The man who liked olive trees
Several years ago I interviewed a Swedish chef in Paris. A young man with good looks and pretty dreams. He told me that one day he’d like to live in the countryside, grow his own vegetables, have dogs. I asked him if he wanted to realize these dreams back home in Sweden. He thought about it for a few seconds and said “No, not that I don’t like Sweden but my farm must have olive trees so I need to be somewhere south. Probably Italy or southern France.” I never saw him again and frankly I had all but forgotten about him until last year when we were planning to move into our new house and needed to tidy up the garden. When 1 rue de Loudenne was known as “Hotel de France” they had big trees in the courtyard in front of the house and even some, rather out of place, palm trees, probably to add an exotic touch. But when we came into the story there was nothing left but weeds, a few out of shape bushes and a handful of roses that were surviving against the odds. We always knew that we’d want to a Magnolia tree so that went in first but what else should we plant?
Oddur and I love olives and olive trees but somehow Médoc had never felt like that kind of place. You can see a few olive trees here and there but this is hardly olive country. We consulted our gardener, Nicolas, about the wisdom of investing in several olive trees and got the typical “French” answer. Normalement it would be fine … unless it wouldn’t be fine. When pressed he was ready to go further and say that the chances of the trees being fine were greater than of them not being fine. Oddur (who thinks a 20% chance of something happening is pretty good) took that as an absolute green light and since I’m not without a sense of risk taking myself I jumped on board.
So now we have a little or rather a tiny olive grove in front of our house, we have many dogs, we grow our own vegetables and we live in the south of France.
Next time someone tells you their dreams you should listen carefully, they might in fact be disclosing your own.
The olives that vanished
In November last year, a few weeks before we finally moved in, we planted one 70 year old, big olive tree and a few smaller ones in the courtyard in front of 1 rue de Loudenne. It felt a bit like cheating but the big ones had tons of olives on it already when we got it. And when I say tons I mean something like 15 – 20 kilos, which in new olive farmer language translates as tons. Nicolas, the gardener, and his wife were helping us out with painting the rooms and every day we’d take a look at the olives and debate if they were ready. Oddur was impatient, so was I but Nicolas insisted we wait a little, they “need a few more days” he always said. Then one evening at dusk, during our daily olive talk and deliberations about the best way to handle them once picked (plain water or salted and then after which herbs and oils to use) Nicolas lost his patience and said “let’s just pick them now”. So out we went, buckets in hand to finally get our hands on those purple black, glistening olives. But they were gone, every single one. They had been there yesterday, but it seemed as if they had evaporated before our eyes during the night or even during the day as we were painting. We searched the ground for clues and found, where there should have been at least some evidence, not a single olive, not a broken branch. Nothing at all.
The garden was left unguarded during the nights as we hadn’t moved in yet but who would steal olives in the night, with such precision and neatness. Surely the most meticulous thief would drop some olives in the dark, or at least one. So we turned our attention to birds. Do they like olives? We thought not. We knew they liked cherries but those are sweet. Olives, freshyly picked let’s face it, taste terrible. So we just scratched our heads, finished the painting and were left to wonder what had happened. The mystery of the evaporated olives remained just that. Not of the sort maybe to bring Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot out of retirement but big enough to get a little village quitely talking.
Oddur and I discussed how this was the perfect material for a short story. The disappearing olives in the quiet village. Of course we have different litterary takes on it. My husband likes realism, he likes Chekhov and Lucien Freud. I like South American litterature and Gustav Klimt. His fictional version of events goes like this (of course the dogs are the heroes in his story): One day when we’re walking the dogs in the village they pick up a familiar scent, something they recognize from our garden, and lead us to a beat up but beautifull house just outside St Yzans. It’s walls are terracotta pink and there is a single, beautiful olive tree just in front of the house. We politely knock on the door and the man who greets us, olive-skinned and big nosed, hesitantly invites us into his humble dining room. It’s sparsely decorated but the outstanding piece is a crystal bowl filled with the most luscious olives. The man knows that the game is up and graciously invites us to his cellar where there are hundreds of jars of cured olives lining the humid walls. Every one is meticulously numbered and signed. The man readily admits his crime but instead of showing any sign of remorse he offers, as penance, to cook us a meal, starred with olives. He takes out the finest cuts of ham, the best wines and together we cook an olive-macerated feast that carries on into the night. Then we leave, happy. My (more accurate version – for this is what really happened) is like this: One night I wake up and something calls me to my bedroom window towering over the garden and all the olive trees. The dogs are sleeping and don’t notice anything but what at first seems like bird or bats swirling around the trees are in fact legions of women in black dresses floating in the air, picking olives and placing them carefully in baskets lined with the finest silks and chiffons. Having no fear of them I grab a dress of my chair, that happens to be black also, and glide down the stairs to join them. They lead me into my kithcen, which is now their kitchen and together we wash the olives, cure them in saltwater and lay them in carefully crafted crystal jars with silver lids. The floors are covered in olive branches and leaves and though we are barefoot, walking on them feels like walking on the finest velvet carpet. We make a simple soup together, not with olives but with herbs and vegetables and have it with the most delicious wine I have ever tasted. Then each of the women takes a jar, clutches it to her chest and glides into the darkness outside. The last one, Plantia, takes the last jar and places it in my hand, then floats into the night. The next morning I wake up happy and run down the stairs to find my olives. They are gone but a few months later, in the cellar under our house, when the olives are ready, I find the jar again. I use them to cook a meal for my family. The best meal we’ve ever had.
