Sunday Chickens & Eggs: One Chicken-Two Pots

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Sunday Chickens and Egg- destined for the pot, scrambled, scratching or just clucking around the yard. I admit to being a sloppy chicken wrangler, preferring to watch and guide rather than corral and manage. That means missed eggs, accidental broods, wild child chickens. The mid-morning scramble that results as I tote the kitchen scraps and corn, barley, wheat and other seeds to the yard is a 15 minute meditation. Chicken Meditation.

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Surprisingly, I’ve been collecting a couple dozen eggs every week all winter. It is mild enough in Southwest France and the Muscovy ducks are also now laying full force. So the daily menus change– golden, custardy, scrambled and poached. I’ll bake a cake today. I’ll braise a chicken and some vegetables. I’ll make some crepe batter for afternoon snacks.

 

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This chicken bounty is a wonder to a cook. When all else fails, I conjure a meal from two eggs and some garlic. Or take an old hen and cook Gascony’s signature dish- Poule au Pot.

 

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Some early Spring days when the wheelbarrow fills with eggs, I look South to my Catalan friends. Perfect eggs for a perfect Tortilla or Omelette Catalan.

 

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And though I am not a bird fancier, don’t name my girls, or  even like the prehistoric beak and claw, sweet omelettes have a special place in my heart- souffléd golden eggs for a light dessert. And at this time of Carnival, we whisk thick raw milk with golden eggs, sugar and flour to make classic crêpes. 

 

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It’s too early for asparagus here in Gascony. But I can’t resist the breakfast classic ham and eggs part of this recipe. I’ll substitute some broccoli or other greens (I’m sure there is something to forage out there!) to celebrate the famous chicken & pig combo.

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What great return on a little investment of time, space and food. I’ve been keeping chickens for 6 years now; my compost piles are growing richer as my pantry grows fatter. Merci mes petites poulettes de Camont! 

For more: #chickensofinstagram  and follow along with making this One Chicken/Two Pots menu.IMG_8527

One Chicken/Two Pots

Pot #1: in one braising pot put butter, lard, legs, wings and breasts of chicken. Brown and add carrots, onion salt, pepper and two whole lemons (squeeze the juice over the meat); add a large glass of water. Next, layer thickly cut potatoes, salt, pepper, bay over the chicken. Cover and cook for about an hour. Eat with friends.

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Pot #2: in a soup pot, place the backs, neck, feet and head (it’s France) cover with 2 liters of water. Bring to a boil, skim and then add carrots, onions, bay, thyme, and salt. Let cook long and slow. after eating lunch from pot #1, add all the leftovers to pot #2.  Then eat for supper with a crusty loaf of bread.

 

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Taking care of birdness-at-Camont.

This is an Official Warning.

A shout to the Wild and Undisciplined Neighbors.

A call to arms to protect my brood, my working grrls &  my critters-at-Camont.

When Mr. Fox, probably Mrs. Fox, too, attacked yet again my chicken yard, I knew that changes were in order. Out of 8, they left just our most reliable but ugliest hen and my new prized Black Gascon Rooster. This weekend will be a showdown of sorts and the gloves come off. Electric wires, flashing solar eyes, and reinforced heavy metal mesh fencing.

This is the less gentile side of living in the French countryside. But we need our eggs. They are the color of Camont.

We need our golden eggs for little goat’s cheese cakes, silky plum clafoutis, classic Tourteau de Chevre, Omelette Sucree Soufflée, and my go to summer lunch or tapas- a traditional Catalan Tortilla. Looking for more good ideas for eggs? Browse through my recipe page here and enjoy a golden dish flavored with real farm eggs. Buy from your farmers, markets and neighbors; their eggs are truly worth their weight in gold.

Ste. Poulette de Camont

 

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it’s all about the buzzzzz: NEW working grrls-at-Camont

Oh Honey!

Beekeeping-at-Camont, Round 2.

A couple summers ago I trapped? caught? coaxed? a wild swarm to move into my waiting hive- la ruche. I savored the summer apiarist antics while discovering the sweet taste of Camont, letting the garden wild up, and learning from my favorite beekeeper- Narcisse Ferronato.

