Thursday, September 10, 2009

FORRAGED FRUIT FOR ALL

This little corner of France is as if transplanted from another time in history when life moved more slowly, people cared about simple things and food was at the centre of every day. Even shopping in the supermarket brings pleasant little surprises like the labels on chickens, assuring the customer that they were raised for at least 85 days or even 100 days, in the open air. And the naming of the regions in which all the fruit and vegetables are grown, and realising that most of the fresh produce in the local shops, including the supermarket, is grown in this region - Dordogne, or the next - Lot et Garonne. Other pleasant discoveries include the fact that even the cheapest sheets available in the supermarket, are 100% cotton and that a loaf of bread made with organic flour is 0.75c!

But my favourite site is the potager, nestled into every back yard and piece of vacant land. I crane my head over ancient stone walls to see what is growing and am never disappointed. Such a prospect was what lured us to recently walk down a small laneway in Beaumont - a village about 20km away. That and the sign saying a public toilet was to be found down there! Certaily there was a great vegetable garden but we found something even more wonderful. Well, the toilet was shocking but while Ian sat at the table in the park next to what was once the site of the baths and wash house, waiting for me, he noticed he was sitting under a big, old apple tree and so picked a lovely ripe apple to eat.

image We sat a while, marvelling at how rich a green the grass was for late summer and I began to notice what was around us in this little, old park.....fruit trees... and all were ready to pick! Out came the bag I always carry in my handbag and we collected and ate apples, peaches and figs..... just a few of each.... leaving plenty for others (or for us if we go back soon!) This was a delightful experience and could easily happen everywhere in suitable climates but it was especially lovely next to the old spring and public wash house, imagining people over the centuries chatting away while washing their clothes and themselves and collecting water, children climbing up and getting figs and peaches and apples and maybe other fruit from trees now dead. Of course, this was the day I forgot to take my camera!

image From our home fruit garden we are now picking a delicious green-skinned fig, lots of cooking apples, a few grapes and loads of Charentais melons. The cumquat is flowering and the little lemon tree is producing its first lemons, in a climate where it has to be taken inside for the winter.

image Rhubarb and cherries are in the freezer but the plums and pears did not produce well this year. Luckily the neighbour, Evelyn, has given us several baskets of mirabelle plums which are a superb yellow fleshed variety, as well as some sweet, white peaches from a tree she grew from a stone.

Drying on the shelf of a beautiful dresser that Ian made many years ago are our ongoing collection of fruit stones which we plan to germinate in the hope that some will be as productive as Evelyn's peach. Anybody have any tips for propogating peaches and plums from stones?

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RECIPES FROM THE COMPOST

Whenever it rains, the weeds grow a foot higher here so we have been dealing with them using my lazy gardener method. You don't dig or pull, you just trample the weeds down flattish, place a thick layer of any old paper over them, watering as you go, and then cover with straw. It is a kind of self-composting layer which also acts as an excellent mulch.

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So there I was, using up junk mail, newspapers, old bills and magazines, some in French and some in English. I learned a few new French words from the junk mail, as I always do because the descriptions have photos, like an illustrated dictionary. Some of the magazines were very thick and I needed to tear them up, revealing articles on everything including gardening, animal care, advertisements and cooking.

It was a hot morning and I was working in the sun, trying to get the job done quickly so I could go for a swim in the pool before lunch. I was trampling and ripping and watering and of course the wind came up, threatening to blow it all away if I didn't get the paper wet and the straw on fast enough.

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I opened a French magazine and there was an article on a beautiful garden where the people are growing a range of native French and European plants and doing some creative things with stones and paths. I stood there looking at it all and thinking we could do some of this ...... dreaming, as gardeners are wont to do..... when suddenly I was brought back to my senses when I realised the hose had been dribbling water across some glossy paper and into my shoe and the wind had strewn some of the dry paper across the yard! I put the magazine aside to look at again over lunch, and got back to work.

image Later I opened an old English magazine and there on the pages I had just torn out was a section called "7 recipes for 7 days"..... not a very imaginative title but the 7 soup recipes looked great.... and I had a few things in the fridge that needed using up and one of the recipes looked perfect..... I was getting pretty hungry so I quickly finished the weed mulching, gathered up my "new" magazine and recipes, a little damp and torn by now, and headed off to cook the soup for lunch, forgetting all about the swim, in my enthusiasm to share my finds with Ian.

He laughed a lot, as he often does at this crazy Australian woman who has come into his life, and said "Here's a great title for a chapter of your book..... Recipes from the Compost!" So there we have it, I am going to include in that chapter recipes which I have saved from the scrap heaps of life. I have quite a few old recipe books bought from garage sales or salvaged from second hand book shops and some recipes given to me by people who have torn them out of magazines destined for the recycling bin and now some rescued from becoming compost in an old French garden.

What a lovely joie de vivre that gives me...... skippity doo!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

PERMACULTURE UNITES US

At the Villereal market last Saturday there was a young lady we hadn't seen before, selling her fruit and vegetables. She looked ever so gorgeously hippy so we wandered over to see what she had on her stall. Her sign proudly announced her tomatoes, zucchinis, capsicums, melons etc were raised "pleine terre" (the name for unofficial organics here in France) and incorporating permaculture. I bought a couple of her round zucchinis to stuff and then I noticed she had a leaflet which I picked up too as it is always good to get to know the growers we buy from. As luck would have it, Sandrine and Rene lived only a few kilometres away from us and were offering farm visits and as we have the KGI get-together happening in a couple of weeks we thought this might just be the kind of place it would be great to experience.

So, today we visited Sandrine and Rene and their 2 dogs, 2 angora goats, 150 chickens (meat and eggs), who knows how many rabbits, a couple of dams full of fish, an array of summer vegetables and a poly tunnel to keep things going into winter. Rene is Austrian and next to the front door he has a keg of beer on tap from which he pulled us each a glass and himself a big stein before sitting us down at a shady table for a couple of ripe figs and a chat!

This is their first year and their enthusiasm bubbles out of every pore of their tanned skins. They have a dream to live a natural existence amongst well-cared for, loved (and eventually eaten) animals and to produce food from soil enriched with humus and all good things, in the style I am so at home with..... semi-organised chaos.

They knew of Bill Mollison, the Australian who first created a style of thinking and living and growing called permaculture and asked me if I had a copy of "Introduction to Permaculture" ..... which I have..... in French, which I have not and which is hard to find evidently. Please let me know if you have one I could lend them!

Sadly I didn't take my camera today but those of you coming to the Kitchen Gardeners weekend in September will get to meet Sandrine and Rene, and they will show us the beginnings of their dream and provide us with  BBQ of some of their chickens and rabbits and salads from their garden. What do they want in return? Ideas, friendships, contacts, fun and a chance to relax amongst their fields and forests, overlooking their lake, with like-minded people. Of course I offered to bring a cake..... an offer no-one has ever refused, yet. I am so pleased to have found this lovely couple and hope it is the start of a long and happy relationship for us all.

Bon appetit!