How many of us have dreamed of owning a chambre d’hôte in France? Jane and Gary have taken the lunge and they’re willing to tell us all about their chambre d’hôte life. Today they’re picking olives at their B&B – Mas d’ Augustine in the south of France. There’s a favorite recipe from Jane’s kitchen too, so enjoy!
Chambre d’hôte life … from Jane …
It’s Olive Time.
I’ve just been for my morning stroll around the gardens, checking what needs to be done today, as even in the winter there is always so much to do to make sure we have a beautiful garden ready for our guests next year. I’ve decided that the olives are ready for picking, the weather is sunny and bright, albeit very cold for the next couple of days, so it’s perfect olive picking weather! We only have 8 trees, but they produce about 50 kilos of olives which in turn provide us with about 7 litres of our own olive oil to enjoy the following year.
Armed with step ladders, bowls and our olive crates, we decided to make a start. It’s not exactly difficult to pick olives, just rather tedious and very cold.
I think the dogs and cats enjoy the task far more than we do, racing around and around the trees and then lying, panting in the winter sunshine. Merlot, our Beauceron, is very troubled by olives……. he tries to eat them and then spits them out in disgust. You can tell he is completely bemused as to why we would want to tenderly collect these disgusting, bitter little fruits.
In our first winter at the Mas we didn’t know when to harvest our olives until someone advised us to pick them for oil. Picking that first year, in December and in the sleet and rain, was miserable – it was so cold and it is impossible to pick olives wearing gloves. I had no idea what they were supposed to look like; some were green and some were black and so, to be on the safe side, I put green ones in one crate and black ones in the other crate. This obviously made the task even more tedious, as every tree had both colours and we were careful not to mix them.
After 2 days and 10 long hours of picking in awful weather we had 2 crates of olives, one black and one green. The next morning we proudly took the olives to the local moulin. Not understanding the process and, at that time, with very limited French, we stood in the queue to have our olives weighed. To my absolute horror they took my crate of green olives and tipped them into the crate containing the black olives – all that work to keep them separated was a complete waste of time!
I now know that the green olives produce a very green, peppery oil and the black ones a much smoother golden oil, the idea being to blend the colours to give a rich smooth oil with a good peppery finish.
We were given a ticket with the weight of our olive crop, 49 kilos and told to come back in 4 days to collect our oil.
The next Friday we returned to the moulin, a little unsure what to expect and handed in our ticket. What a lovely surprise when we were given 2 plastic containers containing approximately 7 litres of olive oil – not a bad result!
The following year, having taken advice and consulted the internet, I realised that our trees needed to be cut back as they were far too tall and very dense. Apparently, a good olive tree should be shaped like a martini glass with enough room between the branches for a swallow to fly through without touching its wings. We had some serious pruning to do! Unfortunately, due to our hard pruning, the next year our crop was very small and the year after that all the olive trees in our area were badly eaten by insects, with the remaining olives beaten from the trees by terrible storms – so for two years we had nothing to take to the moulin.
This year is much better and we have taken about 40 kilos of mixed green and black olives down to the moulin for pressing and are currently awaiting our plastic bottles!
Funny how Jane talks about “we” yet the photos tell a different tale. Lots of photos of Gary’s chambre d’hôte life and only this one of Jane… hmmm….
From Jane’s Kitchen at Mas d’Augustine
CHICKEN TAGINE WITH OLIVES AND PRESERVED LEMONS
2 chicken breast and 2 thighs
1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1.5 tsp. turmeric
1.5 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. coriander seeds, cracked
350ml white chicken stock or vegetable stock 130g large green olives, pitted
1 preserved lemon cut into wedges
10g of fresh coriander, chopped
Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and cook the sliced onions over a high heat until soft and caramelised. Put them into a tagine dish or an ovenproof pot.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade
Season the chicken pieces, add a little more oil to the frying pan and fry the chicken until golden.
Turn down the heat and add the chopped garlic, turmeric, paprika and cracked coriander seeds.
Cook for a few minutes to bring out the flavours then add the stock, bring to the boil and pour into the tagine dish.
Sprinkle over the olives and preserved lemons. Cover and put in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
Remove the lid, check the seasoning and drizzle in a little olive oil.
Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Serve with bulgur wheat or couscous.
Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes, La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com