Having flown many times from the UK back home to Poitiers airport and seen this park from the air, I have always wondered what it was all about. All those unusual shapes of the buildings, stark lines made from various reflective materials and water everywhere.
Each year we have an avalanche of certain fruit. It is not the same fruit each year, last year it was the tayberries. This year is the year of the strawberry.
Last year we decided to refresh the strawberry patch. We dug up the old plants and prepared a new bed in a different part of the potager. Three different varieties were chosen to give us a long season of wonderful sweet red fruit. The plants were left to grow and any flowers picked off to make the plants stronger for the following year.
Fast forward to 2012. On the first passing – 3kgs were picked.
Fresh strawberries with creme fraiche, strawberry coulis with home-made pancakes, fresh fruit salad with strawberries, 5 pots of strawberry jam …
Homemade fruity strawberry milkshake. Delicious for breakfast and a favourite of one of our younger house guests this year.
Another 6 kgs picked …. that makes 9 kgs in total …. and counting. This doesn’t include the garden snacking whilst working in the potager and the hundreds of partially slug eaten or rotten ones we have given to the chickens.
So now – we are running out of things to do with them – we have given 1 kg to friends – there can be only one option left …
What could this possibly be ….
A strawberry daiquiri – for the lady – of course !
Our goose rearing in 2012 started when we collected 9 eggs from a farm in a town nearby. The farmer was a friendly chappy who lived on an apple farm. He produced apple juice and shared a bottle of his own freshly pressed juice with us. It was truly delicious.
On returning home, the large eggs fitted snugly in the incubator and all seemed well …. until we received a letter from the local electricity company a few days later … informing us they were turning the power off for most of one day while they connected up some new cables.
We had plenty of time to arrange a system of keeping the eggs warm in that period. An old, small chest freezer – Adrian uses for keeping fermenting beer at a constant temperature – was filled with large flagons of hot water and when the time came the incubator was placed in the freezer. We checked the temperature every half an hour or so to make sure it didn’t fluctuate too much. So far so good …
Seven days after being in the incubator and we candled all 9 eggs.
7 look ok with one being a maybe and one being a dud. So 7 goslings on their way – this could be fun !
Hatching day arrives – 4 pop out with no problems. The fifth takes a little more time but is duly plonked under the heater just after hatching and just before we nip out for coffee at friends – mistake number 1.
We return back after about and hour only to find the poor bird had died – it had got too hot under the lamp and wasn’t quite able to move away. We should have left him in the incubator – oh well – that’s something we will remember next time.
We discovered that one chick died in the shell after about 25 days.
Egg number six had pipped but seemed to be taking ages to hatch. We normally don’t interfere but I felt it had been taking far too long and the bird was getting weaker and weaker in the shell. I made the decision to try to help him along – mistake number 2.
I took off too much shell and left the membrane attached – which duly shrank and hardened around the chick in the shell. After much damping down and fingers crossed the poor little bird was free of the shell. We left it in the incubator to dry out and after 24 hours it started to look OK. It was put into the box with the others and slowly picked up.
We had decided to keep the geese in a large cardboard box, lined with paper and a heated lamp hung across the top. This seemed to work fine until we noticed that two of the goslings legs were splayed apart and they couldn’t stand up properly – mistake number 3.
The paper was too slippy for the goslings and their muscles too weak to hold them up properly. If this wasn’t fixed quickly they would never be able to walk properly. So we improvised and made hobbles with a couple of hair bands.
It seems harsh but the soft cotton protected their tender legs and allowed them to walk and develop enough muscle strength to look after themselves. The hobbles were removed after about 4 days and we couldn’t recognise which had been hobbled and which hadn’t.
As soon as the weather turned brighter we let them out in the garden during the day – bringing them back under the lamp of a night time. Here’s a little video of them all enjoying the garden.
The goslings were growing at a heck of a rate – except gosling number 6 who was still quite small. With no major signs of anything really wrong we found the little gosling dead one morning. Poor thing – oh well.
So we now have 4 healthy goslings – twice as many as last year !
One was camera shy.
Of course, drinking from your drinking bowl is so passé. All the cool kids swim in theirs!
And now …
Take a gaggle of geese. Add to small paddling pool. Stand back as the craziness unfolds!
