May Day ~ Mayday ~ M’aider: in a pickle

May Day. All is quiet this early morning but the vast aviary outside my kitchen door. In France, this first seasonal holiday, Labor Day, is the promise of Summer to be. Although it still smacks of worker’s right and labor issues, waving red flags or lily of the valley, it is just a very quiet day in the Gascon countryside.

Mayday- Mud! The famous Garonne River Fog is late this year; it has rained, rained, rained these last two weeks. So much rain now that with the soggy bottom clay silt soil holding moisture like a sponge, the promise of a clear sunny sky later makes morning fog. My own little micro-climate at Camont alongside canal & river is good for the garden…if I could only get to it though the muck.

This week’s market also shouted “Mayday” with a rouge abundance of rhubarb, strawberries, peppers and early tomatoes. Instead of pique-niques, boat rides, country walks, and gardening, I’m sticking close to my Keeping Kitchen and brewing up some seasonal treats- micro batches, single jars, starter vats. Here’s the list from the market booty…

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frontdoor foraging in the garden-at-camont

“You could plant a stone at Camont and it would grow!”

I think of Vetou saying this 20+ years ago as I first started gardening at Camont. First a swath of  English-ish border plants lined the pathway to the canal: poppies, roses, lavender…

Next, Jhon Corbin- artist/matelot/friend, created a wine bottle border sculpture- Camont Woman-that filled in over the years with day lilies, delphinium, and more roses…

Until she was rousted from her slumber and the front path was ‘landscaped’. Sort of like trying to dress this old woman in a business suit of pine bark. Uck, it looked bad and didn’t work…

Over planting years came next. Weed-invaded textile ripped up, trees re-introduced, a jungle grew of crabapple, rosa banksiae, magnolia, almond, fig…

Are you getting the picture? Wild. Sauvage. Growing like stones… 

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Cook, Shoot & Eat Gascony…in London & Paris!


Si tu ne viens pas à La Gascogne, La Gascogne ira à toi! / “If you don’t come to Gascony, Gascony will come to you!” Paraphrased from one of my all time favorite swashbuckling  movies- Le Bossu, it does indeed serve as our cry to arms to bring a bit of Gascon country magic to two city venues- Paris and London for a weekend edition of our favorite Natural Light Natural Food photography workshop. Cook, Shoot &  Eat Gascony!

Cook:  Kate Hill brings a suitcase loaded with the best of Gascony: quatre epice and rose garlic de Lautrec as shot above, saucisson and othercharcuterie from the Chapolards,  foie gras and duck confit from Mme. Jehanne, wheels of cheese from the Pyrenees, les Pruneaux d’Agen, Armagnac, and Tarbais beans. Kate helps you recreate some of France’s most famous regional food from cassoulet to clafoutis, foie gras to terrines.

Shoot: Tim Clinch, famed lifestyle and food professional photographer, teaches you to hone your digital skills using only natural light and reflectors. Tim’s work liek these shots here and sprinkled liberally all over this site also graces the covers of magazines from Country Living to Forbes to House & Garden. Featured on international, magazine, food & design blogs and websites,  Tim’s knowledge of Gascony extends from the plate onto the page where he instructs workshops participants in the delicate art of Natural Light Shooting as well as working with Lightroom to process your new photographs into fabulous finished shots.

Eat: following the workshops we create the bistro vibe of a small French café as we gather around the tables to sample and share our Gascon dishes. The fete continues as we toast the fine products and cooking that create a new sampler of a Gascon portfolio for all to share. two wonderful lunches, one festive dinner!

Costs: Each 2 day workshop includes: 15 hours instruction w/ 2 teachers, 2 lunches & one dinner, all food costs, edible materials and props. Each participant must bring their own digital camera (optional computer). Two days in a top secret venue featuring fabulous food and creative energy costs in Paris: 300€ per day per person; in London: 300£ per day per person. For a closer look at our workshops:  http://www.naturallightnaturalfood.com/index.htm

Dates:  London: May 21 & 22, June 11 & 12. Paris: July 2 & 3. 2011

All photographs by Tim Clinch , food by Kate Hill at the Kitchen-at-Camont.

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What’s red & white all over? Butcher Shops in Gascony.

In the tiny Market town of Lavardac, where I go to the Wednesday Market and park down the a little road by the river, I pass this small, tidy as a pin, one-window-wide butcher shop.

I call it the Meat Museum.

The old scale in window on the ice box,

the red and white striped awning,

the yellow posters rallying the troops for bingo and angainst the new LGV- Ligne Grande Vitesse,

the bottles of very good, very local wine to go with a cote de boeuf; all point to the quality of an artisan butcher.

A man, a knife and his meat.

