Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Discovery of France?

If you are ever looking for an interesting read that will provide a fascinating background to any holiday or life in France then the book to look for is ‘ The Discovery of France’ by Graham Robb (ISBN 978-0-330-42761-6) published by Picador. We have wonderful neighbours and friends here in this small hamlet, it is a community where everyone looks out for each other without interfering in each others lives. Vegetables mysteriously appear on your gate post, eggs from local chickens arrive at the door and when help is required everyone appears to ‘pop’ out of the woodwork with helping hands or equipment. This is rural France as described in the book. In the middle 1800’s when England was in the throes of the industrial revolution this part of France was virtually undiscovered and like many parts of France spoke a dialect that was far from the French we hear today. Our neighbours often speak Berrichonne, a dialect from the past but still very much alive in the Indre.
The Discovery of France

Maureen is having a bumper year with tomatoes from the garden, when available she sometimes puts a few in the gite as part of the 'welcome' pack - the tomatoes are excellent this year.
Last night we went to a Marche Gourmand in Chatillon, an evening of simple no frills quality food, great chat and entertainment. As is often the case long tent type structures were erected with tables for eating plus a variety of stalls selling everything from wine to cheese plus a variety of hot and cold food. Last night we were all in for a treat as the entertainment, three local jazz musicians were simply brilliant. The central player (guitar, violin and clarinet) was influenced by Stephan Grappelli - wonderful!
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Fresh cooked omeletes, fruit tarts and other delights were available from this stall

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A small section of the tent with the jazz muscians to the left.
It was also our friend’s birthday and since Chris has been of considerable assistance to the town he was presented with a gift by the mayor. We eventually left at 01.05am ……yes its late but only because John stayed to help dismantle the tents and return the tables to the town’s store.

Monday, 15 August 2011

More gifts!

As we have said before, people in the village are very kind, and bring us all sorts of provender. This week is no exception, and we have received (among other things), peaches and fish.

Monique has some people staying next to her small etang which is stocked with different kinds of fish (You can see the etang on the aerial photo of the hamlet on the brochure display on the website). These folks are keen fishermen and have caught a carp of about half a metre along with some smaller fish. So, we were asked this morning did we like fish? I asked her what sort and all I got was a shrug of the shoulders, so when we said we did like fish, she offered us some. She arrived later with a bucket containing 5 smallish live fish!

They are in here somewhere!

John has done the deed and they are now cleaned and in the freezer ready for when our friends PetenSue come in September. We thought these would do nicely, filleted and cooked on the barbecue. Trouble is, we don't know what kind of fish they are, although I don't suppose that really matters, I am sure they will taste good.

The other offering was from a neighbour, Gabby, who brought a large bag of small peaches. Soft tree fruit has done very well this year, as the very dry spell in early spring was good for the flowers, and then we have had warm days with some rain which has brought the fruit on very well. So, what to do with lots of small peaches. I decided on (more) jam! This time Peach and Amaretto. It seems very nice, but I think I have enough jam to last well into next year now. In fact, we did a stock check yesterday and I have a total of 69 jars of various varieties!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A trip to Bourges

Bourges is not somewhere we would ordinarily head to, but as today is our 36th wedding anniversary we decided to have a day off and take a spin in the MGF. We left just after breakfast, and arrived in Bourges late morning after travelling on some of the smaller roads (we like the white ones on the maps!).

The cathedral is a masterpiece and although we had been in before, I wanted to take some pictures inside, and our new(ish) camera is more than capable of some good photos when there is little light available (it's called 'museum setting' in the menu).
Here are a few I took:

The astronomical clock
We continued around the old town and eventually stopped for a light lunch.

We returned via Vatan where we stopped for a drink. In all, a very relaxing day.

Back to work tomorrow - digging up the potatoes!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Assistant Vet!

One can never be sure what each day will hold. With a few years under our collective belts there are still new experiences that pop up and make life even more intertesting than normal.

Unfortunately this week the new experience was rather sad! John is looking after our neighbours small holding as she is away on holiday. So chickens and ducks have to be fed and watered, sheep feed with oats and straw and the duck pond topped up with water from the well. All was fine after the morning feed with all the animals fit and healthy so off we went to a local Brocante (car boot sale on steroids)

A very small part of the brocante - it had over 300 stalls!
On returning the couple who are staying in the gite this week suggested something was wrong with one of the sheep, they thought it may have had a lamb!!!!!! I rushed around to find a little still born lamb and a very distressed mother trying her best to lick it back into life, to no avail. It was then necessary to call the vet, arrange injections for the mother and we also had to administer more medicine the following morning. This involved catching the mother, trapping her against the hay rack, opening her mouth and pouring the medicine in. From all of this you may think we are experts in animal care, nothing would be further from the truth but when needs must you have to manage. The good news is mother is well and appears to be back to normal.

Jams and chutneys

Since coming to France I have made my own jams, chutneys and relishes mainly from produce which I have in the garden or can find locally (free!).

Over the years I have made quite a variety and always leave some for our guests in the gite 'welcome pack' of foods ready for their arrival.

Our friends who live near Chester (PetenSue) who have been a great help to us over the years bought me a preserving pan and associated tools a few years ago and these have become indespensable.

This year, to date, I have made Strawberry, Apricot, Gooseberry & Elderflower, Blackcurrant, Mirabelle and Cherry jams, and  today I made the first of the seasons' relishes - Red Hot Relish. I don't eat the chutneys or relishes but I am told they are mostly very good (The smell of them cooking is enough to put me off and helps to remind me why I don't like them!)

I made a Butternut, Apricot and Almond chutney last year, but I'm not sure this was very successful, as John - who is my main consumer - didn't seem very impressed!
John's favorite with cold meats and the local ham

The French don't do the savoury preserves so much, but we are gradually introducing them when we have the opportunity. Our friends Chris & Julie host a hunt on their land, and last year we did a curry breakfast for them (eaten at lunch time, not 8 o'clock in the morning!) and the chutneys went down a treat. In fact, the hotter the better in many cases. Indian food isn't as big here (yet) as in the UK, but I don't think it will be too long before we see some restaurants opening in the provinces. We have to get them onto beer with their curries though, as French wine doesn't marry with the spices too well.

It's always nice to be able to offer a jar of home-made something or other to our friends when we go for dinner. Better than flowers (which cost a bomb here for some reason).