All you need is thyme

Recently, I was given a very original gift. Twelve ‘melons d’Espagne’ (a variety of winter melons) from our farmer neighbours. It was a beautiful jade green sight, as if they were dropped by someone from outer space. These are the last melons of the season, often stored in garages to ripen for use. They are best prepared as jam. So at this time of the year, local Médocains are all preparing the melon d’Espagne jam. I immediately called my aunt for inspiration as she is the confiture (jam) expert. Ever since I was a child, she’s been making the most delicious home-made jams, mixing quince with rosemary and mint, strawberries with roses, rhubarb and raspberries. After our little chat, I hurried to the kitchen and mixed melon with vanilla and sugar in one bowl, and in the other one, ginger, mandarin, melon and sugar leaving them to soak overnight.

I woke up extra-early the next day with only melons on my mind. They had turned into a syrupy fruit mash, ready to be cooked. Just for 45 minutes. It turned out to be so easy, so beautiful to make, and on top of it the house smelt like sugar and spice. I transferred the jam to little glass jars, prepared my scones recipe, which I make for my family several times a week. We had a lovely breakfast, the sun was shining, the jam was delightful with the scones. I’ll be making much more jam this next week, as I think they will be ideal presents for my friends. I am looking forward to finding pretty fabric and ribbons to decorate the jars.

To inaugurate the first holiday week with the children, I planned a good old-fashioned roast lunch, just how my grandmother Séraphine prepared them. My grandmother had a little notebook filled with recipes from her own childhood, along with pretty dried flowers decorating her notes. Mostly violets. Her recipes came from another generation, given to her by family and friends, from Toulouse to Lyon. This recipe is from Augustine, my great-grandmother. The ‘crème de thym’ was her speciality, a Lyonnaise style sauce based on milk, thyme, garlic and egg yolks. It’s a timeless sauce, which can be served with lamb, roast beef or chicken.

Rack of lamb roast with thyme cream sauce (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F

1-1.5 kg rack of lamb
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and brown the lamb on all sides until golden. Place in a roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes (depending on rack size and cooking preference). Serve meat on a large plate, add steamed potatoes on all sides. Serve with the thyme cream sauce.

Steamed potatoes:

700-1kg new potatoes (depending on portions)

Wash and scrub potatoes if necessary. Place water in a large pot (5 cm/ 1 inch and a half), place potatoes in a steaming basket, drizzle with salt, cover with a lid and steam for approx 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain and serve.

For the sauce:
1 garlic clove, minced
70 g fresh thyme
350 ml milk
3 egg yolks
150 g butter, cut in cubes
Salt and pepper for seasoning

In a saucepan, bring the milk to a soft boil and take off the heat. Add the fresh thyme, ground garlic and leave to infuse for 15-20 minutes. Strain milk with a sieve, pressing all the thyme to get as much flavour as possible. Discard stalks. Return thyme infused milk to the heat, add 3 egg yolks, one by one, whisking constantly. When the sauce starts to thicken, lower the heat and add butter pieces, stirring away. Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Melon d’Espagne jam

1 kg melon d’Espagne
450 g granulated sugar
Soak overnight

recipe 1: 1 vanilla pod
Recipe 2: Fine slivers of 1 small mandarine
Thumb-size small piece of ginger, finely sliced

Slice melon into chunks (discard skin), remove all seeds and place in a large bowl. If you want to make different flavoured jam, divide melons into two bowls. Pour sugar on melon and mix well. In one bowl mix melon and sugar, in the other mix melon, sugar and add ingredients from recipe 2. Cover with cling film and leave to macerate overnight. For recipe one, in a large pot, pour soaked melon, slit the vanilla pod along its length, scrape off the seeds using the tip of a knife and mix with melon. For recipe 2, cook in another pot. Cook on a low heat, stirring from time to time, for 40-45 minutes, or until consistency is thick and glossy. Pour jam into glass jars and leave to cool.

Tip: Be careful not to overcook as the jam will become to stiff and pasty.

Serve with home-made scones (see recipe).