Wild Harvest

Come late June it’s far too hot to go out hiking in the middle of the day in Côtes du Rhône country, so we wait until the early evening to go for a shorter walk of an hour or so. One of our favourites is in a valley close to Nyons; we don’t have to get in the car and the setting is beautiful.

Up above Nyons. If you know where to look you can see our house.

The initial climb out of Nyons is short but steep, coming through the woods up onto the ridge of the hills outside the town. But from then on the ups and downs are more gentle and on barely used roads. And it’s here that we have the other good reason for coming: it’s amazing what wild (and not so wild) food you can gather.

Olives trees - very definitely belonging to somebody

The olives are clearly being cultivated and so aren’t for picking, and anyway around Nyons they won’t be harvested until after the first frost, often well into December.

The remains of the cherries

And by now the cherries in the valley have been and gone (although later-ripening varieties, grown locally,  are still available in the market, and at prices that would make you green with envy). Local apricots have been on the stalls for a few weeks but in the valley, and on trees that have clearly been left to do their own thing, they are just on the point of harvesting.

Apricots, ripe for the picking. They have been pruned in the past - you can see the cut marks - but now have been left to their own devices.

Provence peaches are just coming into season, but don’t seem to have ever formed part of the valley’s economy. Certainly there are no signs of any trees, cultivated, abandoned or wild.

Tilleul (otherwise known as linden, lime or basswood) is grown locally, particularly around Buis-les-Baronnies, and used for tisanes (herb teas).  There are still trees dotted around the valley, but no organised cultivation. The flowers in the photo are close to being ready for picking.

Tilleul aka linden aka lime

There are a few quince trees scattered here and there, but as you can see, the quinces need another couple of months or more. Small and green now, they’ll end up large, yellow and downy. They can’t be eaten raw, but when cooked they make delicious puddings and preserves.

Quinces - come back in the autumn

And something we hadn’t noticed before on this walk.  The “things” in the photo seem to be the same as the cobnuts that I remember coming across for the first time in Chapel Market in Islington about 15 years ago (I’d led a sheltered life). Which means that they may well be hazelnuts. (If anyone can confirm their identity one way or another from the photo we’d be grateful, if only so we don’t poison ourselves. The Oxford Companion to Food suggests harvesting around St Philibert’s Day, August 22nd, so we have a couple of months to find out.)

Tell me, are these hazlenuts?

And these look like wild plums. In fact they may well be wild plums. But they taste horrible and they don’t get any better later in the year. Am I missing something? They look apertising enough.

Plums?

There’s little sign of viticulture. Up here, we’re a couple of hundred metres above Nyons in a narrow valley that gets morning and evening shade from the mountains, even at the height of summer. So it’s hardly surprising that it’s noticably cooler. And why struggle to ripen grapes when it’s so much easier so close by? The one sign of a vine (wild? an escapee from a long gone vineyard?) is this one growing through the branches of a walnut tree by the side of the road.

A grape vine growing wild

I know from experience that the grapes are black but very tart. In fact, not really suitable for eating or winemaking. The walnuts, on the other hand, are perfect for picking now, traditionally on St Jean’s day, 24th June, to be turned into walnut wine or pickled walnuts. Both require a bit of patience, especially the wine, but the results are worth it.

Talking of patience, that’s it for now. Recipes for both the wine and the pickle will follow…

Santé

Paul

Notes: This is the blog of www.RhoneWineTours.com where we talk about whatever takes our fancy, which tends to mean wine and food. If you want to find out more about the wines and winemakers of the Rhone Valley click on the highlighted links to go to the website where you’ll find more blogs and pages devoted to the region and its winemakers. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter – search for Rhone Wine Tours. And if by any chance you would like to book a tour, well we’d still recommend going to the website first, but by all means contact us on info@rhonewinetours.com.

And another thing. All the photos were taken on the same day, on the same walk, between 7.30 and 8.30pm. There was no cheating with return visits to get the best shots, although I will admit to a little tweaking on the computer to crop them and brighten them a bit. Buts that’s just because I don’t take a great photo.

 

 

 

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