My fantastcial story makes much more sense than my husband’s because, if you think about it, an army of flying women is much more likely to gently pick the olives without a trace than one old man. But to each his own!
The wet lunch
This year we were determined not to lose our olives at any cost and decided to harvest before December. But it had to be special. The harvest this year, despite us planting even more trees, is smaller than last year – the trees need time to adjust. We decided to do it on a Wednesday, when kids don’t have school and we thought it was a good idea to invite our dear friends Fabien and Florence who have a winemaking Château and have invited us to so many harvest lunches (where there’s actually a real harvest). The Wednesday in question arrived and though it was pouring with rain Oddur was upbeat. “It’s even better” he said – “who wants to pick olives in the sun”. I wasn’t really convinced “hum, probably everyone” was my answer. But we went ahead and though it was wet it was wonderful. Fabien, as always, brought a case of his wine, Château Tour Haut-Caussan, this time the 2012 which we hadn’t tasted before. It’s young, but I liked it, already round and lovely … as wine experts would say. Mathis (Fab and Flo’s son) charmed the girls, who won’t admit it but they all want to marry him, except maybe Mia who’s in his class. Allegra and I prepared the apples, cooked the pork, baked the madeleines. Gaïa and Louise pouted and shouted a lot. There were two colors of Champagne, courtesy of a very lovely guy called Nicolas who is the brand manager at Ruinart. He’s French, lives in NY but was back home on some family business. When a mutual friend (Mr W. M. Brown) told Nicolas that Ruinart Rosé was my favorite Champagne he decided to stop by a workshop and treated everybody to loads of Champagne. And luckily he left us a few more bottles. He also told us some good champagne stories. Nicolas told us that the first customers of Champagne were the king at Versailles and his court. They liked the bubbly feeling and wanted more. One of the king’s advisers, a monk, and Mr. Ruinart’s cousin, noticed the trend and told his cousin to use the family lands to make this new, refreshing drink. The rest is history – à votre santé!
Our crop in tons or kilos is a bowl. A big one that’s now filled with water that my husband changes religiously every day. As I am writing this the olives are still terribly bitter but beautiful to look at. They live in the “boucherie” (my other kitchen) far from the grasps of old men and flying ladies in black.
We will enjoy having them in the spring, but first Christmas!
Talking of Christmas and the presents that go with it I wanted to give you all an update of the workshops and their availability. We’ve had such incredible response to the announcement of the 2016 workshops that by now most of them are full. But, perhaps luckily for some of you, not all. There are still some spaces left in the March and April ones. May through September is completely full to say the least. October is getting there but November and December still have a few spaces left. So if any of you are interested please send a mail to [email protected] Here’s a link to the post explaining the workshops.
Baked apples with goat’s cheese, lardons & walnuts
8 medium-sized apples
230 g/8 ounces goat’s cheese
230 g/8 ounces lardons
A handful of walnuts
2 tablespoons honey
Salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C
In a sauté pan, cook the lardons on a medium heat and cook until golden.
Slice the top of the apple and set aside. Core and slightly hollow out the apples with a spoon, leaving the bottom of the apples intact to create a well for the filling. Stuff about a tablespoon of goat’s cheese, a few crumble walnuts and the lardons. Place in a baking dish, drizzle with honey. Transfer baking dish in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until apples are golden.
Serve with a mâche salad.
