Quincessentially French

The mug is there for scale

Quinces, coings, are a very French thing. In Creuse, every country garden has at least one quince tree and quince jelly, gelée aux coings, is turned out with great enthusiasm by many people every year. On our daily bike rides, we’ve picked up a few. Here’s a  monster we got the other day. I reckon it weighs about a pound.  (Since Caiti, the Chef in Wellies, recently made the transition to American cup-based cooking, I haven’t bothered replacing the last set of broken scales. I estimate quantities for my cooking, while Caiti painstakingly measures hers out in portions of cups! So, that’s why I can’t accurately weigh the quince.)

Quinces, like medlars that I blogged about recently, have to be bletted i.e. allowed to rot, before they’re pleasant to eat raw. They’re too hard and astringent otherwise. I do not fancy eating rotten fruit, so I’ll be cooking mine. You can stew them, like apples, but they need a good long cooking time, and interestingly will turn red in the process. And I bet you didn’t know that the word ‘marmalade’ originally meant quince jam, coming from the Portuguese for quince, which is marmelo. Quinces go back a long way, and it’s likely people grew them before they began to grow the more familiar fruit we know today, like apples and pears.

Quinces grow well in central and southern France because of the warm summers. They’re tough and are frost resistant, and in fact need a cold spell to flower properly. That’s why they do so well round here!

I’m fascinated by these large, knobbly pear-shaped fruits. I have three young trees in my garden and hope that we’ll be producing our own in another year or so. Until then, we’ll carrying on gleaning. I also now have my own tiny medlar plant. It will spend the winter in the polytunnel and we’ll plant it out in spring.

We lit the first fire of the autumn today. It was decidedly chilly in the living room when we got up so time to start burning things. One of Ruadhri’s briquettes went on and helped get the flames roaring into life.

So, autumn is well and truly here now …

Nuts and Little Pumpkins

I’ve already talked about walnuts and chestnuts in recent blogs. Suffice it to say that we’re still gathering walnuts like crazy and I’m spending about an hour a day cracking them. I’m leaving Chris in charge of the chestnuts.

So – two different sort of nuts today – hazelnuts and peanuts.

I noticed this afternoon that a couple of my small hazelnut trees were producing another flush of catkins and buds. I don’t think this is normal for this time of year. The trees are taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to produce more fruit.

I decided it was time to find out how my peanut crop has done. From the top the plants don’t look up to much. They were rather overtaken by thistles which thrive in our vegetable patch. We shall continue to battle against them though.

The first peanut plant I dug up had nothing to show, but here’s the second one.

A definite crop of peanuts, but they’re not mature. I shall leave my other four plants for another month or so before I harvest them. And next year I shall certainly grow a pot of peanuts in the polytunnel.

Our pumpkins are pathetic this year. There could be several reasons for that. 1 – the dry summer. 2 – the soil. Last year we grow them on an old llama poo compost heap and they did brilliant. This year we moved them to a new area and didn’t dig much manure in. 3 – the fact we grew them from seed we saved from last year’s pumpkins. However, they’re a lovely, bright orange which will bring some nice colour to Hallow’een, and anyway, smaller pumpkins are said to have a better flavour than larger ones. This year’s soup will be even tastier than last.

Maybe the kids will eat it this time round. For some strange reason, they’re not pumpkin soup fans …

(Apologies if you called by the blog yesterday and found it gone. Blue Host, server providers, claimed they were down for maintenance for a big chunk of the day.)

October Observations – or Dismal Dictons Continued

I haven’t done a sayings (dictons) blog for a week or so – definitely time for one. You could blog full time just about French sayings, there are so many of them!

Here’s my pick of October related ones. I’m afraid they’re only a tad less doom-laden than the autumn ones I listed here.

1. Gelée d’octobre Rend le paysan sabre. Frost in October makes the countryperson sad.

Too true! No imminent freezing likely at present though. We were up in the high 20s yesterday morning. Today is misty but the temperatures are creeping up. It’s been a fabulously warm start to the month this year. And that’s not a good thing since …


2. Si octobre est trop chaud, en février la glace est au carreau. If October is too warm, the ice will be thick in February.

