few quiet moments before launching into action.

Our breakfast of choice includes a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice – such a treat. We may choose a wholemeal croissant: I promise you, they’re delicious. Or even better, pan tostada con tomate. Chased down with a café solo, and a few minutes of people-watching, there’s no better start to the day.

A very English afternoon tea.

What could be more quintessentially English than tea and cake?  What could be more quintessentially English than fundraising with tea and cake?

Hire the village hall.  Get the Good Ladies of the Parish to closet themselves in their kitchens, dig out their favourite recipes, don their aprons and get stuck into a couple of hours combining butter, flour, sugar and eggs with favoured additions such as chocolate (got to have a chocolate cake), lemon (got to  have lemon drizzle cake), coffee, walnuts (got to have a coffee and walnut cake), dried fruit (it would probably be a criminal offence not to offer scones), and any other pièce de résistance that the accomplished home baker can offer.

And on the day itself, friends, family, passers-by, readers of the Parish magazine will all be tempted to drop in and cheerfully while away a half hour or so with a slice or two of cake, or even the makings of a light lunch, all in pleasant, light-hearted company.  All talk of calories and healthy options is banned.  This is waistline expansion in a very good cause.

On Saturday, we gallantly took ourselves over to Fewston Village Hall to support our sporty friends Barbara and Tim. The cause? Almscliffe Tennis and Bowling Club.  Now what could be more English than bowls?

All the home bakers ready for action in the Village Hall.
… and overlooking the proceedings at Fewston Village Institute ……

Click on any image to view it full size.

Hungry?

My recent blog posts have been a bit of a guide book. Perhaps I should be working for Lonely Planet.

Let’s get back to basics. Food.

We’ve been beginning the day as the Spanish do. In a coffee shop. Emily’s boyfriend wouldn’t consider eating breakfast at home, and neither do we. A huge glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Maybe a roll, with jamon, or cheese, or sobrasada (a Mallorcan spreading sausage) or simply olive oil, then lightly toasted. Coffee, obviously.

Our favourite camareros from Los Siete Gatos in Granada.

It’s hard to resist tapas later on. Order a drink, and you’ll be served with a tapa too. Olives maybe, or patatas bravas. You may get a choice. Maybe not. It’s easy to knock up enough food for a light meal by ordering another drink.

A busy tapas bar.

We’ve been struck by the difference between the food in Granada and that in Córdoba. Granada celebrates making delicious treats out of very little: patatas a lo pobre – potatoes with onions and peppers. Migas – fried stale breadcrumbs with peppers, onion, garlic and fatty bacon. Both simple. Both good.

Both cities celebrate the pig and lamb in many forms: lots of piggy sausage dishes. Lots of chick peas too.

Córdoba pushes you in the direction of berenjenas – aubergine slices deep fried in batter and drizzled in honey. Every restaurant here has an oxtail dish, and is proud to tell you that the city is a foodie capital.

Berenjenas con miel.

Every shopping street has a selection of independent greengrocers. Just as well. After all that stomach-lining food, a piece or two of fruit is more than welcome.

Ragtag Saturday: Foraging in Valencia for marmalade in England

One of the joys of being in Valencia was walking down streets and through parks lined with orange trees.  It’s orange season right now, so they were looking at their best.  They’re bitter Seville oranges of course, the ones we use for marmalade.  Juicy sweet ones would probably be too much of a temptation for passers-by.

Orange trees in Valencia.

Last Sunday though, when we were walking in the Turia, we spotted fallen fruit under many of the trees.  A forager by nature, I couldn’t leave them there to rot.  No, we had to gather them, so that when we returned home, we could have a very special souvenir of our holiday.  Home-made marmalade, cooked from fruit gathered in Orange Central: Valencia.

I can’t show you the finished article.  The marmalade is simmering on the stove as I type.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is: cook

P.S. …..

The Food Assembly

Have you got a Food Assembly near you?  Our nearest one is in Harrogate, and last night we went to find out more, at an Open Evening they organised.

In a room above Starlings, we found a clutch of local food producers: an organic farm selling ethically produced meat (and chicken bones! For making wonderful stock!); a bakery; an Italian food producer; a cake-baker from Ripon; a properly-local ready meal supplier; a vegi-box scheme; a cheesemonger, a rape seed oil producer. Among many others.

We knew Emma, who’d started Harrogate’s Food Assembly, was onto something.  Every week, members of the Assembly can order from a range of locally and ethically produced goods, and meet those same producers when they come to collect their shopping on a Thursday evening.  Brilliant.  What a great way to support and meet local, high quality and human-scale producers, and to shop in a sociable and human-scale environment.

What we didn’t realise before was that this is part of an international movement.  Here’s a quotation from The Food Assembly‘s website:

The Food Assembly’s vision is to create a better way to eat, where everyone has access to the pleasure of local food, and is connected to the people who make it. 

Community is at the heart of The Food Assembly – we connect neighbours to farmers, neighbours to each other, and everyone to their food. 

Starting in France, and now a movement across Europe, we believe in value-led innovation and are constantly seeking to sharpen our tool that connects people to local food producers. 

Bringing power back to producers and consumers, our vision is a world with shorter supply chains where people connect to their food in a better way. By combining technology and sustainable agriculture, our vision is to support a healthier world where everyone can thrive. 

Popping over 50 km. there and back to Harrogate on Thursdays won’t be easy.  We plan to get a little posse together who’d enjoy this way of shopping too.  We think it’s worth a bit of an effort to be part of something as exciting as this.

Snapshot Saturday: An (almost) free sweet treat

Windfall apples.

This photo appeals to the part of me that can’t resist a good scavenge.  The part of me that as a four year old, willingly got up at four o’clock to go mushrooming with my mother on the abandoned wartime airfield near Sandhutton.

The part that went gathering rosehips at school in the autumn to send away to be made into Delrosa rosehip syrup; and has always gathered blackberries in season, to jam, jelly or quite simply devour whilst picking.

We discovered that the inhabitants of rural France think just the same way.  Nobody ever leaves home without an ‘au cas où‘ bag – ‘just in case’ they find some walnuts, almonds, mushrooms, wild cherries or mirabelles.  And neither did we- that bag was often full by the time we got home.

Now we’re back, we hunt down the biggest, purplest sloes to lay down bottles of sloe gin for winter evenings.

And in autumn we never walk through the village without rescuing windfall apples from the path, disregarded by the trees’ owners because they quite simply have too much fruit in their own gardens.

Here’s some of last autumn’s haul, being transformed into blackberry and apple jelly to spread on toast after a chilly winter walk.

In response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Sweet.

Click on any photo to view it full size.