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A French Spring: where summer food begins

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The first time I drove into the Lot-et-Garonne department, it was the Spring of 1988. It was snowing. I was driving into a sunny snow storm on the Canal de Garonne.  I remember masses of purple wisteria wired to stone walls, draped over pergolas and woven onto iron fences competing with a thousand tidy orchards exploding with blossom.  Growing up in Hawaii and Southern California, I had a seasonally deprived childhood. I didn’t see my first daffodil until I was in my 20’s and never had a garden planted from seeds and stolen shoots. No wonder that I continue to be amazed at what springs out of dead looking branches and against old stone walls. Since that first French Spring, there have been many other memorable March days with hail, sun and rain- all within the same day. We call it Les Giboulees de Mars- when the wind roars around all 360 degrees and the sun shoves the clouds away. Anything can happen now. And now, so many years later, I still marvel at the explosion of color and weather of this four season paradise- Gascony.

The orchards and fields in this old river basin are sowed and planted, terraced and treed, and dotted with old stone farmhouses claiming small plots of garden. My neighbor’s lemon trees have come out into the sun from their winter shelter in the barn; a beautifully trained wisteria down the road is ready to burst into lilac bunches; a scattering of soapwort rises pink and pretty at the corner of the lane. Camont sports it’s share of color this week, too and wears it proudly like a banner announcing what’s to come.

spring table flowersFrom my new kitchen window at Camont I see forsythia yellow and peach pink, acid green of the willows leafing out and a million paper white petals of the many wild plums trees along the canal. It’s not all pretty flowers though and these are Food Stories, right? So I pluck a handful of blossoms to bring inside, take some of the prunings for a vase, and start plotting the plantings of raspberry, pomegranate and other fruiting bushes I am using to fill in a new ‘foresty’ garden area. (inspired by the King of Forest Gardening Robert Hart) Of course, I see the sprigs of pink and white blossoms first, but I quickly jump to what comes next. At Camont, the most beautiful first tree to sprout deep pink flowers is the actually the last to harvest. It’s is a blood-red peach- a pêche de vigne-  and I can already taste the bright deep stain running down my September chin. When I planted that tree many years ago, I couldn’t imagine the joy of anticipation its pretty flowers would bring. This is the point of ‘frontyard foraging’- plant it now; you’ll be foraging your own yard soon enough.

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It’s a little ritual to wait. Wait to see the next harvest before I use the last of the old. So now I can take the last jars of red peach jam to spread over a goat cheese tartlette or use the deep red cocktail syrup in a Gascon tribute to spring- a Giboulée de Mars Inspired by last month’s cocktail shaker, Sean Richardson, and good friend and a Smarter and Fitter Smoothie Master, Monica Shaw, I whipped up a ‘cocktail smoothie’ to celebrate this delicious equinoctial moment and all the good food to grow, forage and discover outside my kitchen doors.

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Giboulée de Mars- a Cocktail Smoothie for Spring

  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup farm fresh yogurt
  • large soup spoon of homemade pêche de vigne jam or other summer fruit confiture (raspberry, peach, apricot…)
  • several ice cubes broken up in smaller pieces
  • one cup of fresh grapes or grape juice, water, or other liquid
  • a shot of honeysuckle liquor, framboise or other fruit alcohol.

Blend and drink!

Now when I look into my potager garden beds–moved closer last year to the kitchen terrace in a mosaic of metal rimmed squares– and I am hankering to see everything blooming and budding, I remember that first French Spring snow storm. Although it might be the first days of Spring, anything can happen. So patience is the word for the rest of this month. A little extra planning now, will result in a lot more productivity later. This is where my Food Stories from Gascony begin. Remember, flowers = fruit.

For more about Pêche de Vigne and planting your garden read these Spring posts:

 

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Basque encounters of a ham kind

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Driving across the Landes forest southwest from Camont and towards the Pyrenees, is a lesson in patience. I am in a hurry to leave our Camont cocoon, get in the van and start the day driving south. I know that once I pass the kilometers of scraggy maritime pines and sandy fern littered forest floor, I’ll start to get glimpses of mountain clouds, snow-licked peaks, and green pastures. Late leaving, late driving and smothered in fog as we leave the Garonne River Valley, I try to explain to my colleagues and students why we are driving so far… to eat more charcuterie. IMG_7670

I tell a few tales of Basque friends- a California pig breeder perched on the side of a mountain near the pilgrim’s trail raising her family and making cheese; a passionate charcutier who weaves magic with his salt and air spells; a group of small producers who banded together to build a state of the art small processing plant minutes from their mountain valley homes. I try to describe the small Basque auberge in a tiny village where we’ll stay and only end up dithering about church bells answering the sound track of cowbells from the pastures across the valley. I forget to say that that our rooms are large, new, clean and have great views from the balconies.

