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June, 2006:

Calling international rescue

Still a little bit dozy from a hectic week gone by I trundled into the kitchen this morning at about 7 am to pop the kettle on and make a coffee. I glanced over to the window and was greeted by.. a GIANT pair of deep yellow eyes looking in on me.

Eyes down, look in.

A baby owl was sat on the window ledge catching the morning rays! This was a real chance encounter, a baby from the nesting pair of little owls that are in the giant oak tree in an adjoining paddock. We’ve watched this pair watching us for the last eighteen months or so, always dipping in and out of the garden and making themselves heard to our guests most nights by singing down the chimneys.

They’re normally only active at dusk/nightime but of late we have seen some pretty adventurous hunting going on, they’ve been perching on the compost heap or atop the bean wigwam in the potager and taking small mice/voles from the lawn at dusk – it’s quite something to see.

This little fellow, obviously this years offspring with downy fluff on top of his head, looked startled even for an owl but seemed quite happy to watch me go about my business making a pot of coffee in the kitchen. Quick as I could I went to get the camera and on my return.. he’d gone.. but peering out of the kitchen window – he was scrabbling about in the flower bed under the window

So, he was off on his maiden flight, got a bit lost, ran out of steam or just plain stopped for something to eat. I was concerned that one of the local cats would have him so spent the next few hours on guard chasing them off whenever they ventured near. He obviously found a good hiding spot as it wasn’t until about 11 am that a parent put in an appearance and then stood guard over him almost all day. Thankfully the parent put out an alarm call at the approach of anything threatening so we were able to shoo-away anything that might have got to this little fluffball.

Fast forward 12 hours and he’s survived the day, he made it up to the roof of the grange barn at 7pm this evening and I’ve seen the adults both in close attendance, he’ll live to fly another day just as long as he keeps his head down – we have plenty of other birds of prey, a barn owl roosts in our barn plenty of nights and buzzards are always hovering around – I don’t know for sure but I think they’d predate on this little fellow without much thinking.

I’m sure he’ll be fine now and I look forward to seeing him around the garden in the future.

Beaucoup de cerises

Finally, the 2006 cherry harvest and three-day processing marathon is complete!

5Kg down, 25Kg to go.

It’s very English to talk about the weather but I was up at 6am this morning to make jam because standing over a boiling hot vat of steamy/scalding fruit is no fun at midday when it’s 30+ degrees. We’re forecast for 35-39 degrees for the next 5 days and it did make me think how strange then that just a few short weeks ago the very tree that yielded up a monster 15kg harvest looked like this. Climate change a go-go.

So, back to the fruit. We yielded a touch over 30Kg this year, a significant improvement over last year and it’s clear that the results of our tree management and pruning is paying off. I’m guessing that all of the wood ash from our wood burning stove that was applied to the tree roots as a fertilizer during the winter has helped improve the vigour and crop this year. All the other fruit trees look to be bearing similarly improved crops.

We’ve notched up so far :-

  • 1 Litre Sour cherry gin
  • 1 Litre Sweet cherry gin
  • A dozen jars of black-cherry jam. Tasted and approved on a buttery slab of sourdough pain-aux-noix for elevenses!
  • 17 Jars of ‘Cerises en Aigre-Douce‘ (recipe below)
  • A dozen jars of pickled sour cherries
  • About 20 litres of stoned sweet cherries in a light syrup. For excellent twin-peaks double-r diner damn fine cherry pie.
  • a few litres of homemade yoghurt with cherries.. simple and amazing. assorted trays full of stoned and cooked cherries for the freezer – can be blizted down for coulis, used in ice-cream or some tantalising autumnal dish involving magret de canard and thyme with lashings of dauphinoise spuds – yum!

So, recipe time. We’ve made so many of these as they are simply the very best added value use you can put cherries to. A hat tip for the recipe to Floyd on France, infact if it wasnt for Floyd on France there most likely wouldn’t be a Fod in France.

Cerises en Aigre Douce:-

Wash and pick over a couple Kg of cherries, they must be perfect.

