On Monday evening we went to see a Y, friend who lives in the Pyrenees. The plan was to hike to a refuge where we would sleep and start hiking early the next morning. When we arrived rfom our day on the beach in Spain, later than expected, we were not really in the mood to start hiking. So we opted to pitch a tent in his parents yard and have dinner with them, and start the hike in the morning. Luckily for us his Mom was making a poelee de cepes for dinner. Cepes season is at it's peak in the Pyrenees right now, and she had been picking the day before at about 2000 metres. Their tiny hut built into the side of the mountain (and completely self-sustaining with solar panels and a fireplace) was covered in trays of wild mushrooms sliced thinly and laying out to dry.
We had our delicious dinner of sauteed cepes with olive oil and garlic, olives from the tree in the yard and brined by Y's Dad, home made bread and steamed potatoes and a salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, and muscat wine to start and a really good red wine from the region. We ate by candlelight in the garden on a table that looked to be 100 years old and benches made of stone and built into the slope of the ground. After dinner Y's Mom wandered all around the dark and sloped yard to pick all sorts of herbs (thyme, rosemary, mint, verbena) to make an delicious infusion. We fell asleep to the sound of crickets chirping and the lights of a village below twinkling and woke up in the clouds.
Y assured us that the hike would be short and easy, "ca va pas trop monter" he insisted. Why we haven't learnt our lesson that he has lived in the mountains his whole life and is in much better hiking shape than us is a mystery. It turned out to be a long and difficult hike, but we managed. We walked through pine forests and picked wild mushrooms, though not as many as a couple of older men we passed had in their basket. We walked through a clearing filled with cows and listened to the bells clinking as they chewed their grass, we stopped here and there to have a rink and admire the truly spectacular scenery. And we stopped at the top (or what felt like the top) of the mountain to have our lunch on a rock. We were at 2400 metres and started at 1560 metres, not a bad hike if I do say so myself. Lunch is so much more satisfying when you are truly re-fueling.
On our way back down we took a different route to try to find more cepes, and got a little lost. I had a few moments of wanting to scream or cry, but I contained myself and kept on going. The hike down was in some ways harder than up as we were in an area without trails that was very steep. It took much longer than it should have to get back to the car, but we all arrived with no broken bones.
Before we headed on our way we stopped back at Y's place and his Mom sent us home with a jar of dried cepes. We had picked about 7 or 8 good sized ones too, so it was a good day.
Tonight back in Beziers, I made a gratin de cepes with layers of potatoes and sauteed cepes covered with milk, dotted with butter and sprinkled with gruyere.
Gratin de Cepes
5 or 6 medium white potatoes (Yukon Gold would work well too)
2 or 3 good sized wild cepes, or substitute other wild mushrooms if you can't find cepes
500 ml whole milk
3/4 cup grated gruyere
a few dots of butter
salt and pepper
Clean the mushrooms with a brush or dry paper towel and cut into thin strips, use the stems too. Sautee them in olive oil at high heat for a few minutes, tossing around, until golden.
Preheat the oven to 375.
Peel, then cut the potatoes into thin rounds.
In a buttered glass baking dish, place a layer of potatoes, followed by a layer of cepes until you have used all of them, sprinkling a bit of salt and pepper between each layer. Pour the milk over and then sprinkle with the gruyere and dot with butter.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown and tender when you press a knife into the middle.
Enjoy the aroma of the forests of the Pyrenees while you wait for it to be cool enough to eat.