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From Hatch To Dispatch

We are very conscious that it has been a long time since we have updated our blog.   Life goes on, Adrian has had an extensive run of professional commitments outside of France and a limited opportunity to write.  Technology has moved along as well, with facebook and twitter taking care of most (but not all) of our information sharing needs.  I know plenty of people still read the blog and tune in once a while.  Here is an update focussing on a part of our French life.



New bigger incubator this year with automatic humidity control.  Perfect for hatching goose eggs.

We  tried three goose eggs last year in our smaller incubator.  The eggs had to be turned manually every 6 hours.   One egg was not fertile and two birds died as they hatched.

They’d pipped and broken through  with their perfectly formed little beaks but then were both lost at the same time in their shells.  We were heartbroken.


New Incubator


This year a new incubator, this incubator has a gentle rocking motion – you can see the eggs here at the most extreme angle of tilt.

Unfortunately, we had a little mishap during the incubation period.  The machine was accidentally unplugged for approximately 12 hours and the temperature had dropped to 18 degrees.  Once it was switched back on it was a case of fingers crossed and see what happens.

Out of 6 eggs, the two eggs which were in the middle, surrounded by the others, were the only two to hatch.

After the first signs of pipping and 34 hours work, the first gosling was almost out. His tiny little elbow looked to have done most of the work but he was flagging seriously.  So we broke a house-rule and helped him out.. couldn’t bear the notion of losing him to exhaustion when he was so close to hatching on his own.

The first gosling was tired, soggy and ok.  Number two was  going strong and the arrival of #1 sent the sibling into a frenzy,  chomping his way through his own shell.

Over the next weeks the two goslings grew from little balls of fluff to graceful birds.

10 weeks old

After 10 weeks there was a touch of grace and beauty in the geese .. but still some juvenile behaviour when prompted.  Despite their size they were still just babies, needing comforting by cuddling up to our feet and wary of strangers.

The garden was carpeted with the last of their baby-goose down.  They barely had any idea what their wings were for, all the length in the arm/wing bones had come on in the last few weeks and their experimental flapping always seemed to take them by surprise.

23 weeks old

We moved the geese off the paddock and into a shaded courtyard. They were spending their last few days finishing on corn, fruit windfalls and copious quantities of grapes from the garden.

We had hundreds of kilos of grapes at this time of year which the birds loved. Ripe, aromatic and filled with sugar they were piling on plenty of fat as a result.  Fat that will give us the worlds best roast spuds, rillets and lots of confit.

We decided that as soon as the night time temperatures dropped, the birds will start burning their fat and getting a whole new undercoat of downy feathers – both things that we have learned to avoid in goose rearing.

The day arrived. Day 163 as it happens… just 23 weeks old is no age for an animal, they were only just setting out on the road to adolescence.


Goodbye Geese

Last weekend was 28 degrees and shorts and bikini weather. This weekend it was down to 12 overnight. This will signal to the birds that it’s time to fluff up for the winter so experience has taught us that it’s time to bump them off before they start to put effort into becoming super downy and burning up their own body fat.

The male (with some dark markings) had started to show some signs of thinking about being aggressive… so a sign that he was entering sexual maturity… another signal that it’s time to go.

So, down to the deed. They’re penned in to a small coral in our courtyard. No food overnight. We are deeply uncomfortable with the actual act and always take time to do it considerately and as swiftly as possible. A clean break of the neck immediately behind the head renders them insensible and then they’re bled out. It’s over very swiftly.

We can’t but help feel a huge wave of sadness though when they’re gone. Goodbyes are never easy.

Then some hard work begins… the plucking.

Almost bare !

We raise 50 birds a year for the table. Chickens and guinea fowl have been our stock in trade so far and we’re quite adept at the whole process. We can process four chickens from cluck to oven-ready in an hour. Not so with geese, they’re not only so much bigger but much harder to pluck.

We immerse them in a hot water bath at 64c for two minutes to loosen the feathers and ease plucking, but even this doesn’t always get everything out as easily as we’d like. It takes us two hours to do the two birds which have very few pin feathers and whilst downy not anywhere near as bad as the last birds we did.

