Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Toast on the range

Oh, joy! It is time for toast on the range again! The last fly of summer is dead, the fly-catcher strips are burnt and the range re-lit. The temperatures may have dropped but the sun still shines – mostly. Young Angibaud came to sweep all the chimneys that were used last winter. He also peered up those that had remained unused – just in case Asiatic or local hornets had decided to build their winter quarters there.

This is not a joke. One winter we gaily lit the dining room fire-place, very little used, only to find that it belched smoke everywhere. A tentative poke upwards with the domestic chimney sweeping equipment dislodged the parts of some wasp or hornet nest. An urgent call to the professional sweep was made and he was only too glad to come and oblige - later. (We ate dinner in the kitchen.)

I forget now whether that was the same winter that we lit the dining room fire just before our dinner guests were due. The smell was awful. It seemed that our then cat, probably Ginger, used the ash as cat litter. I presume it was Ginger because he did the same when he went to live with Veronica and flatly refused to use the cat flap in winter, despite much training and persuasion. Nothing wrong with ashes, says the cat.

John took the (hated by me) Simplicity sit-upon plus trailer down to fairway two to collect fir-cones for use as fire lighters. Now we shall be able to dry them in the bottom oven and dispense with all other fire-lighters, especially those noxious to the atmosphere and our hands.

We can still look forward to roasting chestnuts on the hot-plate, the sheep have not eaten them all. It is a slightly dangerous activity as they have to be pressed against the hot plate with the insulating lids. Lift those up and one risks exploding nuts.

But this is a minor risk. What worries me is the 'expert' talk – in newspapers – about the coming winter. The consensus is that it will be one of the colder winters, direct from our friendly central Russian steppes. Will it be time for triple clothing layers after Christmas? Will we have to drain the water systems of the gites? Who knows – weather gods are notoriously disinclined to be predictable.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A goat comes calling...

An unexpected visitor this week – one impressive black and brown billy goat peacefully grazing in our fields. How he got there, we do not know, nor do we know why he decided to come. It is unlikely that he had any real reason for coming – he left home because he could.

Am I magnificent or what?
 A quick phone call to the nearest goat farm, at La Veyssiere on the way to Mensignac, about a half kilometre from La Chaise, confirmed that the farmer was one billy goat short. The road between La Chaise and La Veyssiere is a rural backwater, only really busy at champignon time or if someone is cutting wood.

But, and this is an important qualifier, to get into the La Chaise fields Billy Goat had to cross a main road. A quiet moment whilst one thinks of what might have happened but fortunately did not.

La Chaise has received other runaways before Billy Goat.....if one forgets to close the main gate there are always lost hunting dogs coming in of a Sunday evening, for example. And let us not forget this summer's abandoned black kitten..

The most physically impressive of the random animal visitors was the donkey that installed itself in the orchard. This was many years ago, before Arnold, Audrey and Alexandre, whilst Clea and Harry were still small and I was very, very far from being able to cope with such large animals.

Fortunately, the donkey was alternatively cropping the grass and eating the peaches and we still had a little fencing round the orchard. I closed the orchard gate, then the road gate and remembered I had heard donkey braying coming from the direction of Chantepoule, a kilometre down the road to Tocane.

I telephoned my one and only acquaintance at Chantepoule who, fortunately, immediately knew the likely owner of a donkey. Owner came to retrieve his pet,was duly grateful and I was given a Kilner jar of home preserved peaches. Well, that made up for the ones the donkey had eaten.

But escaping animals happen both ways. Mother Ducks have very little sense. One year our Mother Duck, who had a very large brood, would absolutely
insist on taking them into the ditches along the main road. In the end I stopped trying to work out why and just tried to keep them in – unsuccessfully. One embarrassing morning I discovered a car had stopped just before our wooden gate and the kind driver was shepherding the ducks back under it. Shepherding ducks is not easy, He was rewarded – eventually – with a ready-to-roast duckling.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A rare visitor

There are many and various ways of guiding insects out of human dwellings when killing is not an option. One can flap hands or flick dusters. If dealing with a hornet or wasp, it is highly recommended to use a badminton bat or straw broom, either will catch the insect in its meshes and allow the wielder to guide it outside. Beware of breaking things.

With a moth, however, the exercise is more delicate. To get my friend from the bathroom to go outside, JP guided it from light to light until it was finally persuaded to join the woodshed light and then disappear as the early morning light came in over the trees.

An expert entomologist friend, a frequent visitor to La Chaise, suggested that my nocturnal admirer might have been the 'Clifden Nonpareil' (catocala fraxini) because of the blue bands on its underwings. Apparently this is a very rare moth and 'a very good find' he said, – though, of course, it found me and not the other way round.

Apparently this moth feeds on poplars of which a few are to be found in the ravine along fairway 4, most of the trees being fairly decrepit and a few have been uprooted.

A recent brief note in the Daily Telegraph (9/10/13) mentioned that the warm weather had attracted this moth, amongst other rare species, to southern England because of the warmer summer weather. If it will survive the winter in Britain, in pupae form, is another matter. At La Chaise we normally are a few degrees warmer than southern England. Note to self to keep an eye out next year for further visits.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

And...the mushrooms are back!

A collective sigh of relief rose up in the Dordogne over the last ten days - the cèpes had come after all! Prolonged cold, wet weather had worked on everyone's spirits. Doom mongers predicted that if no warm weather came soon, there would be no cèpes. But they always come, it is just the quantity that varies.
and they are even on golf courses...

Actually I have little sympathy with this attitude, mostly because I am not overly fond of cèpes, however prepared, and am dubious about other proposed delicacies such as the couloumelle (lepiote) or oronge (amanita caesarea). This latter looks like a boiled egg with the white peeled back from the yoke. A delicacy, it is said.

But we duly had a few days of sunshine and all was well. There the cèpes were, by the box-load, all a little battered and unprepossessing.
It was only when I first found cèpes at La Chaise that I began to enjoy them for I could pick the very young ones that had not yet become food for slugs. Indeed in very good years I could almost restrict myself to the cèpe de Bordeaux, the black capped, stronger flavoured variety.

There are only so many omelettes aux cèpes that one can eat, so much of pommes de terre sarladaises that can be presented as garnish to a variety of meats. So the question is, what to do with the rest? My first instinct is to let other people have them. In the past Michelle and Arnold have always been enthusiastic about them. Michelle has an uncanny talent for discovering cèpes. And now that Audrey and Alexandre have joined us I no longer need feel guilty about not conserving them.

A satisfying addition to the store cupboard

But I do feel guilty at not wholly sharing my neighbours' enthusiasm for this autumn bounty. So this year, after reading various recipes, I tried a simple way of conserving them in oil – as follows:

Throw away the stalks and neatly carve out any marks of slug feeding;
slice the caps thinly, remove the spores if not liked – they come away easily;
poach in a light white wine and herb bouillon and drain after about three minutes;
fill small Kilner jars ¾ full, add one small piece of garlic, one twig of thyme, one of chervil, a few peppercorns and a few juniper berries if you have them;
cover with best quality oil to the mark in the jar and close.

To use, drain and fry as if they were fresh though some people say you can serve them cold as a condiment with meat. The thought of that squishy consistency, to me, is quite repellent. I wish I had a means of drying them, for cèpes are still best when dried, then crumbled into rich meat stews – all the flavour, none of the dreadful consistency.