Add some cloves, bayleaves, black peppercorns, whole allspice and a small piece of cinnamon to one litre of red wine vinegar. Boil for five mins (leaving a window open!) and then let it cool completely.

While the vinegar cools, pick over the cherries, any blemished/imperfect ones will go into your jam pile. This bit is fiddly… trim each stalk to 6mm. If you’re doing 12Kg of cherries you should probably open a bottle of Corbierres at this point. Not for the cherries you understand, but for the soul.

Fill all the jars you can muster with the washed, trimmed fruit and then lightly sprinkle a tablespoon or so of sugar into each jar. Top up with the cool spiced vinegar.

Leave for two days and then empty out all the vinegar into a big stock pot, reboil and cool, refill the jars. Top up each jar if necessary with a splash of ‘fresh’ unspiced vinegar ensuring that the fruit is well packed and submerged.

Now, all you have to do is wait. Really, wait a long time. Probably best to wait until the Autumn, you certainly don’t want to eat them inside of six weeks. They’re worth the wait and are the most perfect little nibble for an aperitif and they’re great to cook with. Sweet, slightly spicy, slightly tart they’re awesome with any cold meats and the double bonus is that the strong cherry flavoured red wine vinegar makes an excellent dressing with walnut oil for a salad of Chevre-chaud with rocket, but that’s a recipe for another day.

Now, I know that it seems like a long time to hang around so here’s some I prepared in 2005.

Just six left from 2005!

– Adrian

A meeting with remarkable trees

I wrote recently about the rendez-vous aux jardins weekend and we’d spent another day out visiting one more inspirational private garden.

Domaine de Tournelay

This house ‘Domaine de Tournelay‘ was set in impressive 33 hectare grounds and had a massive arboretum with 450 species and 20,000 trees. Most spectacular amongst them were a pair of huge Sequoia redwoods. It was difficult to grab an appropriate photo of these things as when stood at the base of the trees they just seemed to go on for ever, looking unbelievably solid and unwavering.. they looked a little like they were holding the sky up.

Giant redwood Sequoia trees at Domaine de Tournelay

5km of paths around the estate took us nearly three hours of meandering through lakesides, plantations, a bamboo forest and a shady cedar grove and all the while my mind was turning to the forethought that had gone into leaving a legacy of trees like this. I think we’ve done quite well in planting trees here (mostly fruit trees!) and I’ve put in so many that I’m in danger of losing track so before that happens I shall try and keep a record of what we’ve planted. Our garden is dominated by a single impressive specimen (I think it’s a European Spruce, Picea abies). I think it’s still relatively young and it’s got some way to grow yet… it’s quite a landmark on walks around the area – as our house is sat quite high – it’s visible for miles around.

We love our 'Christmas Tree'!

I did buy, a couple of years ago, a pair of sodium discharge lamps – the kind of things used for streetlighting and I have tried rigging one up to illuminate the tree of an evening… not the kind of thing you’d put on every night but rather spectacular for a dusky evening BBQ. I must try and take a snap of that.

More tree stuff soon and a tree-page is under construction
– Adrian

A little light entertainment

We’ve been busy as bees ever since we moved to France and all the work on the house and gardens has kept us occupied enough over the last year or so. It’s no surprise then that I don’t think I’ve taken time so far to write about music. I’m not talking about listening to a CD whilst rustling up something in the kitchen but rather making music.

Playing guitar has been an important part of most of my adult life and something that I find hugely enjoyable. I do try and slip in a little playing every few days here but inevitably I’m not able to do as much as I used to when we lived in the UK. Also, digging in the dirt plays sheer hell with ones fingernails, dahlinks.

Certainly, playing out in public was always hugely exciting and I reckon I managed to slip in at least one performance a week at either a jam-night, folk club, acoustic session or open mic for most of 2003 and 2004. I miss my time out and about playing all over Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Derbyshire… and.. my fave.. the Bulls Head, Mobberley!

So, back then, when I was actively playing and performing (and after much persuasion from Joan) I started to do a little recording. Unfortunately I’ve not even unpacked my recording gear after living here for 18 months.. it’s just not possible to devote time to it just yet when we’ve so many other demands with our new French life.

So fast forward to today and the lovely people of the internet newsgroup are running a collaborative project whereby members submit some of their music for a compilation CD (the fourth!), the CD gets produced, sold and everyone gets to hear what other people are up to.

I had a track out on their last CD (no longer available as it sold out!) and with this one I had nothing particularly recent to contribute. I did dig out a little thing though that I recorded in the Garden at our old Wilmslow cottage – complete with the noise of aircraft taxi-ing at Manchester Airport and some birds twittering.

For reasons that should become apparent I offer… for your listening pleasure… a little slice of me playing guitar.

“I do need a hat” is short (4:14), small (4.9 Mb) but perfectly formed. Try it!

So, the pukka thing will be out on a multiple CD pack available for sale over the next few months and my track along with those from probably another 50/60 more guitarists from around the world is sure to sell like hot cakes, fly off the shelves, be a massive hit, etc. etc!

When I get a bit of free time under my belt I shall turn my hand to a solo CD of similarly melodious meanderings but until then if you want to hear more… bring a bottle over for dinner when you visit and I’ll play for you!

– Adrian

l’apiculteur cherche des abeilles…

A quick trawl through the internet and we found a friendly local beekeeper who invited us to go and chat all things bee. Confidence bouyed by this I did some more hunting around and found… by complete blinding coincidence.. a specialist bee-store that carries just about everything I could ever need in the bee department. What’s more they’re not much more than ten minutes away in the car at La Chapelle Bertrand. Funny thing is I’d driven past this place plenty of times and it had never actually sunk in that the giant picture of a bee outside and the workshop full of hives was a clue. My excuse is they’re right opposite an interesting looking restaurant and, as ever, my stomach was overiding my otherwise razor sharp observational skills!

My ebay find left me short of some wax foundation for the frames and I needed a Queen excluder..a special sized grille that seperates the breeding Queen out from the upper tier of the hive where (eventually) honey can be harvested from.

So, we visited, the proprieter and his wife were both extremely helpful, very tolerant of my dismal French and rather delighted to have un nouvel apiculteur anglais on board. They ordered in the excluder I needed and said call back tomorrow, they’d have it delivered by then. So return we did on Saturday evening and we’re ready to go.

Driving home with the car full of the heady waft of fresh beeswax I was busting to get it all set up. And set it up I did.

freshly wired frames. Just add bees.

Our rear terrace is surrounded by thyme and sage which is teaming with bees helping themselves to the nectar.. so as I’m loading up the hive with frames full of wax a couple of bees were sufficiently tempted by the waft of the beeswax to come and investigate. It’s a good sign (I hope), I’ve installed everything in place now and will let it all settle for a few days for the hive to develop it’s own beeswaxy aroma… right now it’s all very new smelling.

So the search begins for some bees… it’s the last piece in the jigsaw. I need a young breeding Queen bee and her entourage. It’s perhaps a little late in the season to pick up a free swarm and as I’ve already missed the springtime nectar flow I’m not in a great position to get a harvest of honey – but that’s really secondary right now. Just getting the thing up and running will be quite fun enough.

Les Rendez-vous aux Jardins 2006

This weekend (2nd-5th June) is turning out to be one of our favourite weekends of the year. In 2006 the Rendez-vous aux jardins weekend sees thousands of gardens opened up across France for public viewing. Here in Poitou-Charentes we have the opportunity to visit plenty of local private gardens that are only open to the public for these few days – it’s been really good to zip about through the countryside seeing just what other people are up to – quite an inspiration.
We’ve seen loads of new gardens that we’d not been to before (there are 110 open this weekend) and with travel it’s only really possible to zip around three or four a day. This means there’ll be plenty to see in years to come!

Our highlights of the weekend and some snaps are after the more click

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