From The Forest
A basket of wild chestnuts which had fallen, jumping out of their
outer casing on impact (otherwise the prickly green case is prised
open with a stick, or thick leather gloves).
Preparing wild chestnuts, which are rarely large and round – they are
more like segments – is a delicate operation. Firstly the outer shell
is removed with a small sharp knife (starting with an incision helps),
then they are placed in boiling water for a few minutes. Picking out
one at a time, the inner skin can be scraped while still hot, yet there
are many ‘folds’ (hybrid or commercial varieties are smoother), so much
patience is required. (Alternatively they can be roasted in the fire
After rain, life has returned to the forest and as chestnuts fall,
mushrooms start to appear. Our menu changes to reflect what is
‘harvested from the wild’, following the weather conditions that
determine ‘what grows where and when’ as new varieties pop up daily
and the forest becomes the foraging ground for locals, and those
from further afield.
General consensus is that even though we have now had much rain, the
dry spring and summer already indicated the mushroom harvest would
be small this year – they were not able to ‘démarre’, or find the
conditions necessary to ‘spark’ into life. Initially there were signs
of unedible varieties in the forest only where there was high humidity
– in the river bed, or hollows with decomposing wood, but as October
has progressed, cèpes, lactaire déliciéux and rosé des prés have joined
the coulemelles and cariolettes abundantly available here.
A mix of tête de nègre – cèpe bronzé or boletus aereus – and cèpes de
Bordeaux (not looking too appetising but still a treasure, once cleaned!)
Recording different stages of growth…
Whilst ‘not for the dinner table’ I study all the varieties, watching
how they emerge and where they chose to grow – they appear and
disappear so quickly, and have many fascinating forms.
This one is the ‘odd man out’, not growing in the wild but nestled
amongst the flowers in the garden…
I discovered a few fruit left on the strawberry trees in the forest,
they are finishing to ripen as the bushes burst into flower – the rain
has come too late so there is no ‘harvest’ for jam.
As October draws to an end, we have had the first frost and rosehips
and sloe berries can be picked…
Of course there are also animals in these wild surrounds, and Clementine
is the donkey that protects wandering cows – who walk the forest paths –
at liberty to eat the fresh grass that is now abundant. This month’s
highlight was seeing young foxes playing by the side of the road, and
an encounter with a snake ‘most memorable’. I’ve always been a bit wary
(having lived in Australia) and when I nearly stepped on a fine black
one in the chestnut grove, got quite a shock, but it stayed fixed
to the spot with no intention of attacking, and then eventually just
slithered away (along with my fear) – I realise I don’t need to worry
here as they rarely attack, even if it may have been a viper…
In The Garden
The morning glory is flourishing as it continues to climb – clinging
to the pergola, cabin and trees as well as the natural ‘sculptures’
and arches that are a feature in the walled vegetable garden.
The roses are starting to come back to life.
Belle de Nuit, that self-seeds each year continues to bloom as colours
mix with their neighbours creating variegated flowers.
Unlike the Belle de Nuit, which opens morning and evening, the
flowers in the rock garden close at night and appear only when
the sun approaches its zenith.
As it is unseasonally warm, many flowers that had already finished
have produced new plants, including the sweet peas and pansies.
Many of the vegetables have now finished (nearing the end of October)
and others are ‘taking off’ – the artichoke is finally happy. The cabbages
are ready to harvest and we are eating blettes (like silverbeet).
The corn was mostly tiny as it was planted a bit late, and strangely
sticky when cooked, yet tasty when turned into ‘corn fritters’ with
Much of the produce in the panier is the last of its crop, yet the
tomatoes are still going, and those damaged by storms are ripening well
inside – in the window. The cabin/hothouse is still filled with potted
tomatoes and they have been well protected, even though it doesn’t retain
much heat overnight.
October 30th, a few more ripening in the kitchen…
Exploring The Region
5th October. The opening performance of the Vallespir Autumn Musical
Series was spectacular, with a theatrical performance from a Barcelona
flamenco group – filled with drama and passion. The closing concert was
also impressive – a symphony orchestra from the conservatorium in Girona
– mainly young musicians, performing in a local village.
Following one of the unknown trails in the forest we ended up at the
ruins of Mas Bousquet, high on a promonatory overlooking the river gorge
that is directly downhill from our belvédère, as the crow flies.
In the mountains of Cerdagne (at higher altitude), the delicate blooms
of the Colchique d’automne are a wonderful sight.
October 20th finally arrived… as part of the theatre festival Les
Planches’ in Céret, our local group performed ‘Le Pourceau du Diable’
– a piece dating back to the inquisition…
Photos: Roland Tixier
Tragi-comédie populaire , en pays catalan. La Troupe ” Els Traginers “.
Au XVII siècle sévit encore l’Inquisition jusque dans le moindre village.
Par vengeance ou méchanceté on dénonce bien souvent des innocents.
Depuis l’histoire s’est maintes fois renouvelée – dénonciations
arbitraires, délations – jusqu’aux époques contemporaines….de tristes
mémoires ! Haro sur les (étrangers) – étrangères, les “trop belles et
trop libres”, aux savoirs et mœurs différents, mises à l ’écart et
fustigées, telles des sorcières.
Fréderic Bachelier (Bosc de la Trinxeria),
Oriane et Jade, (Flore et Sarah, les deux Andalouses)
Mireille Mestre (Maria la bugadere)
Francine Garcia, (Dame Laula, la bigote coquette),
Jackie Lucas (Henriqueta, l’innocente, sourde et muette) ,
Ety Reste de Roca (Georgeta, la commère du village),
Roger Ribère (Le riche Maitre Bousquet),
Jean pierre Blésès (Monsieur le curé),
Josep Seilles (le bourreau),
l’Inquisiteur , le garde.
Décors : Gérard Simonneau.
Costumes : Paulette Seilles.
Musique : Vivienne Cole.
Auteur et metteur en scène : Micky Reste de Roca.
The last of the salad days pass, as warmer than usual October
temperatures are replaced by storms and the fire is lit…
Preserving quinces in wine and thyme for Winter – jars to be
stored in the cellar.
Pomegranates now in season and shared amongst the theatre troop,
‘Leftovers’ of the rabbit with chestnut stuffing were converted into
another dish – adding pomegranate and spiced white grape jelly.
Freshly picked raspberries are hidden in at the base of the chocolate
mousse, laced with brandy.
As we settle into Autumn, Mina tries every tactic to be let inside:
crying on the doorstep; scratching the door, and throwing herself
against it to climb and peer through the window, clinging onto it
by her claws… it clearly works!
31st October. As the sun sets on October the rain clouds have passed,
leaving a magnificent light display in their wake…