Dressed out weight for each bird was 4.4Kg. Not bad when you consider that this is mostly *lawn* as an input to the equation. With added weeds, bugs, veg peelings, windfall fruit etc.

Very little wasted.

Heart goes to the cat!
Neck (and wings) into todays tom-yam thai soup.
The liver goes to paté.
The gesiers are confit’d
The body cavity fat is rendered down for the slow cooking of the confit and then preserved for the most savoury roast spuds ever.


The garden is a lot quieter now and it seems a little empty but we are happy in the knowledge that these birds had a good healthy life and were raised in wonderful surroundings.   We will enjoy our Christmas dinner knowing we did the best for them in both their life and death !

Bellebouche Délices d’Automne

This year has been one of the better ones for our old, gnarly quince tree.  We often ignore this tree and then are surprised with the wonderful delights it offers up to us.  In spring the beautiful pale pink flowers bear a strong perfume which wafts around the courtyard and catches you unawares.

Then in late autumn, the last harvest to be made, is a bountiful supply of golden yellow fruits.  This year resulted in 28 kgs, not the best but still a good amount.

Golden fruits

So the question is – What to do with all these fruits?

This year I have already made a bazzilion jars of various jams and we are still eating chutneys from 2006/7.   One of our successes over the years at Bellebouche has been the quince paste – a misnomer as it is closer in consistency to turkish delight.

These little fruity gems are perfect for xmas gifts and if the surly security guards at the airport don’t confiscate them, then they will be handed out tout suite.

They take a while to make but fill the house with a wonderful fruity, floral aroma.  Basically, they are peeled, cored and chopped into cubes.  Put in a pan with a little water and cooked until soft.  Mashed and whizzed into a compote consistency.  Sugar is added and then they are cooked, slowly, for a long time – a very long time – until the mixture turns from an apple colour to an autumnal leaf colour.

The difference in colour as the paste is cooked

You can see in the photo the pan on the right is much lighter as the mixture spits and spatters like molten lava until it thickens.  You can speed up the process of the cooking by turning up the heat, but it then needs constant stirring so as not to burn on the bottom of the pan.

Once the mixture is so thick that you can make a ball in the bottom of the pan with it, spread it out evenly onto a tray, coated with parchment paper.  Leave to dry further – again if you want to speed up the process – put the tray into an airing cupboard or hot oven which has just been switched off after use.

When the mixture is ready for cutting it should be firm and easily chopped into cubes.  You can then either coat in icing sugar or leave as is.

Ready for cutting into cubes and coating with icing sugar

28 kgs will make an awful lot of quince bon bons so I have made a few variations on the above.  Apple and quince, blackcurrant and quince (which produced an amazing coloured sweet) and one with a secret ingredient which you will have to guess by tasting!

quice jellies 2010

Chucky Hilton Mews

An extension to the original Chucky Hilton ( parts one, two and three). We’d made a fundamental mistake with our first hen that went broody – we allowed her to stay in the main coop with the other hens. Only when it dawned on us that the chicks wouldn’t be too able to negotiate the patented chick-a-ramp did we decide that action was needed.

A new broody box and accompanying run!

chucky hilton mews

Making the best of what we found on a trip to the recycle centre to drop off some old scrap we ended up discovering an old solid wood chest of drawers. Too good to leave behind it came home for a little cabinetry and has been converted to a des-res for broody mothers and their new hatching chicks.

A quick lick of paint, a run created using some new wood and recycled chicken wire and a chance to use an air compressed nail gun (uber boys toy!) and the new Chucky Hilton Mews is ready to go.

Bit late in the season perhaps as we’ve already hatched 32 chicks (and one Duck!) so far this year but it’ll serve us well for the next few batches as hens are continuing to go ‘broody’

Bird versus Machine

Well, it has been an interesting year so far, with regards to raising our own table birds.   After the fantastic success last year with our new incubator and the resulting 18/21 eggs hatching – 3 turning out to be non fertile – we were looking forward to the same outcome this year …


First Time Mother

Well, it’s that time of year again when we put a load of eggs in the incubator and wait for the little cheeps of  delight 21 days later.  We had a bum start this year when the duck eggs turned out to be duds.  So after pitching these, we put in a selection of chicken eggs from both the old hens and the new girls from last year’s batches.

