Letter From Bouisse - The Pyrenees and A Beetroot Salad

Last Updated: 27 February 2014
Created: 01 August 2009

On holiday, a typical day includes une petite promenade - a small walk. My favourite route takes about an hour, never tiring of the awesome scenery. Leaving the village and towards the hills is a rough track with dusty ruts baked hard during the hot summer months, soft and marshy during the winter. In regular use, this route will see a couple of tractors and the occasional tiny white van throughout the day, as farmers tend to their fields and flocks.


The lower fields are turned over to hay making and fantastic arrays of vegetables for feeding the extended family groups who habit the village. A few minutes further along the steady upward gradient, a grassy trail leads to the left. This is often overgrown with shrubs and brambles but, this year the pathway is clear. Carry on upwards along the broad ridge, milky white cattle to the left and plump bales to the right, the view emerging with each forward step.

Overlooking the foothills to the Pyrenees, this is a captivating sight. The shining sun behind, birds skimming the landscape, calling, swooping, showing off their freedom and the only other sounds are crickets and the wind. Completely alone because of the weekly exodus to market day in Limoux, these breathtaking moments are to be savoured. Find a comfortable clump of grass on which to settle and take time to simply gaze; feel refreshed by the sheer magnitude and peace of the surroundings.

Each day, work in Bouisse ceases at noon when the church bells chime their lunchtime tune and again at 7pm as they call workers home to their hearth. Though served by daily purveyors of bread, meat, cheese and a twice-weekly epicure van, much of the food here is home grown and hand reared. This striking facet is apparent, cultivated allotments and gardens throughout the village, each one lovingly tendered day after day.



Romance aside, this is seriously hard work. A lady who fascinated me is Leone, the mayor’s wife. Difficult to age with her golden blond bob but, always with a ready smile and words of pleasantry, here is a lady who truly understands the meaning of graceful vocation. Their home is off the centre square and so her daily pattern is quite visible – tending vegetable gardens and harvesting produce, whatever the weather and time of year then preparing huge meals for her truly extended family. Peek through the window at mealtimes and see an assortment of elderly parents, aunts and uncles sat around an enormous wooden table, 365 days a year; a kitchen which appears to lack the trappings of modern life but one filled with spirit. Only once have I seen Leone relaxing on a bench in the square, smiling and chatting and where the years seemed literally to have melted away during those carefree moments.



Beetroot Salad

With a beautifully sweet beetroot from my La Coumeto vegetable basket, I wanted something simple to prepare and this idea was inspired by a recipe by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstalls. Adjust quantities to suit the size of the beetroot you are using, though this works very well with baby-beets.


  • 1 small fresh beetroot
  • 1 lemon, finely chopped zest and juice
  • olive oil
  • freshly milled black pepper and sea salt
  • a few cubes of marinated feta cheese
  • baby spinach leaves and shredded basil leave to serve

1. Wearing lightweight kitchen gloves peel the beetroot then cut in half, then each half into quarters - feel free to chunk into smaller pieces, but adjust the cooking time accordingly.

2. Steam (or boil) the beetroot for about 15 minutes until cooked but still retaining some crunch. Turn into a mixing bowl (not plastic, which will stain horribly!) and sprinkle with the lemon zest, lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and seasoning. Leave to cool.

3. Line a serving dish with baby spinach leaves and shredded basil. Toss the beetroot in its dressing then arrange over the salad leaves. Crumble over a few cubes of marinated feta and serve.



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