The winter was hard, the swarm was fickle, bee mites attacked and the bees were all gone by the spring. Like many new things I’ve attempted- making charcuterie, growing a garden, and driving an 85 foot barge- you don’t always get it right the first time around. Part of the ‘getting it right’ (or just getting it done) & part of growing up (and older) that I’ve practiced at Camont is learning that once is for dilettantes. Pros work, create, and practice all the time. (Sorry, but cooking once a weekend doesn’t make you a chef!) So at the end of last year, I took my sorry/sad/empty ruche to Narcisse’s small bee farm underneath the Chateau Madaillan and left it with him to over winter for some loving care. Today I picked it up- 3/4 full of fat honey and healthy bees and ready to welcome them back to Camont’s bounty. I am ready to begin again and really learn to keep bees. So what’s bloomin’ at Camont?

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Camont’s New Beekeeper- Narcisse the Sweet

When shopping the Le Passage d’Agen market on a Wednesday, I whisper to students and guests that “This man sells the best honey in Gascony!”. I get little patronizing nods, the cameras click away; they love his trim mustaches, the flowing gray locks,  his black Stetson hat. He flirts and poses and sells a few more kilos of leeks, garlic, potatoes, persimmons, nefliers and pomegranates. But I wait. I wait patiently for the French ‘central casting’ call to diminish and then announce again.
“THIS MAN SELLS THE BEST HONEY IN GASCONY.”

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I love honey. I use honey in many of my traditional recipes like pain d’épice, chevre, miel & armagnac tartine or a pan-seared foie gras aux 4-épice. Best of all, I love honey straight from the pot, drizzled over warm toasted bread that has been smeared with fresh salted butter. But I have never, ever had such delicious honey as that Miel de Ronces (bramble honey) from local beekeeper Narcisse Ferranoto.

hives with a veiwsouth facing hives

This year I wished for a bee swarm and got one (see archives here), followed the #Tweehive happening on Twitter and have been planning to integrate more beekeeping in Camont’s resident programs. Only problem was WHO would be our King Bee?

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While working on a chapter for my book of French food producers- “Butcher, Baker, Armagnac-maker’, I have long ‘stalked’ this honey man, this beekeeper, this sweet pillar of the market. This week Photographer Xtraordinaire Tim Clinch, fall intern Julia Leach, and I went across the Garonne River and through the woods to discover the sweet secret way of the beekeeper Narcisse Ferranoto at his Ferme de la Chateau Madaillan. After coffee with his smiling new bride, (they have lived together 30 years and just married 5 months ago!), Narcisse told me a few sweet secrets and, at last, I know the answer of just how he makes THE BEST HONEY IN GASCONY.

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Want to know how? Then join us this spring in France for the inaugural Apiculture Internship at

La Ruche… outside the Kitchen-at-Camont.

April-June 2010.

Narcisse the Sweet by Tim Clinch

Narcisse Ferranoto by Tim Clinch

French Beekeeper Teacher at Camont

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Sunday Grasse Matinee- hatching ideas

working girl

I love it when I feel I am in the middle of something. It doesn’t happen often being a bit of a “living on the edge” sort of person- in all senses. But when it does, I feel that delicious “a-ha!” moment welling up out of my back brain and jumping out of my mouth onto The Keyboard.

  • A-ha! Locavorism is my way of being a lazy bum- what’s growing outside the door? dandelions? rosemary? rosehips?
  • A-ha! Organic Gardening is also wonderfully lazy, no schedules to follow for spraying or bottles of poison to sort out by use by date.
  • A-ha! Canning & Preserving in small batches is fast and easy. 4 jars of quince here, 5 jars of salsa there; faster than going to the supermarket.
  • A-ha! Butchering & Charcuterie making on the farm with artisan French butchers is part of the yearly cycle here.
  • a-ha! Farm-to-table does work when you live surrounded by fertile fields in a wealth agriculturally based society. “France” in a word.
  • A-ha! Urban farming works as long as you have Wi-Fi and can Google “mysterious chicken diseases”.
  • A-ha! The Back-to-the-Land movement I joined in the 70’s on Lopez Island, WA never went away, it just got better music.

So when the I see this big kahuna wave swelling around me,  I’ve been sitting on my long French board for about 20 years, it makes me want to start paddling faster and faster. Catch that wave now! And at last, I can be the #1 Surfer French Farm Queen-Dudette in town.

This week’s wave is all over the web on blogs and news sites. Kim Severson writes an article at the NYT  about  some of the of the problems people are having raising chickens in an urban environment. And today, Alex Williams writes about the new “do-it-yourself butchery” taking place around the country in shops, cooking schools and well as bars. Like preaching to the choir, I want to join in and shout Amen! or Hallelujah! After all, I learn by doing, too. And while I want to encourage and applaud these Good Food neophytes, I want to bang them on the head, too.