Welcome to my world.

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This Pig Earth: Whole Hog Blog Archives here!

“A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork.

What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand,

is that the two statements are connected

by an and not by a but.”


John Berger from Ladle-  Pig Earth


For all our NEW #Charcutepalooza Friends, a historic look at what we’ve been cooking the last 5 years whilst savoring the whole hog.

These archives hold dozens of pork recipes that Judy & I have cooked, some of which I’ll move to my new recipe tab, and dozens of stories of porcine hi-jinks we’ve cooked up including this Some Pig Blogging Weekend that features recipes from around the blogosphere like the recipe for Judy’s Fergus Henderson’s Pork Belly pictured above.

What’s your favorite Food Poem? Mine- always always always-

LADLE

by John Berger

Pewter pock-marked
Moon of the ladle
Rising above the mountain
Going down into the saucepan
Serving generations
Steaming
Dredging what has grown from seed
In the garden
Thickened with potato
Outliving us all
On the wooden sky
Of the kitchen wall

Serving mother
Of the steaming pewter breast
Veined by the salts
Fed to her children
Hungry as boars
With the evening earth
Engrained around their nails
And bread the brother
serving mother

Ladle pour the sky steaming
With the carrot sun
The stars of the salt
And the grease of the pig earth

Pour the sky steaming
Ladle
Pour soup for our days
Pour sleep for our nights
Pour years for our children

Thank you Mr. Berger for these delicious words.

Photo of John Berger by Jean Mohr- http://www.randomhouse.com/acmart/catalog/author.pperl?authorid=2062



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Poule-au-Pot…a chicken in every pot.

Camont's Henri IV

Merci Henri IV*.

You started a culinary tradition that outlasts event he most political promises when you declared in the late 1500’s-

Si Dieu me prête vie, je ferai qu’il n’y aura point de laboureur en mon royaume qui n’ait les moyens d’avoir le dimanche une poule dans son pot!

If God spares me, I will ensure that there is no working man in my kingdom who does not have the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday!

France's Henri IV

In Gascony, a Poule-au-Pot- or a Chicken-in-a-Pot has the mythic attributes that many cultures attribute to chicken soup- heart warming, restorative & familial.  Plus it sports the royal seal of approval from the most mythic king of France- Good King Henry or le Vert Galant. Rather than sporting an ill pallor or being the envious sort, the Vert here refers to the vigorous, sharp or spicy adjective characteristics of being green– as in a sauce verte.**

Here at Camont, we have our own pecking order of royalty. Our Black Gascon rooster, Henri IV, shares more than a name with his royal predecessor. he shares the heroic and amorous reputation of being a true lady’s man. Henri of Navarre has the enviable  reputation of being the Royal Lady’s Man with a hundred ladies-in-waiting at his beck and call, referred to as Catherine de Medici’s Escadron Volant or her famous flying squadron. Henri of Camont has his own ladies in waiting, laying at his beck and coco-ri-co or dashing about the le Parc de Basse-Cour or our Barnyard Park.

So when it came time ‘cull the flock’ and ‘harvest some meat’ , in other words remove a non-productive hen who had stopped laying (taking room & board away from the rest of the working girls), I turned to Henri IV of Navarre’s words and prepared a simple version of a traditional French Sunday dinner- la Poule-au-Pot.

First we killed the hen…

Now before I segue into a rant about a lot of ‘amateur’ urban farm killing taking place in back lots, or self-taught so-called-expert butchery (in the bad sense of the word) on small farms for enthusiastic but unwitting restaurants, let me make a positive appeal for working with the real experts. Experts are those men and women who have worked all their lives raising our food. They are trained in agricultural schools, on family farms, and as apprentices to others previous generations of experts.

Marie-Rose Blancuzzi, my go-to-neighbor and friend came by for a hands-on demonstration. Marie-Rose is a French housewife. She is also an expert chicken killer. Every year since she married the dashing Italian Franck Blancuzzi, nearly 50 years ago, she has raised, slaughtered and cooked hundreds of substantial farm chickens. I have killed a handful of chickens and ducks, fish, pigs over these Gascon years. But I like learning hand-to-hand, and I wanted Marie-Rose to show me some trucs or tricks. Mostly what she showed me was how simple and easy to make it while being sweet and gentle with the good hen who had laid 2 years worth of eggs- somewhere around eggs or so.

So we took the hen from the cage where I had rested her overnight with a sister hen away from the others, (in the end we didn’t kill the second the hen; she got a timely reprieve because she laid an egg in the cage). Marie-Rose cradled her under her arm like a furry black basketball, while Erika grabbed a knife, a pot of hot water and her camera.

