Hedgerow bounty

We’ve done a lot of cycling this holiday, particularly over the last ten days since we wound down the llama trekking for the summer. But the last few trips have been very slow. Are we all tired? Have we overdone the exercise? Do we need a quiet, restful day to recuperate? No – we’re going slowly because we keep stopping to pick up fruit. Every other tree we pass is a fruit tree that is dropping its load on the ground. Plums, apples, peaches, greengages, sloes – and soon there’ll be pears, hazelnuts and walnuts too. It is unbelievable that it’s all left to rot. So we help ourselves. Our first year here we didn’t touch any, not wanting to upset anyone by taking their fruit, even though it was on the road and verges. After all, these trees must belong to someone. But we know now that no-one bothers with it. Round here ancient orchards overgrown with brambles are ten a penny. We’re envious as Les Fragnes’ orchard was grubbed up by the farmer who rented here before we bought it. What an awful thing to do – destroy those beautiful fruit trees that had been here as long as the houses probably, just for the sake of a few extra square metres of crops. We’re planting our own new orchard, but it will be a while before it’s very productive. So in the meantime, we’ll glean from the hedgerows and roadsides.

I made some rather good hedgerow jam today from roughly equal quantities of blackberries, elderberries, plums and apples, and matched the weight of the fruit with sugar. I boiled it well for about ten minutes and it’s the best jam I’ve made for ages! My jam tends to be a disaster which is why I usually make chutney, but we have a backlog of pumpkin chutney and apple chutney from last year, and I do love a dollop of jam on my breakfast croissant. So I’ve gone back to the sticky stuff. But given the quantities of fruit lying around, even I can’t eat that much jam, so I’ll be stewing and slicing for the freezer. For quite a while …

In the news

Katrina, Caitlin and visitors

We’re in today’s La Montagne newspaper (Creuse edition)! There’s a nice little article about our llamas. We’re building up quite a collection of cuttings now. We’ve been in four different papers (and fairly regularly in one of those, L’Echo du Berry), on the radio and on two different TV channels.

It’s fun, but it’s a mixed blessing publicity-wise. Up to now we certainly haven’t made our fortune from people rushing to see us as a result of finding out about us via the mass media. All that tends to happen is that carloads of elderly people turn up on at Sunday teatime wanting to see the llamas for free. In the early days, we obliged but no longer. I mean, I don’t think people turn up at the wolf park in Gueret or at the bison farm in Bourganeuf asking if they can have a quick look for free! It simply doesn’t seem to occur to them that we have to buy our animals, and look after them, and feed them, and insure them, and vaccinate them, and put fencing around them, and so on. Or feed our children. So we’ve hardened our hearts and turn the freeloaders away these days!

We do free guided visits on a Tuesday morning, but people are happy to  buy a few souvenirs from our stall, and some have made bookings for a trek as a result of coming, so that’s proving worthwhile. However, we’re never likely to make a living out of our little woolly troupeau. They’re an interesting and lovable sideline to the gite business.

Elrond, the baby alpaca, is now a full-time member of the herd. For the first ten days, he and mum stayed in the stable most of the time, but they now live out full time, apart from when it turns wet and cold. It’s a bit scary to see him running around with Georgie, Vicky and Lulin – they are enormous compared to him and look sure to squash him. He’s learning to be quite nippy. We’re embarking on a field-construction programme, so we’ll factor in a separate field as an alpaca nursery, to be on the safe side!

August celebrations

August begins with my birthday, which the rest of the family are generally much keener to celebrate than I am! But you can’t stop time, so you might as well enjoy its passing. Caiti cooked up a lovely birthday feast for our evening party. She made goat’s cheese and tomato flan

(recipe at http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2010/05/french_tomato_tart_recipe.html), one of her awesome pizzas, and a truly delicious coconut and mango cake. Here’s her recipe:

400 g flour
I teaspoon vanilla flavouring
100 ml coconut milk
200 g butter
125 g sugar
Fistful of shredded/desiccated coconut
4 eggs
Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and flour two 20 cm (approx.) cake tins.
Mix the sugar into the softened butter, then add the eggs. Add half the flour and mix well.
Now add half the milk and beat well. When it’s smooth add the rest of the ingredients.
Pour into the two tins and back 50 mins or so until golden brown and springy to the touch.
Sandwich together with jam or butter icing, and add icing on top of
100 g icing sugar and 50 g shredded or desiccated coconut with enough water to bind.
Add some chunks of mango too.

Every household needs a cook like our Caits!

The celebrations continue. Yesterday we got some very good news. Every gite gets its guests from hell, and ours came last year. They walked out within the hour complaining that just about everything wasn’t up to their ‘expectations’.  Anyway, we have had to put up with a lot of ghastly unpleasantness which culminated in them making a claim against us through the European Small Claims Court on the grounds of misrepresentation. The judge dismissed their claim – totally, completely and utterly. There is justice in the world after all.

Our wedding anniversary is on its way on the 9th. We’ll have clocked up 24 years. A search online tells me that traditional gifts for 24th anniversaries are musical instruments. (I have no idea why, though, nor how authentic this might be.) But I’ll be OK as I have a good stock of South American musical instruments in my llama souvenir shop. I’m sure Chris will like some panpipes or a rattle made with tree seeds or maybe even a tarka (not an otter, but a Peruvian wooden recorder)!

Family and friends are arriving this month, either returning to their holiday homes or staying with us. It will be lovely to see familiar faces again. And of course any longed-for non-French groceries they may happen to bring with them! And another public holiday on the 15th. So plenty to smile about in August.