EF'S piggy snout

Like parents that think Easter chicks are cute- for a week, I imagine those chickens abandoned by someone who found out that a living breathing animal eats, poops and needs attention just like we do.  I think about the wasted meat not cooked from that lovingly raised porker by someone whose stomach was turned by the smell of too much raw meat or the serial killer smell of fresh blood. I know some of that good meat will end up in the garbage uncooked. I know what happens not just because I see it when fresh students and interns show up in France all starry-eyed or because I have years of experience of sheltering the delicate Gourmet-reading gourmand from knowing too ‘much ado about foie gras’, or the ‘truth behind truffles’.   I know what happens because I, too, have been there. And I am willing to admit it.

le Porc

I’ve learned a lot these two decades of eating France. Yet, I still have a lot to learn.  About Charcuterie- did you know that the age of the pig (minimum 12 months) affects the acid level produced in the meat muscle and thus affecting the quality and curing of the jambons, saucissons and chorizo?  I didn’t either until this summer when Camas D., Jonathon K. and I sat down at teh lunch table with the Brothers Chapolard for a Q&A about their pig farm and artisan charcuterie operation.  About Chickens- after a year with my own layers  (11 hens- 1 rooster) and losing a couple to neighbor dogs (including Bacon the teenage gangsta pack member),  I am soooo glad I have chicken-raising neighbors who coached me through my first crisis (one too many rooster) and told JK and me exactly where to stick the knife. The Coq au Vin was as good as any I have cooked and eaten.

Interested to learn more? Not on the web but live and in person with people who love their food and make it too. It’s easy this winter. Come to France (air fares are looking good, children!) this November (read about it here) or meet me in the North West this New Year 2010 as  I pack my Gascon bags with lots of ideas and tons of experience on making cassoulet, rendering duck fat, confit and natural foie gras with Neal Foley on his Podchef Island and Robert Reynolds at his wonderful Chef’s Studio in Portland.

Now about that wave… let’s keep it swelling. There are a lot of delicious rides ahead.

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and now a word from our sponsors….la basse-cour!

This French life is full jour & nuit of good food, hard work, and harvest. Although Camont is no longer the grand historic farm it was in the 18th century, we do stand on centuries of terra firma that resonate of good food cooked largely from la basse-cour- the farmyard of laying hens, ducks, geese and guinea fowl.

Last year, when Matt Chambas and Alvin Stillman built the chicken coop that we washed with Bleu de Lectoure, I had a vision of 3 or 4 hens pecking lazily around their own square in the potager carré. One year on, and after a volunteer gang helped to fence in the heritage orchard, we are holding at a dozen hens (with half in egg production at any given time), one Black Gascon Coq, a pair of Rouen Clair ducks and their three summer offspring. Some days I think about a couple pigs for next spring lounging in a straw bale hut or a pair of black-eyed lambs grazing the parc over the summer. I think that there is plenty of land to work in a small yet concise way. This morning while listening to the twittering birds,  @hyperlocavore tweeted this video about organic farmers Bette & Dale on their intensely farmed 1-1/2 acres. I got distracted, very distracted.

The Kitchen at Camont’s two-and half acres ramble along the Canal de Garonne, with the farmhouse and barn sitting in the middle like the knot in a fat bowtie separating the domesticated side of parc, potager, and basse-cour from the “where the wild things hide” side of wooded spring and shady stream. It’s a nice balance like wild honey and salty farm butter or a fat farm duck roasted with wild cèpes and watercress.

Golden egg custardA golden egg custard courtesy of the working girls!

Flexibility and structure work in cooking as well. Too many fresh eggs in the Bulgarian egg bowl led to a golden-hued baked custard for lunch. No recipe needed but the kitchen experience that 5 eggs plus a liter of milk with 3 tablespoons sugar and a shot of armagnac is a magic formula= whisk in large bowl, pour into a buttered cazuela and set in the oven at a medium heat for as long as it takes to cook.

To keep the balance in check in my life, I also like to mix the wild and unplanned hazards of life in the slow lane with a cartoon outline of what’s to come.  I am now ready to pump it up a notch and explore the edges of Camont’s beating heart. In an eggshell, I am looking for more eggs, metaphoric eggs that will produce delicious, golden, rich results.  Anyone interested in an organic gardening/forest garden/permaculture experience and ready to trade time & experience for French room & board, please contact me here on the intern and residency page

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