So take your pick, happy now and sad later – or vice versa!


Mario the guinea pig has moved into the pond now!

3. Octobre en bruine Hiver en ruine. A drizzly October means a dreadful winter.

No drizzle yet, but we really do need some. One of our little streams has run dry and our duck pond is still a duck hole.


4. S’il pleut à la St Denis – tout l’hiver a de la pluie. If it rains on St Denis’s day,  9 October, then it will be a wet winter.

We’ll find out in a few days’ time …


5. Temps pluvieux à la Sainte-Ghislaine, la fin du mois s’annonce vilaine. Temps sec à la Saint-Ghislain, annonce un hiver d’eau plein. Wet weather on St Ghislaine’s day (10 October) means that the rest of October will be rotten. Dry weather on that day, though, and it will be a very wet winter.

Again, we’ll have to wait and see. It won’t be nice, but I’m voting for the wet winter option since our lakes need the water.


6. Beaucoup de pluie en octobre, beaucoup de vent en décembre. Lots of rain in October means lots of wind in December.

We could do with an official tempete to finish off our barn roof so we can get it retiled off our insurance! Not looking hopeful with this dry October so far.


7. Octobre glacé, fait vermine trépasser. An icy October makes the vermin start trespassing.

We’ve already had some trespassing – our uninvited visitor last week. OK, it was still September and it wasn’t vermin that did it, but I’m still narked about it! Back to subject, yes, the little critters will be moving in once it gets colder. We’ll have to keep the cats in more. Gigi, Wendy and Voltaire are still a bit sad after yesterday. Our three little kittens didn’t lose their mittens, but their gonads!


8. À la Saint-Quentin, la chaleur a sa fin. At St Quentin’s, 31st October, warmth comes to an end.

This one is completely and utterly true. Winter begins without fail on 1st November here in Creuse. Only four weeks away now … brr.


9. Finally one I’ve made up.

October bookings for the gite Mean all through winter we can eat!

We’ve had a very good and long season this year, running through from March to October. We have one more week of guests in the gite after the current visitors leave on Saturday, and three more weeks booked on Alder Lake. We definitely have our Heads Above Water. Now, that would make a good title for a book … and it’s coming soon, so watch this space!

Polytunnel Progress

Chris has been beavering away on the polytunnel on and off for a few weeks, putting brackets and braces up, and getting rails and frames put together. Today we were ready to put the plastic over.  Chris first taped over any sharp bits with powertape, and over the aluminium framework itself with hotspot tape. That seemed a bit pointless, but it was in the directions so we did it. I usefully held the ladder! I’m good at holding things.

We spread out the huge bit of thick polythene on the field, and then man and woman handled it over the frame. It wasn’t as bad as we’d feared. We tugged and heaved it roughly into the right place. The polytunnel is in a lovely sunny spot so we were doing all this today in 30 degrees of roasting sunshine. But better than in rain and a strong wind! (On the subject of hot weather, our pool is up to 24 degrees and Rors and I having several swims a day again. It’s summer all over again.)

Chris battened the plastic onto the top of each door frame (there’s one each end). It was traumatic to make holes in it, having been so careful for so long to treat it really, really carefully to prevent any tears or punctures.

Then it was time to attach the plastic to the metal rails at the bottom of the frame with long some plastic clips. There were two sorts of these – U shaped ones and T shaped ones. It took a few puzzled moments and false starts before we sussed this out. But soon we were cracking on. Chris did the skilled labour while I held the plastic under tension. The sides were relatively straightforward, although the plastic clips took a fair bit of force to get into place correctly. However, the two door ends were more of a challenge. You’re left with a lot of excess plastic that has to be pleated neatly and battened into place on the door frames. My sewing background came in useful here and for once I could offer helpful advice, as well as helpfully hold things. We made our best stab at it. It’s not brilliant and we’re a bit disappointed that it’s actually meant to be as crude as that. But that’s what it says to do.

