French Wine Harvest - not long now!

Imagine having to turn yourself into a restaurant manager and chef rolled into one! This is what wine harvest cooks do. Many of them go from cooking for their families most of the year to turning out three meals a day for hungry pickers during the harvest.

I have been told so often, the trick is l’intendance, being organised, having a plan of campaign. Many families grow their own vegetables and fruit so, earlier in the year, the cook makes sure enough potatoes are sown and that there will be enough herbs and salad in the garden for when they are needed. She grows plenty of tomatoes, peeling and bottling some, preparing and freezing others ready for pizzas. The biggest of the crop will end up on the harvest menu as tomates farcies, so they are frozen, as soon as they ripen, the insides having been scooped out to be used in soups and sauces. As they come into season she bottles or freezes haricots verts and makes jam from soft fruit to use for the harvesters’ breakfast.

Many harvest cooks make ahead and freeze terrines and pâtés which come in handy for evening meals. These usually start with soup, followed by cold meats, a hot vegetable dish, green salad, cheese and a simple dessert like a fruit compôte, unless a picker’s birthday or a saint’s day is being celebrated: this calls for a dessert elabouré - a gâteau roulé perhaps for which that homemade jam is useful, or a gâteau aux pommes. The cook will have consulted her notebook with its lists of menus and quantities from previous years and prepared her shopping lists, working always two or three days in advance for basic supplies.

A lot of viticulteurs are finishing their holidays now. They will soon arrive home, in time for the final preparations for the harvest. While the vat-house teams are busy scrubbing barrels and hosing down cellars, the houses which are shut up most of the year, where pickers are lodged in dormitories, will be opened up. Usually simple, with lino on the floor and only the bare essentials, they will be scrubbed and cleaned until spotless. Harvest kitchens and refectories are clean but unpretentious. Meals are often served next to the cuverie where the wine is being made.

Lunches usually start with simple salads. Katerina Kalogeraki took the photograph on location in Burgundy of this carrot salad laid out on a refectory table ready for the pickers to arrive back from the vineyards.

Grated carrot with mustard vinaigrette

FOR 4 PEOPLE

3 or 4 medium carrots 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 4 tablespoons of groundnut or sunflower oil

1 teaspoon red or white wine vinegar salt and black pepper

Wash, peel and grate the carrots coarsely. Wash, dry and chop the parsley.

The vinaigrette is made rather like a mayonnaise (in fact it is sometimes called a false mayonnaise). Put the tablespoon of mustard in a small bowl. Slowly, drop by drop at first, add the oil, stirring all the time to incorporate it. It can easily separate, so be cautious. (Despite this it will only take about five minutes to make.) Add the vinegar, a pinch of salt and black pepper.

Optional: a teaspoon of boiling water can be added at the end to stabilise the sauce.

Just before serving mix carrots, parsley and sauce together.