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The roads that led me here originally are washed over with layers of other memories and jumbled with trips with friends, family or previous students. This trip is the only one that counts now. And I am anxious to get to the end of the road; a road that leads up and up over a mountain top, across a prehistoric path, and back into time. The skies are hazy all afternoon and as we enter the Vallee des Aldudes; smoke streams from the millennial tradition of écobuage or controlled burns as far as we can see and the mountains remain elusive. Where is the foehn effect? That warm dry fresh blowing breeze that helps create this a world class ham growing area. Here, in open air ventilated chambers like this one at Eric Ospital’s Hasparren site, special hams are hanging in white cloth bags for 18-36 months ripening to the temperate breezes and gentle temperature fluctuations.IMG_9248

From mountain pig to salt springs, the drying winds and historic fairs, ham is written across the hills as pigs have crushed chestnuts and turned up brambles. Medieval liturgy dictated curing and aging times and stone sculptures ring the porticos of area cathedrals.  A leftover hospitality to pilgrim and patron alike insures that when we are invited in to the home of one Basque pig producer, we are fed soft shards of nutty ham and slices of chewy saucisson. We never get hungry here. This is along the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostello and we are following in old footprints. We made new friends, we cemented old friendships and we celebrated the successful completion of 2 student’s own paths to discover their salty futures.

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My students have been building up to this all month- they have watched, made, and tasted dozens of good farmstead products working alongside the Chapolard family and in our teaching kitchen at Camont. Now they are seeing out in a new world, how charcuterie–French farmstead charcuterie– rules an entire land. We meet the ham kings, the pig saviors, the community chefs that elevated the work of the land to celestial standing. IMG_9251_2

The wealth of ham–Ibaiona, Jambon de Bayonne, Jambon de Kintoa– leaves a salty impression on us all. The appreciation for the days and weeks and months of work that lead to a quality product that takes over 3 years old to produce is cemented forever in my brain as we hear over and over again about the need for the best raw material, the attention to detail, and the need for patience- patience to let time work its magic. IMG_9254_2

So I am back to the P word again- patience. I realize that after all the times I have visited Eric Ospital’s ham cave, I never seen these hams removed for sale. I have photographed them barely swinging in the foehn wind from their chains, draped like ghosts in their fine white shrouds, and waxed with lard and flour to keep them from drying too fast. This was the first time I had seen them removed from their place of patience and readied for delivery. How many other edible products need so much time and attention, space and patience before we place a thin slice on our tongues and whisper reverently? Oh, jambon…

 

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For more information about eating ham and traveling through the Basque Lands with me- http://www.kitchen-at-camont.com/course/basquelandia-road-trip/

 

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Saucisse de Couenne- pork rind sausage

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“Everything but the oink.” Nothing goes to waste on a pig. Of all the nose-to-tail recipes I love, from Fergus Henderson’s slow-braised pork belly to Michel Dussau’s Brioche de Boudin Noir et Pomme, I love the fat and simple pork rind sausages that stud my cassoulets and deliver an extra flavor and texture bomb to braised cabbage, sage-infused beans and my own poule-au-pot.

The Recipe for Saucisse de Couenne

Ingredients: for every kilo of mixture use 1/3 rind to 2/3 meat

330 g fresh pork rind (cooked and chilled*)

     *To prepare the rind, cut into long strips about 5 cm wide, scrape off all the fat, roll loosely, tie with a string. Cook in clear water for 2-3 hours. Remove from liquid and let cool. (I threw in 500 grs. or a pound of dried beans with these and let them cook a the same time.)

660gr freshly minced pork (lean meat and belly)

17 gr salt 

6 gr freshly ground black pepper (this is a flavorful peppery amount- reduce to 4 gr if you are scared of pepper)

seasoning:

  • one large bunch parsley
  • chopped chives and green onions

or

  • small glass of white wine
  • generous pinch quatre épice

Grind the cooled, cooked rind and meat on a small hole (6mm) plate.

Add salt and pepper.

Add seasoning.

Mix well and stuff in thick casings (saucisson- 50mm); tie well on both ends. Let set overnight (24-2=48 hours)

Poach in water 15 minutes or confit in fat over a low flame- for 30 minutes.

Serve with lentilles du puy, beans or greens.

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J’adore la poule au pot authentique et naturelle, telle que le bon sens gascon l’a créée. La poule au pot n’est pas sophistiquée, elle est unique.