I held the hen by her feet and wings while M-R held her head and beak closed. She then extended her neck, sliced the thin sharp knife just under the earlobe and through the main arteries. Holding the head over a pan in which to collect the blood, Marie-Rose encouraged the hen, “Va, va…” I held the body as her life left and the muscles relaxed, her comb and earlobes pale.

Now to pluck.  A quick dunk of the feet first allowed us to peel off the tough outer skin of the feet. I would use the feet in the soup.

Then a few up and down dunks into the hot not boiling water ( approx. 140’F) before the two of us starting at the wings, began to pluck the soft feathers.

Within a few minutes, we were done and the feathers and warm water went into the compost pile. a Perfect way to jump start the pile. The hefty warm carcass sported plump breasts, meaty legs and well-developed bone structure. Back in the kitchen, M-R showed me a neat trick to eviscerate the carcass much like cleaning a foie gras duck.

She removed the mostly empty tripe (not feeding her the night before or early morning made for a cleaner removal of the intestines), the windpipe, crop, gizzard, heart and a surprisingly golden fatted liver. The excess amounts of fat in her cavity attest to how well-fed Camont’s free-range birds are and the liver, like a mini-foie gras was a tasty treat for cooks and helpers alike. We split the chicken in two, each of us taking a half of the hefty nearly 3 kilo bird. I’m not sure how Marie-Rose cooked her half yet, But I chose to make a very local, very Gascon, very easy version of Henri IV’s famous poule-au-pot.

Henri IV's Famous Poule-au-Pot

Cooking the laying hen for much longer than a commercially raised fryer, I used carrots, onions, thyme, bay, garlic, salt & pepper for the base as it stewed away for over two hours. The broth it made was/is heavenly and we ate the chicken, soup and all with some cardoon slices and made an eggy golden potato puree to serve as a sort of rough dumpling.

Happy I am to have a chicken every week in my pot. It doesn’t have to be Sunday. It doesn’t have to be a economic promise. But it does have to taste good! Merci Henri.

All fotos here by the Gascon Kitchen’s 2010 Photographer in Residence

Erika Hildegarde Johnson

*for more about Henri IV start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_IV_of_France

**for your “French-word-a-day”

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Projet Cochon- the Butcher & the Kids

The white blackboard read: Project- “dans le cochon tout est bon” . And so it was.

This week, twenty-four French lycée students between 16-20 years old and their professors M. Franck LAPIERRE and M. Jean Marc BOUILLY allowed three American kitchen-crashers to look over their shoulders as Dominique Chapolard, artisan butcher and pork producer, demonstrated in the expansive  school kitchen that “in the pig, all is good!”

The attentive white-clad chefs-in-training crowded around as M. Chapolard reconstructed the whole pig carcass, piece by piece, organ by organ. Silence reigned as Dominique, our master butcher mentor here at Camont, explained what goes into making good pork from field to table.

Only when he split the skull to reveal the tiny brain did squeamish teenage yelps erupt.  Quickly silenced by Chef Lapierre, he teased them that they see more blood on the horror films they watch. After the initial hour of dissection, as the muscle groups began to resemble familiar meat cuts, this next generation of France’s good cooks began to chop and grind, season and taste, while the scent of Gascony’s prized pork filled the kitchen. A hind leg became a Jambon, a shoulder a Roti de Porc. The large rib cage transformed into ventreche, poitrine and travers. Legs broke down into jarret and pied de porc while the caul fat was washed and leaf lard rendered out before grattons were drained and pressed into a terrine.

les 3 garcons

This fine piggy day was a part of “Cooking at the Source-Gascony“, a collaboration between Robert Reynold’s Chef’s Studio in Portland, Oregon and my own Kitchen-at-Camont. We spent the morning with our good friend and farmer/butcher Dominique Chapolard as he did a day long demonstration for the students of  the Lycee Jacques-de-Romas in neraby Nerac. For upcoming Duck workshops in the U.S. and France consult our program pages.

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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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Could this be your Perfect Pig on an October morning?

free range Frenhc pigs

The Agen market is full of surprises on a perfect fall morning.

Today, shopping for quince, cress, and cilantro I ran into a drove of pigs.

Free-range, pasture-raised French pigs.

pigs in forest

Like a stage setting, simplicity itself- one knife, a cleaver, a wooden block,

bacon boy

& a smile.

Julien Veyrac

of Tournon d’Agenais

HPIM2387

No one was more surprised than me to meet the new butcher boy on the block

and discover some damn good looking charcuterie and fresh pork.

Merci, Julien for taking over the family farm.

See you next Wednesday for your andouillette-

my secret ingredient for an onctuous cassoulet.

producer of pasture-raised pigs

Wednesdays- Agen Central Market

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