It’s a wonderful experience to introduce a water bird to water for the first time. They have no idea what it is but they just know that unending joyous playtime awaits once they get past the terror of being surrounded by water.
We took this about a fortnight or so ago – no problems getting into or out of their splashpool now. They are now starting to get their true feathers and at the moment look a little scruffy.
We have put them in the courtyard rather than leaving them to have the run of the garden – you cannot imagine the amount of mess 4 birds make! They are enjoying the buttercups, vine and nut tree leaves in there.
Raising water birds is far more difficult than chickens but is more rewarding and fun !
Each year the Comité des Fêtes hosts an evening soiree to celebrate the diversity of the nationalities of the residents of Gourgé. There are 12 different nationalities – French, English, Scottish, Portuguese, Mexican, Australian, Dutch, Turkish, Spanish, German, American and Romanian.
The first soiree held was three years ago and was an introduction to all the varied cultures.
The drinks and meal were all Dutch based.
Last year was the turn of the Mexicans. There was a slide show highlighting the country, culture and famous sights. Margaritas, Mezcal and a traditional Mexican honey based drink – Xtabentún – were served as pre drinks. The meal consisted of Quesadillas, Tortillas, Mole, Frijoles and other spicy delicacies. All enjoyed to the sounds of Samba and a little bossanova ! After the meal some individuals gave a little turn by singing a song or doing a little dance. At this point we left but were later informed the evening didn’t really finish until 0430!
Now to 2012 – the turn of the English !
Adrian volunteered to do a presentation on the history of British beer, brewing, pubs and he made a selection of traditional beers for sampling.
The car was loaded up with beer, a projection screen, laptops, various malts, hops and various other beery paraphernalia.
We had a selection of malts on hand for the show’n’tell.
An old gentleman came up and after asking a few questions about the different malts, he recounted his story of wartime occupied France when there was no coffee available – he told us how they used to roast malted barley at home to make a powder to make a coffee substitute.
He had slightly moist eyes at the end of the tale – quite lovely.
Adrian brought hops from New Zealand, Slovenia and… Blighty!
All quite different and one of them was outrageously skunky.
On the small screens we had a little running gallery of beer related pictures.
Ancient pubs, drayhorses, beer engines for hand pulled pints. It was suprisingly popular.
A little selection of brewing and beer history books and an introduction to the best drinking vessel in the world. A 568ml dimpled pot! Enough to make a grown man cry.
All the tasters laid out. In this shot… from the back… our Timothy Taylor clone, an ancient 1750’s London porter, 1840’s IPA and a contemporary recreation of an oatmeal stout clone from Samuel Smiths in Tadcaster.
The Oatmeal stout … a big surprise for everyone that tasted it. Adrian had also germinated some barley to show where the sugars originated from and where his photo publishing debut was inspired from !
Adrian’s IPA. There were a few ‘WOW’s and a few people who have no doubt never had anything that bitter in their mouths before!
Crowds take their places for supper. Starter – Mulligatawny soup. Main – Hot pot, potatoes and carrots with swede. Desert – Trifle, Victoria Sponge Cake or Banoffee Pie. Cheese – Jacobs Crackers with 4 different cheeses including Cheddar and Wensleydale. Tea or Coffee.
A lot of elderly people in the village turned out. They didn’t stay for the singing and the dancing. We left around 0130 as the night was winding down.
Other presentations were of the Royal Family past and present with wedding memorabilia from the most recent royal wedding. A bowler and top hat adorned one table and I had created a slide show of all things British projected onto the screen throughout the evening. From red telephone boxes to cornish pasties, The Angel of the North to full english breakfasts, Wimbledon to Churchill and many many more.
All in all a very enjoyable evening and hopefully a little eye opener for our French friends and hosts.
Next year – the nationality will be …. French – not sure what to expect !!
A surprise for my Valentine.
Ready for action :-
Elephant sedation device !
You need ALL the pots. Lots of washing up for your Valentine.
Oh the romance !
First step :-
Molten white chocolate randomly dobbed into the mould.
While the white chocolate is in the fridge setting I made a ganache for the filling.
Molten chocolate, tablespoon of cream, knob of butter and the booze of your choice.
Here I went with home made creme de cassis. Blackcurrant.