7 eggs = 7 chickens – enough to stock our freezer – assuming they all hatch.  But …



4 days chopping, 4 days humping. And I’m spent. My back is creaking and I ache in spots that haven’t ached for the longest time. 2 pairs of gloves written off and some industrial solvent will be required to clean up my baby tractor and trailer. All told – I’m very satisfied with a job well done and the cleanup of our neighbours aftermath of tempete xynthia is over.


Pile #1. 8M long!

A couple of precarious stacks now dominate the paddock, Hard to guess at the true volume but I think something close to 12M3, for that stack above perhaps more. And then there’s another one…


A second pile, 6M long!

I’ll leave them to bake under the Charentaise sun until October then I’ll be a-choppin’ and a-splittin’ them again where they’ll go into the barn to season for a further year. It’s softwood so not the very best of firewood but in a mix with some oak it should do well. In the course of picking up the trees from our neighbours we tried a few that were a few years seasoned from some older trees that had come down previously – very satisfactory chauffage!

And now, just as some warmer weather looks to be here – it’s time to start on the garden and pick up the baton with renovation of chez moi.

Our Third Asparagus Harvest

After a bumper crop of asparagus last year, this year is showing signs of being a great year as well. Good things come to he who waits!

Aspargus Harvest 2009

The first few spears were picked – 2 kilos ! – and the first meal was a stir fry with spring onion/ginger to accompany some five-spice baked ribs from our own porkers. Next lot went into a light asparagus velouté.

A second sweep through the beds and another handful was passed onto our friendly french farmer with a few spears of rhubarb thrown in as well.

It is just a shame that the asparagus season is so short – we seem to be eating it with every meal for about a month or so and then its all gone. We might just bottle up a load of homemade asparagus soup for this winter.

The Roof, The Roof, The Roof is on …

the chicken coop and all is finished !

Chicken Coop


Damn fine cherry pie

We’re blessed with three large mature cherry trees and in years gone by we’ve had an embarrasment of riches when it comes to cherry harvest time.

Not this year though. Complete Rubbish. It’s a very good job we’re not dependent on a single crop for a living… we’d be SUNK.

However, foresight is forearmed. Home bottling of surplus crops is E.P.L.S. Easy peasey, lemon squeezy. Time to break out a jar of preserved cherries. I’d ‘poached’ a few kg in 2006 in a ‘light syrup’. The majority of the flavour is in the stone in a cherry so what was left was mostly ‘ok’ cherry flavoured, when I’d popped the jar. Time to make Agent Coopers favourite.

Sweetcrust all butter pastry. Blind baked. Lined the bottom with a little sprinkle of Polenta to suck up any juicy pie goodness. A layer of finely sliced apple and then a jar full of cherries. Sprinkle of extra sugar. Slap a lid on. Glaze. Bake.


Damn Fine Pie. Bellebouche Style

I can’t really expand on this too much, because basically, you had to be there. A blob of Créme pour moi. A scoop of Madagascan Vanilla ice cream for Mrs Fod. Serve with steaming hot Ethiopian fresh ground café. Damn Fine.
For teh W1N!

Living off grid.

Well, if only for 7 hours. My first full ‘work at home’ day in two years and what happens?

7:15 am. Powercut.

Ipod Battery dies within 2 hrs. How cruel.

Laptop lasts another two.

Turn to my hapless cellphone. Battery Dead.

I’m reminded that I have an APS UPS some place. Must put that on charge.

No power=No phone.

No power=No ADSL.

No power=No Charging laptops.

No power=No ability to have a morning cuppa. Eat a warm lunch or do anything.

In case of emergency, man must make fire.

Our woodburner saves the day Fire=heat. Heat = Hot Water. Hot Water=Coffee + Bacon and Lentil Soup. The Day is saved!

Just about the same time a pan of bacon and lentil soup came to be ready… the power comes on and I’m plunged back into the ‘normal’ world. Shoite!

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