27 September 2010

Chilly rain, grapes, tomatoes, and walnuts

You'd never know it from looking at the picture (below) of yesterday morning's sunrise, but the weather has turned nasty. I lay in bed this morning listening to rain splat against the roof tiles and the skylight windows. It continues to rain. It's cold.

Sunrise over the Renaudière vineyard, 26 Sept. 2010

I just saw a grape harvester — a machine, not a person — drive out into the vineyard. I guess the grapes need to be brought in, even in the cold, gray rain. Or especially because a cold, gay rain is falling. This is the kind of weather than can spoil the harvest.

Grapes yesterday, wine tomorrow

The grapes are ripe and will burst if they stay wet like this. And they'll grow mold and mildew. The same is true of the tomatoes in our garden. I went out and picked another bucketful of them yesterday. There are plenty more in the garden, but unless the sun comes out they won't be good for long.

Tomatoes drying in the oven
Click on the pictures to see them at full size

Yesterday I cut a couple of dozen tomatoes, both yellow ones and red ones, into wedges and arranged them on baking sheets so I could dry them in the oven. European ovens, by the way, come with pans that slide onto tracks the way wire oven racks do. And they come with a wire rack too. Our Brandt oven came with a rack and a pan, and I saved a pan from our old French oven that also fits this one.

I'm drying both red and yellow tomatoes.

The oven pan is called a lèchefrite in French. That's a funny word. Literally, it means "lick" + "French fry" — the French-English dictionary calls it a "dripping-pan" (British) or a "broiler" (U.S.). It is the broiler pan, I guess, so you can set a roast on the wire rack with the dripping(s) pan under it. Or you can rotisserie the roast or a bird and catch the drippings in the oven pan.

Yesterday, I just put a silicone pad or some parchment paper (papier de cuisson, or "cooking paper") on the pans and arranged the tomato wedges on them. They went into a 90ºC oven for 3½ hours last night. At bedtime, I turned off the oven and just let the tomatoes sit there in the oven overnight. This morning, I turned the oven back on at that low temperature (190ºF). The tomato wedges will dry for another three to six hours today. The oven will warm up the house a little bit.

Walnuts from a tree out on the road
that runs through the vineyard

Another crop that's coming in is walnuts. There's a little walnut tree out along the dirt road that runs through the vineyard, just a few hundred meters from our house. This year it has a lot of nuts on it, and nobody is taking them. We've found a lot of them have been on the ground this week, because there have been some good gusts of wind recently. Every time one of us goes out there with the dog, he comes back with pockets full of walnuts.

The nuts are small but very good. To take advantage of them, Walt made a walnut pie. He used an American pecan pie recipe, with maple syrup in it. It's delicious. Here's the recipe:

American-style Walnut Pie

One blind-baked pie crust
2½ cups (one pint) shelled walnuts, toasted and chopped
4 Tbs. melted butter
3 large eggs
½ cup (4 fl. oz.) granulated (caster) sugar
1 cup (8 fl. oz.) maple syrup (or Golden Syrup)
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400°F/200ºC. While the oven is warming up, put the shelled walnuts on a pan and slip them in for ten minutes to toast, stirring once or twice.

After the walnut meats are toasted, set them aside to cool and then chop them up. If you chop them while they are hot, the walnuts will crumble. It's best to wait the few minutes for them to cool down.

Once the oven has been heated, blind bake the crust for 10 minutes. In the meantime, assemble the filling by combining in a bowl the melted butter, eggs, sugar, and syrup. Whisk the ingredients together with a ½ teaspoon of salt to bring out the flavors. Beat the mixture until it's well blended. (Or use a mixer.) Finally, fold in the chopped walnuts.

Take the crust out of the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 275°F/140ºC. Pour the filling into the crust and level it. Set it in the middle of the oven and bake for 60 minutes. The filling might not be completely done in the center of the pie, but it will finish cooking as the pie cools.

Serve the walnut pie after it has fully cooled — some time in the refrigerator won't hurt it. If you then want to serve the pie warm, put it in a slow oven (250°F/125ºC) for 15 minutes.


  1. The walnut pie looks delicious...but we've really got "header envy". Great photo! Let us know when you're renting out rooms.

  2. What a scrumptious-looking pie. I will save this recipe to try on our October visit to Le Grand-Pressigny. There are several walnut trees around the village and we collected lots of nuts last year.

    It's interesting to read how your garden has thrived compared to Simon and Susan's in Preuilly-sur-Claise. Theirs is struggling due to lack of rain, even though it's only an hour or so south of St-Aignan. I wonder if that's why there are very few vines around there or near us in Le Grand-Pressigny.

  3. When we lived in New England,
    at the end of summer we would
    pull up the entire tomato
    plants with fruit still
    attached. We'd spread them
    on an elevated surface down in
    the cellar. They ripened
    slowly, and we often had fresh
    tomatoes in November. Just be
    sure to leave the root intact.

  4. Pie looks good.
    I have to bake 2 in October:
    one with sweet potatoes and pecan ( covered with maple syrup) for the Canadian Thanks Giving and then a Gateau Basque with cherry as aBirthday cake

  5. Looks like a healhty diet over there -- grapes, tomatoes, walnuts! And then some great cool weather for walking! Beautiful blog!

  6. I made the mistake a couple of times (Yup! I didn't learn the first time!) of using a wire-rack-on-top-of-broiling-pan system... but, under the open flame of a gas broiler. I was trying to do a steak that way. It didn't occur to me that the fat dripping from the steak would fall into the pan and then, being only covered by the wire rack and steak, end up being IGNITED by the flames from the broiler! I had quite the black-smoke-filled kitchen and almost burned down the apartment building, I'm sure.

    Now, for these tomatoes, you did NOT pull out the seeds and pulp... though you did for the tomates confites, eh? Is there a reason why it was okay to leave them intact this time?

    The walnut pie sounds TOO TOO delish!



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