Next up. Melt the dark chocolate.
Steady does it. If you over melt it, it will go grainy. This is bad but it can be re-tempered by “setting” with cooler fresh chocolate to reseed the finer crystals in it.
The art of the chocolatiere is not to balls it up in the first place!
Line the mould with the molten chocolate – just enough to form a shell. Then, tap gently to release any air bubbles and then back in the fridge to set.
Next, inject the creamy/boozy/fruity ganache into the shells. Back into the fridge to set for an hour and then …
smear a sealing coat of chocolate on the bottom to “close” the chocolate and encase the ganache.
Turn ’em out!
We’re not done yet …
We need a frou-frou matching purpley lady box!
Job done !
I never get tired of receiving a Valentines.
What else are you going to make when it is -5 at mid-day!
The recipe and method were borrowed from Mr Blumenthal.
1 litre of milk
180g of egg yolks
90g of cane sugar
4 vanilla pods
5 coffee beans
The secret ingredient …
Some actual snow !
Ice Ice-cream step one …
Whizz up the yolks and sugar to a fluffy thick airy egg syrup.
Ice Ice-cream step two …
Boil the milk, coffee beans, the stripped out seeds and husks of the vanilla pods and then cool in the snow to 60C.
If you have no snow, you can sit your pan in an ice bath.
Ice Ice-cream step three …
Mixed the cool (60C) infused milk with the whisked up eggs. This will partly cook the egg and you will end up with a well set custard.
Heat to 70C for five minutes to pasturise the egg …
then rapidly chill again out in the snow and leave at fridge temperature for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop.
Ice Ice-cream step four …
Put the mixture into an ice-cream maker for as long as it takes to churn it all down into fluffy light -5 pillowy, wallowing icecreamy deliciousness.
Then properly freeze at -18C for a while before tasting.
Ice Ice-cream step five …
It comes out of the freezer quite hard but after 5 minutes at room temperature it is quite malleable like plasticine.
It is not sticky sweet like many icecreams and is much lower in fat. This is all about the texture and flavour. It melts … just vanishes on the tongue … much like a sorbet but the texture is silky smooth.
As it warms in the mouth you get a huge vanilla hit and then the back flavour is all about the coffee. I was stunned at how dominant that was, given that there was just a few beans in it. Amazing.
I have never used this technique before and it is knockout. Hats off to Heston … the world’s best chef and if you are half minded to buy an amazing cook book then “The Fat Duck Cook-Book” is highly recommended.
We have plenty of visitors booked for this year and I can see that I will be making lots of this.
Something of a red letter day at Chez Bellebouche this afternoon. The culmination of a long long wait… my publishing debut!
Today is a public holiday in France – All Saints Day – the Day of the Dead.
It is a chance to visit friends and family that have long gone, pay your respects and reflect on them and their lives. It is quite a catholic tradition and the little cemetery in our village was packed with people paying their respects, delivering flowers and saying a few quiet words.
The graves with a small photograph inserted into the stone are the most touching. A flash of the person that was, so many stories they’ll never tell and a real human face on what is just a memory.
Another, sepia shadow from the past, cracked and starting to crumble but just catching the glorious November blue sky.
A total riot of colour in such a stark setting.
Whatever this memorial once was, it is now on the decline… an impermanence even in death. The body that was interred has long since dissolved, the ground giving way a little and the stone starting to tumble.
The sign at the foot of the memorial…
“Cette concession en etat d’abandon fait l’objet d’une procedure de reprise veuillez vous adresser a la mairie”
So, it’s known as an unloved, uncared-for grave and will be ceded back to the commune in time.
Breathtaking colours everywhere.
Another collapsed and vanishing plot.
The very fact that someone has pushed together the little fragments of the memorial is very touching.
Such a stark contrast between the stones and the sky.
The wonderful tones of this ironwork, slowly decaying like everything else.
Anything which has the slightest surface texture picks up lichen or moss.
Long shadows of winter. The clouds casting a shadow in the sky, the stones casting long shadows across the ground.
This grave had the most stunning set of flowers on it. A beautiful floral tribute of all fresh flowers. Never seen anything like it in my life.
The sixth annual pumpkin competition now draws to a close – who was the winner ? …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !