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Things to do in the Languedoc:   Eating:   Wild Food

The richly cultivated landscapes of the South of France in general and the Languedoc in particular are usually the result of hard work of a local resident on their private property. But many edible things grow naturally on the borders of fields, by the roadside and on the banks of rivers. While it is generally considered acceptable to pick up windfall to munch on the spot where a plot borders on a public highway, gathering in bags may raise hackles.

Keep your eyes to the ground and you will find figs, peaches, almonds, walnuts and apricots. Sometimes fruit trees are dotted in the hedgerows and truly wild. Even these are often under the watchful care of somebody or other, so the no bag rule still applies.

Where plants are harvested from the wild - such as asparagus and thyme - it is illegal to uproot the plant, only harvesting is permitted.

 

Many plants have medicinal properties of a kind and care should be taken that allergies do not apply.

If you look at the gnarled vineyards stretching across the richly coloured earths of the Languedoc in the winter months you will notice an abundance of a white flower. This is wild rocket. The leaves are smaller and tougher than the cultivated variety but the flowers are delicious and taste just like rocket leaves. Permission to gather these flowers should be requested. It will be useful to double check also whether the vineyard has just had a dowsing of some treatment that you would rather not take, as rocket flowers do not wash well.

Another winter flower that is abundant and popular in salads is Calendula. This orange chrysanthemum is a successful remedy for skin complaints in homeopathic medicine. In the Languedoc it is nicknamed«souci » which means worries. Perhaps because it grows so effortlessly. There is a saying that it is better to tend them in the garden than in
the heart. Their orange flowers add texture, taste and colour to a salad.

French chestnut forests are frequently not harvested and a landowner will be happy to allow you to gather for your own needs. Chestnuts need to be gathered sooner rather than later as they are susceptible to worms. The edible chestnuts are sweet chestnuts - avoid inedible horse chestnuts.

In spring, onion flowers betray the onion below. The flowers themselves are a tasty addition to a salad or soup. In rivulets you will find fine wild leeks.

Wild asparagus lies on the roadside and its whereabouts is generally kept as a family secret. Wild asparagus omelet is a popular Easter Sunday picnic and some restaurants will serve it around Easter time.

The region once grew huge quantities of fennel and some towns are actually named after the vegetable - there is a whole region called Fenouillette. Fennel grows rampantly by the road side and although the bulb is not thick like its domesticated cousin its feathered leaves make a good substitute for dill.

Gathering mushrooms and snails are almost national sports. In the mushroom season, early Autumn, French pharmacies display charts of local edible and inedible mushrooms. Pharmacies are obliged to confirm for their customers whether mushrooms are « the edible ones » if asked. Collecting snails is another area of wild food that has an elaborate protocol. The wild snail is considered a vital part of the «partrimoine gastronomique » and whilst everyone is free to gather snails there are periods of abstinence with respect to the reproductive cycle of the snail. Snail pellets are considered an anathema not because of the birds that may eat the snails but because of the slimy old snails themselves. As well as the common gray snail, in some villages people have introduced the much larger Bourgogne snail. These are beautiful and do not seem to be any more destructive in the garden.

In the rivers you will find watercress. It grows lush and green and is no doubt delicious, but you may decide to resist finding out as it is associated with an incurable liver complaint.

Click on the following link for recommended books on Languedoc food, eating and regional specialitiesNext.

 

 

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Languedoc Food Specialities.
   


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