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
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 specialities
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