From The Forest
There are the first tiny fraises des bois appearing alongside the river,
not yet in flower. The noisetiers and tilleul are unfurling their leaves,
and the blackberries are sending out so many new shoots we had to
clear the path. As we walked through the forest to the dam, the most
predominant wildflowers were euphorbe. I am fascinated by their
structure; so many layers that are unlike flowers and open to reveal
yet another addition to their hierachy as they form. The violets are
nearly finished now, only the plants tucked in the shadiest corners
guard their flowers.
We have a new guidebook, created specifically for our region, l’Albera,
translated from Catalan into French. It contains detailed illustrations
of every type of flora and fauna, unique to our Pyrénéan and Mediterranean
environment. Although a relatively small area geographically, the Albères
are home to many of Europe’s protected or rarer species. Apparently we
have 22 species of bats (chauve-souris) – we often have them flitting
past the car at night. It helps to see images and the spelling of names;
I put a great deal of effort into learning about everything around me
(trees, birds, flowers, snakes, insects, butterflies) and eventually
manage to incorporate these new words into my vocabulary.
I can now say we spotted a ‘lézard vert occidental’ female, a rather
lovely and large bright green lizard, with a blue throat. We have also
discovered that the mysterious blossoming wild fruit trees are merisiers
(merisier des bois) – the wild equivalent of a cerisier, or cherry tree.
Preparing the harvest for dinner: separating the freshest from the older
mushrooms – which are deteriorating quickly – before scraping off the
outer skin and cutting them in half to remove the stems. The small oval
mushrooms are tinged white and grey inside. The longer thay are left after
they are picked the more they change; turning rose, then a deep grey,
before eventually turning black and leaking their ink.
A special find while out hunting – the first morille, from the base of a
tree bordering a field. There is another variety that is very similar,
the toxic false morille – cutting through the centre it is clear that it
this one is real, as the stem is hollow. Sharing the highest rating of
three ‘knives and forks’ for culinary interest, it is now in the freezer,
awaiting the verdict.
In The Garden
Wednesday 11th April.
The quince flowers are all open now, and filled with bees and other
insects gathering pollen. We have been planting potatoes and onions,
and transferring seedlings from the hothouse into the flowerbeds.
I am still constructing rock borders for each bed (we are gradually
finding and building the supply of flat rocks (from the river and forest)
and removing many tiny stones as we prepare the soil of the potager,
mixing in compost and cow manure.
It hailed yesterday (and has been raining on and off this week),
luckily the new plants were protected with their temporary clear
plastic shrouds. It is a releif to have rain and to see the basin
now filled to the brim as the tuyau (the water pipeline that comes
from our dam in the forest) is now repaired, once again, after being
broken by wandering cows. Much to our surprise, our new guidebook
includes two cow illustrations for ‘les vaches des Albères’,
a unique race.
Exploring The Region
This months excursions…
Dusting off old volumes and clearing cobwebs…
The main bibliothèque is in the living room, but as the sun is now
higher, late afternoon light floods into the corner of our bedroom.
The reading corner has an ecclectic collection of ‘found’ and restored
books and furniture: items that have been saved ‘from the side of the
road’ or from flea markets; books that were being given away or sold
at charity stalls, and the odd antique shop bargain. The club chair
(given to Frédéric) had been outside in a garden – I repaired the
fraying edges and renovated the leather. The baromètre however,
is an ornate French antique that I have long treasured – it travelled
by ship from Australia, along with my essential pared down belongings,
finding its way back to its homeland. It is quite uncanny to dicover
how well everything I have always collected naturally ‘belongs’in this
environment – even my collection of essais has found its rightful place.
Far from being French (popular for breakfast in Australia) this loaf is
served sliced and toasted, with butter. The walnuts and almonds are an
addition to the traditional recipe; freshly shelled, and from the family.