Maire-Claude Soubiron Gracia Rey

Canning Confit de Canard

IMG_8432 Cooking confit de canard is one thing; putting it up in jars to save for later in the year is another. Here are some pictures of the traditional process as practiced in thousands of home kitchens across the France.  Once the confit is cooked to a tender stage–notice the skin and meat have pulled off the leg bone– the pieces of duck meat are placed carefully in clean jars, covered with the cooking fat, and sealed with a new capsule and lid. The jars are placed in a large zinc bouilloire, covered with water and brought to a boil. The jars are boiled for about 2 hours and then let cool in the water. The outer lid is removed (otherwise it will rust to the capsule!-#voiceofexperience) and the jars are wiped dry, fixed with a label and placed in the pantry.  We’ll be eating this confit with frites, served on a big summer salad with peaches or smothered under a layer of mashed potatoes for a ‘Gaveuse Pie’ or Confit Parmentier.  A staple of the Gascon pantry, confit de canard is worth all the work! IMG_8413

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So what does one do during the rest of the afternoon while the boiler is burbling and the steam warms the kitchen? A slice of home-cured ham and a glass of rosé shared with friends makes the time pass gently in my new Keeping Kitchen–at Camont.

 

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Learning at Camont 2015

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I have to admit I am as drawn to the new as much as the old; the latest smart TV has been a pleasant diversion these last few winter nights; my iPhone is a constant companion; I am looking forward to the learning to make ebooks and other self-publishing adventures. But the Old Ways still hold me in thrall.

I was delighted to find a reference to an old way of curing duck legs- true Jambon de Canard- in a cherished old French book by Marie-Claude Gracia-La Belle Gasconne. Dried, salt-cured Magret de Canard or duck breasts from fatted ducks has been popular with the charcuterie set for some time. I consider it the entry level red meat to learn about what salt, time, humidity and temperature does to meat. A quick overnight cure and 10-14 days drying is enough to convince even the most nervous Nelly that curing meat at home is not only doable, but delicious. It what we start with on the first week of our butchery & charcuterie programs here at Camont.

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This long lost mention of Jambon or Ham from duck legs had me at the mention of “age-ing in ashes”. So I took the idea to task and started my 2015 charcuterie year with something new, something old. After boning out the thigh bone on these home-grown Muscovy duck legs (leaving the leg bon in the drumstick), I rubbed them generously in course salt and left them a couple days in the refrigerator to cure. The next day, I dried them off and rolled the boneless thigh into a tight roll and tied a handsome roll of knots all the way up to the end of the leg. A dusting of freshly ground pepper before wrapping in one layer of cheesecloth was all the spices this would need. The three legs went into a wooden wine box lined in brown paper and a thick layer of cold wood ashes from my beloved Jotul stove. I covered the legs with more ash and another loose layer of paper marked with the date.

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This week when called upon by a dear client to come and cook a festive frosty Sunday Lunch at a friend’s house near Bordeaux, I tossed on of the legs into my charcuterie basket. The thin slices of dried duck were salty, peppery and just right to accompany a lovely rose champagne as an aperitif. At Camont I would have served a sweeter offering like Floc de Gascogne or a fruity Cote de Gascogne.

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The rest of that meal was an homage to more Old Ways-

  • Cooking a perfect Magret-rare and juicy-and serving it with Vetou’s Triple Wine Sauce (red wine, red wine vinegar, and wine jelly). Vétou is working with me again and I love it!
  • A golden lobe of fresh foie gras was pan seared and served with a quickly made prune-infused vinegar glaze.
  • A winter tarte of apples and candied chestnuts with a GF cornmeal and chestnut flour butter pastry was served with a sip of afternoon armganac.

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Learning at Camont is what we call our new program of day classes, month long courses, and weekend workshops in 2015. And just to add something else new to the beginning of this year, I will be offering an 2-day Kitchen Charcuterie workshop in Duck- confit, rillettes, and salt curing and a little foe gras on the side. Here is what we will be doing on Jan 24 & 25:

Kitchen Charcuterie: The Fat Duck- Cooking Traditions in the Southwest of France

 Two nights & Two days in Gascony making confit, rillette & paté.

Jan 24- Saturday Arrive by train at the Gare d’Agen mid-morning and we go straight to Camont new Keeping Kitchen. Today we’ll breakdown and butchery whole foie gras ducks, salt them overnight for making confit tomorrow. In the afternoon, we’ll make rillettes, paté, and prepare the foie gras au torchon et en terrine.  Lunch before the cozy fire in Camont’s traditional kitchen.

