From The Forest
As September begins, the river is no more than a trickle. After several
months of practically no rain, the forest is dry – leaves are drooping
and many of the trees along the riverbank of the smaller streams below
us have already begun to wither. After high temperatures there is now
a swing to the opposite extreme, as winds shake the foundations of the
woods and the chestnuts begin to fall early, unripe.
Hunting season has commenced again – each Sunday and Wednesday, shots
echo through the valley as the hounds chase their prey and horns
resound – we often see sanglier with their growing young (marcassins
with little stripes and spots and tails that constantly wag) in the
forest surrounding the mas.
Sunday 30th. A few days of rain has made all the difference, as everything
receives a good soaking and the forest recovers – mosses are quick to
come back to life – yet at the same time, leaves fall as Autumn takes
its hold and the season evolves…
In The Garden
As the month starts, we are setting up an alternative watering system,
that will be fed by rainfall that has been gathered in a reservoir under
the mas – until the river runs again. The latest project is laying slate
(ardoise from the mountains), for the dining area beneath the new pergola…
The few bunches of black grapes we picked were delicious and sweet. The
raspberries are taking off again now the extreme heat has abated. Strong
winds have wreaked havoc amongst the corn and we are now adding supports.
Green beans are abundant and the ‘coco rose’ beans nearly ready. Tomatoes
are so plentiful there are jars of them: puree and pasta sauces and cherry
tomato sauce… the freezer is also full and the tomatoes keep coming…
The pumpkins have stopped growing and started turning orange, and the
watermelon has halted.
White mildew – odium – has been rampant and many courgette and
pumpkin leaves have had to be cut back so new growth can come through
– part of the ongoing care regime that keeps us occupied, tending
the potager as climate conditions change.
As flowers finish, new ones emerge and the rockgarden is also transformed
– daisies open, and once again there are surprises, as cuttings we planted
in Spring now come to life.
The dramatic drop in overnight temperatures has been too sudden
for the melons, yet favours other vegetables, so there is always
something to gain by way of observation. As we focus on solutions
and how to combat any problems that arise, new ideas form. It is
already incredible to note the differences since last year – just by
cutting back the almond and quince trees and watering them (when we
arrived they hadn’t been tended to and produced very little) – they
have flourished and are laden.
Sunday 30th. As September now draws to a close, 28mm of rain has fallen
in the last day (after 26mm on Friday). A storm front passed through
and left a wake – the last almonds lie on the ground, and one of the arches
that supports the morning glory is down. The tomatoes are clinging on
– I’ve been picking up windfalls and surveying the damage. Green grass
is already pushing through and the river is back to ‘running’ again.
The woodfire is lit, its comforting warmth helping to dry the quince paste.
The first harvest of coco rose beans, and the last of the grapes.
Exploring The Region
Visa Pour L’Image, the 24th International Festival of Photojournalism
has commenced in Perpignan, with exhibitions in many of the amazing
historic buildings hidden away in Quartier St Jacques: the Couvent des
Minimes, the Église des Dominicans, Arsenal des Carmes, the Palais des
Corts and Campo Santo.
September 12th, Girona, Spain. Travelling by Frogbus for .99 cents each
way, the change of scene was a bit more dramatic than predicted, with
downpour turning the sloping streets of the old quarter into cascades.
The front garden is still in full flower, and the roses are blooming
again as it cools down.
My two liqueurs are now back in the cellar. Filtering and adding a sugar
syrup was the second stage of the maturation process – they will now rest
for another month.
Preparations have begun for winter, as wood from the forest is cut and
stacked to season, beans are frozen, preserves and jams go into the
cellar and maintenance is completed. There is a sigh of releif as the
peak holiday period finishes and the roads are back to normal – we can
once again find parking and easily stock up on supermarket supplies.
With figs ripening, we have been enjoying a recipe I had never tried and
now wouldn’t eat them any other way – usually they are wonderful just
wrapped with procuitto and eaten cold, but filled with goats cheese
(a pyramid brand, soft & creamy), then wrapped in proscuitto or Jambon
de Bayonne (etc) and baked briefly in a hot oven, they become astounding…
As quinces ripen I have made the first membrillo, or paste, to accompany
our daily cheese course (always after the main and before dessert). The
quinces are washed, cut into quarters and cored, and them pressure-cooked
for 20 miniutes. They are then passed through a seive and the pulp weighed.
The traditional recipe requires the same weight in sugar (which I reduce by
100/200g for a kilo of pulp), which is stirred into the puree and heated
until the texture changes to a paste – it starts to put away from the sides
of the pot. This time I lined a tray with baking paper, which has worked
well, as the paste is now being dried without the tray, using the residual
heat from the fire (after it spent time in a still warm oven – I heat it
and switch it off). It will then be cut into sqaures and wrapped in baking
paper so it keeps in the fridge – in a sealed tin – it lasts a month or so.
Part of life at home involves the theatre – Frédéric has two charachters
to play, and I have been mixing the soundtrack for ‘Le Pourceau du Diable,’
our local theatre troop production, which will be on stage in Céret as part
of a theatre festival ‘Les Planches’ on Saturday October 20th.
A work in progress, the lampshade now has its first layers of acrylic…