Time to check back in at Mas d’Augustine and find out how the owners and managers, Jane and Gary Langton, are spending their time at the chambre d’hôte off season … with no guests, but plenty of chores. As we visit the Langtons, it appears that Jane has quite a few projects in mind. Let’s see how they manage it all…
“It’s a busy time of year in the Chambre d’Hôtes business………even though we’re closed,” says Jane.
I suspect, most people think during the chambre d’hôte off season we have our feet up in front of the fire doing little or nothing before we welcome guests in April. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as there is just too much that needs to be done both inside and out.
I had planned for us to be working in the garden this week but we had to stop as, despite the beautiful blue skies and sunshine, it is just too cold. I have decided to increase the size of the vegetable garden this year so that we can offer a wider selection of organic home-grown fruit and vegetables. As a consequence, Gary has (reluctantly) agreed to remove the existing hedge (circa 5 metres high) which will enable me to plant a long row of tomatoes. Previously we had room for 6 tomato plants, but I want to include a wide selection of Heirloom tomatoes in all colours, as they are such an important ingredient in Provençal cooking and straight from the garden the flavours are really intense.
All the hedges bordering the property need to be cut, olive and fruit trees pruned and there are two Italian Cypress trees that need to be cut down as they did not survive last year’s hot summer. I also have a plan to improve 3 of the existing flower beds, which involves the building of a dry-stone wall, changing of soil and the re-shaping of the beds. I am hoping to create a new lavender bed, a white rose bed and extend the giant poppy bed. I think Gary is rather grateful for the cold snap, as he is not an enthusiastic gardener!
Before the cold snap started, Gary moved our lemon trees to their winter home up on the terrace and I have wrapped up the diplodenia – fingers crossed it will survive the freezing night temperatures.
Gary has just returned from a quick trip to London to welcome his new granddaughter into the family. Mathilda was born last Friday and we are looking forward to her first visit in the summer.
While he was away I pressed on with the redecorating. I have nearly finished painting the main kitchen, but decided to leave the ceiling to Gary. Next week we will start the office, closely followed by re-varnishing the front doors and re-painting all the windows at the front of the mas.
Painting and decorating done, we will be tackling the garden to make certain everything is ready for the first shoots of Spring in mid-February. Then, in March, it will be time to clean the terraces and fill the pool, layout all the garden furniture, clean the summer kitchen and get the rooms ready for our first guests in April.
I like to add something new to the guest rooms every year, so we will spend a few Sundays visiting the local brocante and antique markets searching for interesting items.
There is one job that Gary looks forward to every year………. tasting the dishes for the newly designed menus. Over the next few weeks I will prepare all the new recipes for us to sample and critique.
We are enjoying hearty French classic dishes to help keep out the cold. One of our favourites is a traditional French stew. In the Languedoc region this stew is known as a Cassoulet. Made with meat, sausages and beans, it takes a while to cook and prepare but, on a cold winter night after a hard day in the garden, it’s definitely worth it.
A wonderful change from traditional casseroles, it takes a while to cook but the flavours are wonderful and very warming
Ingredients – serves 6
140 grms of pork belly
140 grms of smoked bacon
300 grms of garlic sausage
600 grms of haricot beans, soaked overnight in plenty of water
1 celery stick
1 small white onion
2 large plum tomatos
6 cloves of garlic
2 tsp of lemon juice
2 cloves, crushed
6 confit duck legs or 6 pre-cooked chicken legs
25 grms of goose fat or 2tbls of olive oil
1 tsp of dried mixed herbs
1. Chop the bacon, pork belly and garlic sausage into bite sized chunks.
2. Drain the beans that you soaked overnight and tip into a large saucepan with the bacon, sausage and pork belly. Cover with water and bring to the boil, blanch for about 15 mins. Drain and set aside. Heat the oven to 120 c.
3. Chop the celery, carrot and onion and peel the garlic leaving the cloves whole.
4. Heat the goose fat or olive oil in a large oven proof casserole or frying pan and over a low heat sweat the garlic, onion, carrot and celery for about 5 minutes until softening. Add the tomatoes and herbs and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
5. Add the sausage, bacon and pork belly to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, add the beans and then 1 litre of water.
6. Bring the mixture to the boil and add the lemon juice, cloves and season with salt and pepper.
7. Transfer the casserole to the oven and cook uncovered for 2 to 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally, the beans will soften and thicken the juice.
8. Remove the cassoulet from the oven. Now add either the confit duck legs or your pre-cooked chicken legs, place them under the beans and cook the cassoulet for another 2 hours for duck and 1 hour for chicken
Serve the cassoulet in bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and plenty of crusty French bread.
At the chambre d’hôte off season there’s always time for a horse ride
Stay tuned …
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