Jan 25- After a quick visit to Agen’s weekly market, we’ll return to Camont and start the traditional confit cooking, in a copper kettle and outside, while we process the rillettes and paté in glass jars for you to take home. After a lovely Sunday lunch we’ll ‘can’ the confit for you to take home in jars, processed and shelf stable. Return by early evening train from Agen.

Each two-day workshop is 475€ and includes lunches; each participant will have an whole duck (6-7 kg) including foie gras to work with and take home. You can choose to add additional ducks for an additional materials costs (approx 50€ each including jars).  Each duck produces 4 jars of confit, 2 jars of rillettes, and 2 jars of paté. we’ll also pack up and ship them to you if desired.

To book or for more information fill in this little form!

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2015 Programs at Camont

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Along with my new teaching kitchen, new version of this website is nearly finished, but I couldn’t wait any longer! Here are the dates for all programs- from an Introductory Kitchen Charcuterie to our 4 week long French Farmstead Butchery & Charcuterie for those wishing to start a business, discover whole hog farmstead charcuterie, or just understand the Old World traditions of seam butchery for charcuterie. There are also lots of Cooking-at-Camont days for those longing to learn how to make a true Cassoulet, master the easy all butter French pastry for tartes and tourtes, or just enjoy the gracious art de vivre at Camont’s terrace table. And to tempt the adventurous traveler, I am planning a couple Roadtrips as well: Mexico in March and Basquelandia in the April.

2015 Programs

  • February 16- 4 week French Farmstead Butchery & Charcuterie
  • March in Mexico- I’m hatching a plan- ask me!
  • April 8, 29- Cooking at Camont-The Spring Sessions!
  • April 12- One week Introduction to Kitchen Charcuterie
  • April 19- Basquelandia Roadtrip
  • May 11- Savory Spoon Special Week in Gascony
  • May 24- One week Introduction to Kitchen Charcuterie
  • June 3, 17- Cooking at Camont- Summer Sessions
  • June 21-  One week Introduction to Kitchen Charcuterie
  • July 1, 15 – Cooking at Camont- Summer Sessions
  • Aug 5- Cooking at Camont- Summer Sessions
  • Sept 7- 4 week French Farmstead Butchery & Charcuterie
  • Oct 5- One week Introduction to Kitchen Charcuterie
  • Oct 11-24 US Workshops
  • Nov 2- 4 week French Farmstead Butchery & Charcuterie

Need to know more? Just write me a note or leave a comment here. Now, about that new website…  Stay tuned!

 

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Éphémère Courses in French Living: FMR-at-Camont

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I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching lately. How we learn an idea or a skill. How we assimilate it into our everyday life.

As the summer garden blooms along the kitchen wall, I think about the lessons learned this spring. How even now, that season is just a memory and summer replaces spring thoughts with it’s full blown abundance. My friend Elizabeth Murray‘s new book- Living Life in Full Bloom is a good guide. She reminds me that “The grateful heart sits at a continuous feast.”

The Continuous Feast that is Camont is at the heart of my teaching.  I teach many things here at Camont: how to make a pastry tart; how to make a ham. How to bone out a pork shoulder and make paté. How to cook a meal from start to finish; how to confit a duck from start to finish. Those are things I can tell you how to do step-by-step, demonstrate, help you hands-on, and give you a taste of the final product. However there are other things that I teach that are a bit more…ephemeral.

Éphémère: in French, it is a wonderful scrabble word with lots of accented e’s, the name of those short-lived Mayflies that rise out of the canal once a year, and the very elegant French equivalent of the term ‘Pop-Up’.  I think that it is also a very special category of lessons I  give everyday here at Camont. Recent Butcher & Charcuterie student Diana Dinh nailed it in her ode to the Elderflower Cordial.

At that point of the trip, I had already cut most parts of the pig, slaughtered, gutted, and butchered ducks, and knew how to make five different kinds of paté. But I felt especially proud of making this floral syrup, proud enough to lug thick glass jars of it home to the States. They are proof that I could go beyond my assumptions of what I am capable of doing, that sometimes I need to get  out of my own head and just do it. “

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Everyday is as fleeting as those transparent Mayflies. The spring seeds planted have sprouted and are producing the first summer meals. Vin de Noix time has come and gone …already. The lessons learned are often not what we were seeking out, but what was placed in our path to discover. In the kitchen, in the garden, at the market…that’s easy. The stimulus for learning is tangible, sensory and dynamic. However how do we achieve that online? I am thinking about it–on this ephemeral Sunday morning in the French countryside.

