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Ramasser and Oursin + vocabulary section

oursin sea urchin rocks rose wine mediterranean
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TODAY'S WORD: ramasser

        : to gather up, to collect, to pick something up

ECOUTEZ - Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's French word: Download ramasser

En fin de matinée, je vais aller ramasser des oursins dans la calanque du Port d'Alon. Later this morning, I'm going to gather sea urchins in the inlet at Port d'Alon.


    "Gone Fishing"

    by Kristi Espinasse

This morning, after he finishes pruning one more section of his vineyard, Jean-Marc is going fishing for oursins--and Smokey and I are going to tag along!

"Will you wear your combinaison de plongée?" I ask my husband, wondering just how cold the water is this time of year.


(It's that cold!)

Weeks before Christmas,  it isn't unusual to see people swimming in the sea. My friend Judith, who is 70, swims daily. I don't think she wears a wet-suit. Maybe the water is warmer up the coast, in La Seyne-sur-Mer? Mais bien sûr que non!

"These people have built up a good resistance," says our friend Henri (I think his real name is Gilbert...). Henri (Gilbert?) owns the neighborhood restaurant, Pizzaria Chez Henri, where we ate le cabillaud and les calamars frits last Sunday, with our kids.  "If you want to swim in this winter, you need to begin training after summer. Here's how...

Il faut nager tous les jours... à la même heure!" You've got to swim every the same hour!

It's too late for Jean-Marc and me to follow this winter swimming regime. We quit swimming in September or October. But it is something to keep in mind for my dreamed up future.... Off now, to watch Jean-Marc ramasser quelques oursins--and to eat them sur place, with some good bread and a dollop of beurre salé.

use scissors to prepare sea urchins oursin
Jean-Marc and his best friend, Fred, preparing sea urchins for lunch. Photo taken years ago, down the coast in La Ciotat.

un oursin = sea urchin
une combinaison = suit
combinaison de plongée = for diving
mais bien sûr que non! = of course not!
le cabillaud = cod
le calamar = calamari
frit = fried
ramasser = to gather
sur place = on site, on the spot
le beurre = butter

gathering sea urchins oursin south of france rocks beach
Gathering sea urchins from the Mediterranean is a tradition Jean-Marc has handed down to our kids (pictured here, in Les Issambres, in 2004)
Sea urchins oursins purple brown rocks south of france beach
Colorful "oursins".

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Brrrrr... It must be freezing in that water, but many believe swimming in the winter is essential for training one's body to become resistant to a cold temperature and to strengthen the immune system.


Are les oursins de Mediterranean the same as those in the Caribbean? Many (many) years ago when exploring the Jamaican coastline tennis shoes were required to avoid injuring our feet from the sea urchins. No one told me they were edible. Quelle surprise!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,

I love the color of the oursins, like a burgundy! What a fun tradition to share with the kids! Jean Marc's Rosé sure looks good!

Marina Garcia

How does one prepare Les oursins? How did Jean-Marc and his buddy prepare them?

Madame Mimi in San Antonio , Texas USA


Max is so handsome--proud Mama. xoxo Mary


Thanks, Kristi, for your charming story with the lovely pictures to illustrate it! I enjoyed the vocabulary with J-M's help to assure the correct pronunciation. "Mais bien sur que non" caught my fancy. Bonne journee! (no accents allowed on this old iPad)

Jackie Satterlee

Caribbean black urchins have big "needles" and it's very painful if you step on one. The white ones have very small "needles" that the use to walk with and are harmless.
They are over harvested and practically disappeared over the years (at least on the beaches of St.Martin)

Jackie Satterlee

I wish peple would realize these are beautiful animals, not groceries!

ann sorocki

good morning: my husband & I are from NY; Freddie swam in the winter waters of Coney Island for more than 50 years; I only did it for 15! Now, in North Carolina, we have given up our winter bathing; however, we do have wonderful memories & fairly healthy bodies! Merci, merci. Ann

Jackie Satterlee


Roseann Milano

Hi, Kristi- i have seen oursins harvested in Siracusa, Sicily. However I've never seen one eaten. How do you eat the roe? Hold it in your hand and use a little spoon and just spoon it in? I have no idea. HELP-

Gail Accuardi

Just want to say, I so enjoy your essays on nature and know how interesting foraging can be.


Our dear Kristi,
Such wonderful pictures!Once again you have totally wrapped us in hugs with your beautiful family!And!(needless to say)taken us on a terrific getaway from middle of the week humdrum!
I confess that I have never been a fan of
oursins(maybe just never had them prepared in the right way?)But how artistically you captured them with your camera there by the seaside!
Just a feast for the eyes!
Thank you!
Natalia. XO

Maria E. Sastre

We have sea urchins here in the Caribbean, but we don't eat them. Some time ago you wrote about some affordable tours in France ( Provence ) given by some women. But I have misplaced the website. By any chance do you have their email/website. Thank you, Best, Maria Eugenia from Puerto Rico

Suzanne Dunawaly

Two people in our little Collioure, both in their 80s, swim every day and have all their lives. I am a wuss.
But I am pretty good at getting a spine of an urchin out of a foot--Don stepped on one on a vacation and it would have been cut short but for my trust (sterilized!) Swiss army knife, tweezers, and vaseline. You have to oil the area and the spine will slip out more easily, but we learned as we went...and stayed on vacation! I love the Japanese ones too, bright yellow. Lovely photo. Great kid. Both of you!

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

Your photo of the opened sea urchin with bread and wine is far better than the photo in English Wikipedia, showing one from Sicily. Are the oursins better near France than there?

Valerie Meluskey

would love to hear (read) answers about how to open oursins, how you prepare them, and how you eat them...? I've had them with sushi rice and nori--yum!

all your entries (and entreés are so-o appealing!) merci!

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