Duckys- cornmeal ducklard cookies

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It is just 26 days to D-day. January 1 2010 is Duck Day and I’m  counting days to my arrival on Podchef Island to help the @podchef himself, farmer, chef and food guru Neal Foley, kill, cook, cure and eat a few dozen meaty Rouen ducks. Someone declared December as ‘all-duck, all the time’ month. So as December’s kitchen becomes more and more infused with the scent of duck, I took a break from savory to sweet with these melt in your mouth shortbread cookies.

In the spirit of Ashley Rodriquez’ great post on bacon fat shortbread cookies here, ‘nothing goes to waste’ in the Kitchen at Camont. So with a bit of tweaking from Ashleys’ recipe and an inspirational nod to my sweet guru David Lebovitz easy jam tart use of cornmeal (after all ducks take to corn like… ) I baked up a first batch of these crumbling rich, nutty-flavored shortbreads. Duckys.

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Here’s the recipe for a few dozen Duckys

What:

70 gr duck fat

70 gr butter

50 gr white sugar

50 gr brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 Tablespoon white armagnac- (or rum)

200 gr white flour

80 gr fine cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

How:

I melted the duck fat and butter together with the sugar until it formed a broken caramel.

Then measured all dry ingredients into a large bowl, poured in fat/sugar mix, broke in the eggs with the armagnac then stirred like mad.

Next, I divdied the dough in half, formed two rolls, wrapped them in parchment and stuck them in the frigo until I was ready to bake.

Cut the rolls into thick slices. Place on cookie sheet. Bake in a hot oven (400’F) for 15 minutes or until slighty toasted. Quack! Quick, make coffee or tea!

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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?

hive studio

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.

setting up the shot

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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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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Ode to a Sweet Bee- or how to relax a garden.

BeBe Bee Bee-atrice Born on #Tweehive day

BeBe Bee Bee-atrice Born on #Tweehive day

I’m turning sweet on you, my friends, here in my untidy parc sauvage,

my feathered orchard, my alive-with-critters compound.

Honey, you are a busy growing part of my French world

and the food we grow to enjoy here at Camont.

minty bee pinup #2

Within one season of changing my garden habits, Camont has transformed from a tidy, neatly edged ‘ Two-acre Park’ to a home forager’s paradise.  A dynamic counterpart to the humm & buzz, bird twitter soundtrack of late summer, I now share Camont with chickens, ducks, cat, dog and honey bees as well as hungry students.   This is what I did ( or didn’t do…) to transform a tidy and quiet garden to a haven for wildlife and not-so-wild food.

  • banished all use of weedkiller like Round-up
  • bought a great long handled, open hoe to weed
  • left the brush pile from late winter prunings instead of burning them. results: we welcomed a hedgehog into the rose garden.
  • created a ‘no-go’ zone around Camont’s border- letting the nettles, dandelions, purslane & wild mint run rampant.
  • seeded an old variety of deep red clover in fallow areas of the potager (I’ll do more of this next spring)
  • stopped mowing the ‘parc’ area in favor of letting it naturalize. Results were a handful on new wild cherry trees and walnut trees sprouting up.
  • bought a scythe- way quieter than a weed-whacker.
  • planted a new entrance orchard by the drive with undergrowth of purslane and other ground cover.
  • let everything in the garden go to seed in it’s own turn. Results: honey bees on the chives, lettuce and fennel seed heads.
  • encouraged small groups of feverfew and borage to spread out.
  • created a small pond for the ducks and bees to use. Result: every visitor got involved helping to shore up the banks and outwit the chickens heavy scratching.
  • weeded less, enjoyed more.

I learned to see the garden as a process rather than a final outcome. When one of my well-meaning but clueless grown students suggested I might ‘hire’ someone to do it all for me, I just had to shake my head.  She just didn’t get that the time I spend mowing, weeding, wandering, smelling, planting, and harvesting comes back to me many fold in my uber-awareness of my home and how I live. Now when I see a patch of wild mint, I look for a working bee, and think of iced mint tea with honey. Before I clear a pile of branches, I make an ‘Andy Goldsworthy’ shrine to a possible nest for teh slug eating hedgehogs. And most of all I look… look hard to see if the bees have enough flowering for food and what I can let go or plant for next year to encourage my first honey efforts.

hive honey plate

Fall is a wonderful time to ‘tidy up’ the garden…but not too much, please. For more tips on relaxing your garden…click here and support the #Tweehive swarming this Saturday sept 5th  in your own Bee-autiful way on twitter. Tweet me at @katedecamont.

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Estouffade: crowing hens…cluck, cluck, cluck whole hog!

Do you know that hens crow too?

The new red hens are starting to lay their first eggs.  When the commotion in the chicken garden reaches a crescendo, I know there is yet another golden yolked egg waiting in the straw nest. But here in Gascony, even little Pigs crow. So when Judy Witts  and I start crowing this morning, it’s because after 4 years of reporting on all things pork at the Whole Hog Blog we made Saveur Magazine’s best of the web. Cluck, cluck, clucckkkk!

learning about pork from the ground up

learning about pork from the ground up

While Judy has been giving online courses to chefs  in making Porchetta, I have been waking up at 4 in the morning (ouch!) to drive charcuterie apprentices to the abattoir, hauling 150-pound half carcasses in the trunk of my Renault Clio back home, and helping them learn the names and cuts of the French Pig from jarret to jambon.  Then we cook, cure & preserve all week until the larder is full, the pantry est plein.

My favorite French ‘pulled pork’ is called escaoudoun in the Gascon patois. Tasted in a hideaway of a cafe in the Landes forest called La Croute du Pin where it was made with the typique Noir de Gascogne pig, I re-created the dish here at Camont with most of the shoulder from Camas’ graduation pig.

Camas' graduation ham

Once it cooked in the sweet onion sauce for a two hours, I ladled the sauce pork into large canning jars. When unannounced friends arrive for dinner, I’ll cook some Monalisa potatoes and serve them floating on an island of sweet onions pork, just like Madame did.

Recipe- for  Estouffade de Porc- l’Escaoudoun

  • 2 kilos / 4 1/2 lbs. of farm raised pork shoulder, cut into large cubes
  • 1 kilo of onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 soupspoons of duck fat
  • 1 bottle of sweet wine wine (jurancon or cote de gascogne)
  • 1/2 bottle madera, sherry or white port
  • 1 generous glass of armagnac
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • a large bouquet garni- lovage, bay leaf, thyme
  • sea salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, a lot of it!
  • a large pick of quatre épice  (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves)

The basic recipe is to cook all of the above until the onions have melted, the pork is falling apart and the flavors of the sweet wine mingle with the onion in a caramel-colored sauce.

Cook the onions in duck fat until they start to be translucent.  Add the pork and herbs, season (using only a little salt at this time to allow for reduction of the sauce), pour the wines and armagnac over the meat, cover and cook over a very slow heat for 2 hours or until meat is falling apart and the sauce is thick. Taste to reseason for salt. Serve warm with boiled potatoes.

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