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And a last Sweet Fleeting Summer memory of Paige on her Birthday at Camont- with the all-too-fleeting Chocolate Éphémère cake.

Merci Paige for all your good energy, willing help, chicken wrangling, garden digging, and wonderful family meals…at Camont.

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More Tips on How to Have a Great Vacation in the French countryside…

Before we jump into Tip # 11, refresh your last summer lessons- the Top Ten “How to have a Great Vacation in the French Countryside.”

http://kitchen-at-camont.com/2013/06/17/47-tips-vacation-french-countryside/

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and then

http://kitchen-at-camont.com/2013/08/06/47-tips-for-a-great-vacation-in-the-french-countryside-6-10/

Ready for Number Eleven? When the first hint that Summer has arrived, don’t looking back, switch gears instantly and embrace…

Tip #11   Turn Summer into a Verb

I summer, you summer, he and she summers.

We summer, you all summer, and they summer.

When I heard this some summers ago, I decided to embrace the idea from the first summery day of June to the last warm evening of September. Now, I summer all season long. And here are my favorite ways:

 

market tomatoesBuy Fruit and Vegetables in Flats as in “I’m going to summer these tomatoes!”

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Summer PitchersWill you summer the garden a bit, s’il vous plait?

slider-GaronneLet’s summer down by the canal a bit.

slider-marketThey’ve summered up the market square!

slider-tartCome over and summer a little supper with us this evening.

It doesn’t take much to get in the mood and start flinging summery sayings around your conversations. How do you define summer as a verb? let me know here. The best definition get’s a free copy of my Six Summer Recipe e-Cookbook. Comment below. and don’t forget to summer a little this evening.

 

 

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Chicken and Egg- nothing new under the sun…

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This little book dropped into my lap yesterday. Actually, it was gently placed in my basket by my bargain hunting sister on a day’s outing with the Camont Crew to the Fête des Plantes in the village of Lamontjoie.  In it is the record of one small chicken/egg producer during the year 1903. Funny how nothing much has changed. I can read the puffed up pride of new chicken ownership, the prolific accomplishment of rabbit wrangling, the punctilious accounting of sacs of grain and bales of hay between the delicate dotted lines.

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Starting with 1 coq, 14 poules, 5 cocquelets, 2 canards, et 56 lapins, this little almanac chronicles the basse-cour on one small French farm in the year when the Tour de France began.  How many feathered and furred critters raised, how many eggs laid and sold, and how much feed, seed, and hay bought over that year? Who administered this rural menagerie? I don’t know, but I am sure it was a tiny but formidable French housewife like my neighbor Madame Sabadini at the Ferme Bellevue.

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Over the year, her hens and ducks laid 2186 eggs. The season’s bounty peaked in April at 404 eggs and  by August had started to drop by halves each month, with barely an egg or two a day in October and November.   I imagine the disappoint of November marked by a minuscule zero, day after day until in a last flurry of fecundity, the ducks started laying for an early hatching.  Five large white duck eggs in Mid-December. The meticulous accounting scratched in a fine-nibbed ink pen tells more than the seasonal flow of farming; more than balancing the centimes spent and earned for feed and shelter. Most months, she spent as much or more than she earned; some months, she made several francs and centimes more than spent. It was a delicate balance. No one was getting rich. But they ate well.

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What’s old is new and barnyard chickens have their place in the modern home again- 110 years later. This ad in the back of this French booklet is touting an American feed product that included smoked (dried) meat as well as grain, oyster shells,salt, ginger and iron. Here at Camont, we feed our flock a mix of whole grains- wheat, barley, oats, flax and corn, all the garden and kitchen scraps, and all the slugs and bugs they can scratch and peck in the orchard and parc.

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It’s an old story, but I raise a few chickens- 10, and a fewer ducks 6, at Camont not because it saves us money, but because we eat the best tasting eggs in town. When a clutch of eggs is hatched, a few more cockerels are destined for the pot, a few more girl chicks for next spring growing into fat laying hens, a few old working girls retired into a golden broth Poule-au-Pot. Last year’s Christmas ducklings have now become summer confit.

We ate this simple salad yesterday. There is no recipe. Look- just an abundance of good escarole lettuce, the first local market tomatoes, and a bowl of hard boiled eggs topped by a lemony mayonnaise made with those golden yolks. One hundred and ten years of barnyard  productivity on a plate. Reason enough to learn about raising birds.

More stories about eggs and chickens at Camont:

 On counting eggs-

Making the Catalan Spinach Egg Tortilla  

What to do with duck eggs

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