Finally Chris whacked the T shaped clips into the U shaped clips. I provided bracing from the inside of the polytunnel with my feet and had a sauna at the same time. It was boiling in there. We’ll be able to grow bananas in it. The aluminium frame was too hot to touch. I take back my earlier disparaging remarks about the hotspot insulating tape not being necessary!


Dogs Go To Church But Cats Drink Beer

We’re just back from getting Nessie and the unusually-named Reaper the guinea-pig blessed at church. It’s St Francis’ Day and the fourth animal-blessing ceremony to be held at Nouzerines’ St Clair’s church has taken place.

We offered to take Treacle the cat with us, but she said she had more important things to do!

We didn’t take camelids this time either . You might remember from blog post last year about the event, Stressed but Blessed, it isn’t a llama and alpaca-friendly occasion. There are too many people around wanting to poke them, and too many yappy small dogs getting under their feet. They don’t enjoy it so we won’t inflict it on them again. However, Nessie and the guinea-pig took it all in their stride, both the ceremony and getting there and back by bike.

I was half tempted to take the turkeys. I’m sure a blessed turkey will taste even better than a normal free-range one. In the old days, turkeys were herded from Norfolk to London for the Christmas market. That’s roughly 110 miles! Les Fragnes to Nouzerines is only two. In theory it should be a doddle! The turkeys wouldn’t notice the distance. They walk miles every day, mooching up and down the sheep field, in between the patience-trying routine of getting them through the three gateways between the stable (their night-time accommodation) and the paddock.

There wasn’t a massive turnout this year sadly – half a dozen dogs, several caged (and very spitty) cats and Reaper, who the priest was convinced was a hamster!

The animals being blessed

It’s a chaotic but enjoyable occasion. There’s a 5 km walk afterwards through the quiet lanes around the village, but since we’ve already cycled 2.5km there, with the return trip to make obviously, and have the usual million things to do around the farm, we don’t partake in the ramble but get straight back home for elevenses. It wouldn’t have been fair to keep Reaper in the bar bag for any longer anyway.

Sadly, and very ironically, during the ceremony there were the sounds of gunshot in the distance as hunters took out a few of St Francis’s wild companions. However, the priest had explained in his sermon that God gave us animals to be our companions and serve us … and also be served up as our dinners!

Still Rabbiting On About Superstitions – And A Giveaway!

When I was little, it was the thing to say ‘White Rabbits’ three times on the first of each month. It was meant to be lucky. I guess some months it was, and some it wasn’t. I’ve tried to find out where this idea came from, but other than it possibly being an extension of a rabbit’s foot being a lucky charm, I’ve drawn a blank. If anyone does know, please let me know.

Made in Peru

Anyway, I’m using the white rabbit connection to launch this giveaway on 1st October. Here’s what’s up for grabs – a cute, carrot-eating white rabbit finger puppet made from alpaca wool. If you want it,  here’s what you do. Leave a comment on this post. That = one entry. And following me on Twitter –  @llamamum – and Tweeting me along the lines of ‘I wanna win the wabbit’ is also an entry! So, you could get two tries to win!

September is ending in a blaze of sunshine and calm weather. It’s fantastic. I’m still swimming every day. Admittedly the water is a little chilly at around 20 degrees, but after a few lengths I’ve gone numb, so it’s no hardship to do another thirty or so. OK, I have to put on socks and a woolly jumper for a while after a get out, and sit and crack walnuts in the sunshine until my heart starts to beat again, but it’s worth it. I love swimming. I’ll keep going for a daily dip until the water drops to about 16 or 17 degrees. That’s truly painful, believe me. Or until the water level gets too low. We have a leak which we will need to sort out in the spring before the swimming season begins. It will be cool to be still swimming in the pool in October – that will be the sixth month this year. It almost makes all the expense worth it!