Pommes farçies au fromage de chèvre, lardons et noix
8 pommes de taille moyenne
230 g/ 8 ounces fromage de chèvre
230 g/ 8 ounces lardons
Une poignée de noix, légèrement hachées
2 cuillères à soupe de miel
Sel et poivre
Préchauffer le four à 350 °F/ 180 °C
Faites dorer les lardons dans une poêle. Réserver.
Laver les pommes et couper le haut (pour obtenir un petit chapeau). Mettez de côté.
Creuser la pomme légèrement avec une petite cuillère afin d’avoir assez de place pour le fromage, les noix et les lardons – faites attention de ne pas percer le fond.
Mettre environ une cuillère à soupe de fromage, puis quelques lardons et noix. Ajouter un filet de miel et quelques tours de poivre du moulin. Remettre les petits chapeaux, arroser encore de miel et enfourner pour environ 15 minutes. Servir chaud avec une petite salade de mâche.
Roast Pork loin with Balsamic vinegar and red wine
2 kg/4.2 pounds approx boneless pork loin
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
240 ml/ 1 cup balsamic vinegar
15 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 bay leaves
120 ml /½ cup red wine
Coarse sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F/ 180°C.
Score the pork loin skin side and season with salt and pepper. Crush the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle. Sprinkle the thyme and fennel seeds on both sides.
In a large frying pan, (or stove-proof/oven-proof roasting pan), heat olive oil on a high heat. Brown the pork loin skin side first, until the skin is golden. Turn on the other side and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour the balsamic vinegar and turn the pork loin on both sides. Leave to bubble and reduce for 2 minutes and transfer to the roasting pan along with all the juices.
Place 15 unpeeled slightly crushed garlic cloves around the meat. Check the oven regularly and add a bit of water if needed. Place in the preheated oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. Halfway though, pour the red wine.
Leave the meat to rest for 10 good minutes before carving. Serve with mashed potatoes.
Rôti de porc au vinaigre balsamique
2 kg rôti de porc (échine ou filet), désossée
Quelques brins de thym frais
1 cuillère à soupe de graines de fenouil
240 ml vinaigre balsamique
15 gousses d’ail en chemise
2 feuilles de laurier
120 ml vin rouge
Gros sel de mer et poivre noir fraîchement moulu
Préchauffer le four à 350 °F/ 180°C.
Faites un quadrillage sur le côté peau du porc et assaisonner avec le sel et poivre. Ecrasez les graines de fenouil avec un mortier et pilon. Saupoudrer le thym ainsi que les grains de fenouil sur les deux côtés.
Faire chauffer l’huile à feu vif dans une grande cocotte pouvant aller au four et faire revenir le porc des deux côtés pendant quelques minutes. Le côté peau doit être doré.
Déglacer avec le vinaigre balsamique. Retirer du feu, ajouter les gousses d’ail, les feuilles de laurier.
Surveiller la cuisson pour ne pas laisser la sauce brûler. Ajouter un peu d’eau si necessaire. À mi-cuisson, verser le vin rouge. Enfourner pour 1 heure et 10 minutes, environ.
Laisser la viande reposer pendant 10 minutes avant de server. Servir avec une purée de pommes de terre.
Vanilla chestnut cream madeleines
For about 20 madeleines
200 g/ 7 ounces chestnut cream
100 g/ ½ cup sugar
100 g/ ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons flour
90 g/ 6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons rum
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a bowl, mix the eggs and sugar.
Then stir in the flour and baking powder. In another bowl, combine the butter, rum, vanilla
and chestnut purée.
Mix both mixtures with a wooden spoon.
Butter a madeleine pan, bake at 200°C/ 400°F for 5 min, then 180°C/ 350°F another 8 min or until golden brown. Unmold immediately and leave to cool on a pastry rack.
Madeleines à la crème de marrons
200 g crème de marrons
100 g sucre en poudre
100 g farine tamisée
90 g beurre doux, fondu
2 cuillères à soupe de rhum
1 cuillère à café d’extrait de vanille
1 cuillère à café de levure chimique
Dans une grand bol, mélangez les oeufs et le sucre.
Ajouter la farine tamisée et la levure. Dans un autre bol, mélanger la crème de marron, le beurre ramolli, le rhum et la vanille. Incorporer au mélange oeufs/farine.
Beurrer un moule à madeleines, verser la pâte dans à trois quart de hauteur. Enfourner à 200°C pendant 5 minutes, puis baisser la temperature à 180°C et continuer la cuisson pendant 8 minutes. Sorter les madeleines du four, démouler-les immédiatement sur une grille pour laissez refroidir.