Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Mum arrived on Friday to spend a few days at Pissou. It has been a lovely few days, starting on Friday lunchtime after I collected her from Carcassonne airport and we stopped off in Mirepoix on the way back to have lunch with Pat. I love the 12th century covered arcades of Mirepoix with their amazingly detailed wooden sculptures. You can't help but wonder who carved them all those centuries ago.We have been blessed with wonderfully warm, sunny weather over the weekend and I spent my Birthday afternoon on Saturday on the terrasse with mum preparing apples for scratting before passing them on to Andy for processing through the press to extract the juice for our first cider efforts.The result was 2 x 10 ltr containers filled with apple juice onto which we sprinkled cider yeast - they are now happily glugging away and I am eagerly anticipating my first swig of cider in a month or two's time!

Saturday evening we had a lovely meal out at the Auberge de la Grotte in Bedeilhac which is up and over the Col de Port. It was a later night than we had anticipated which resulted in a slow start on Sunday. The Fete du boeuf was taking place down in Massat, but due to general weariness we ended up spending the day pottering around Pissou, weeding, clearing and planting bulbs and wallflowers that mum had given me as a birthday present and which now hold the promise of colour and scent from early Spring onwards. Just what Pissou needs! It had been a productive day.

Yesterday, I took mum up to the Col d'Agnes via the Etang de Lers where I knew she would find flora that would be of interest. En route, she took a rather fetching photo of a cow!
The views from the Col d'Agnes towards the high mountains which border Spain never fail to impress visitors. I snatched a photo of mum in photographic action.All too soon, it was time to take her back to Carcassonne airport today for her flight home. Hopefully she will have absorbed some of the peace and tranquillity of the area and the batteries will be somewhat recharged!

On the way back from Carcassonne this afternoon, I stopped off at Pat and Kevin's and had a short (20km) VTT mountain bike ride with Pat near Varilhes which was a stretch of the legs and nothing too technical or steep. The weather appears to be deteriorating now that mum has left, but hopefully we can get in some more VTT, running or higher level walking action this week regardless.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

More produce

We had a courier delivery from the UK today which included the 'pressoir' and masher for the cider-making process. At long last! We had a trial run this afternoon and pressed a bucketful of mixed apples to see what kind of juice yield we would get. The result was 2 litres of juice from 3.5kgs of apples. The hydrometer suggested that we should be able to produce a cider of max 7.5% alcohol ..... Hic! The juice is very brown but very very appley. This afternoon we have given the tree behind the house a good shake and collected another ~30 kgs of apples, so the production line will be in full swing over the next week or so.

After straining the elderberry, blackberry and apple pulp overnight, I made the hedgerow jelly this morning. Not only is it a fantastic colour but it has the most delicious flavour with the blackberries dominating. The rest of the elderberries are currently on a slow stew in the oven with some cider vinegar and will be transformed into Pontack sauce tomorrow. It is apparently "an unrivalled partner for winter stews, casseroled liver, slow-roasted belly pork, or anything wild and gamey". For those who may be interested, the recipe can be found in Richard Mabey's 'Food for Free' and also in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. More apples are currently in the jelly bag and will be transformed into apple and chilli jelly tomorrow. This afternoon Andy has also made some hot brown sauce of which 2 jars have been put away and half a jar stored in the fridge. I think the store cupboard is almost full now, although I would love to produce some homemade tomato sauce which is sure to knock the socks of Heinz ketchup ;-)

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A mini break, a mini harvest

Kev is away at the moment and Pat fancied some girly company so I did the right thing and yesterday headed over with my mountain bike to their 'new' house near Lavelenet. The weather was perfect for a VTT mountain bike ride. The area around their house has numerous well signposted VTT routes of various levels of difficulty and in Pat's words 'we are like kids in a sweetshop!'. I soon understood the reason for her excitement. We set off straight from the house. The route she had chosen took us along farm tracks and woodland singletrack, along disused railway lines and hardpack tracks, up hills (1.3kms at 11.5% was tough) and down technical descents and along riverside paths - I have never experienced such variety on a VTT ride before! We covered 50kms and rewarded ourselves with an icecream two thirds of the way around, although our attempts at finding somewhere that served beer proved fruitless (on Monday afternoons there is very little open in the area)! My bike was working well and so were my legs. It had been a cracking ride out and I/we are now hungry for more!After a fun evening rocking and rolling to Johnny Halliday and supping wine, we had a lazy start this morning and opted for a 10km walk rather than a run, following another of the well sign-posted VTT routes from the house, which at one point took us up a steep incline from which we had lovely views back down the valley towards one of the many villages along the way.We filled a bag with juicy blackberries and collected fallen walnuts which are now wonderfully ripe over there (still another week or two to wait for the walnuts up the chemin here at Pissou). We also saw some fantastic quince trees with enormous fruit and fig trees bearing plump, ripe figs which Pat couldn't help but pluck at opportune moments! Before I left this afternoon, I filled a big with the biggest, juiciest elderberries that I have ever seen. Some are now simmering away with the blackberries and some apples from the trees around Pissou, ready for straining and transforming into my version of hedgerow jelly tomorrow. I think the remaining 3 lbs of elderberries will be transformed into Pontack sauce at some point tomorrow. I think I will make an apple and walnut tart using more windfall apples and the walnuts - yum! I so love this time of year!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A bit of a shock

Well, it came as quite a surprise, I can tell you. 'Bring in a couple of those nice green capsicum to add to the curry', he says, so I did. 'Taste this', he says, so I did. Which would you say was a hot chilli pepper.... this...?Or this.....?No, it isn't the first picture, much to my amazement! Oh my lordy lord! Owy, owy, ow! That'll teach me not to label up my veg! My mouth and lips are still on fire!

Saturday, 20 September 2008


A slow start today meant it was mid afternoon before we eventually got out on the mountain bikes. But the weather was clear and sunny, around 20 degrees, so we headed back down to the forest tracks on the Tarascon side of the Col de Port with the objective of having a good ride out but with the hope of bringing back some ceps or other edible fungi from the pine woodland around there. Unfortunately, today is Saturday and a fine Saturday to boot, so there were quite a number of people out and about, many carrying bags and baskets full of various fungi.... not the right day for us to be mushrooming! Still, we made it up to the end of the track at 1200m before a quick descent back down, which was fun. I thought I would share these couple of photos with you, which sum up this time of year. This autumn crocus is a beauty and is now flowering in abundance;

We found this small mushroom en route, which we have not yet identified, but I just like the photo;Bunny casserole 'normande' tonight using the windfall apples and the chanterelles that we collected yesterday, along with the pattypan squash and courgette from our own patch. Scrummy.

Friday, 19 September 2008


About time too! I mean, honestly, how many times have we ventured into the woodland opposite the house and found nothing, zilch, nada? I have lost count. Then today, there they were - loads of them in fantastic little patches, bright, fresh, new, untainted by slugs or maggots! Not only were the chanterelles in fine supply, but also hedgehog mushrooms (pieds de mouton) and also some fantastically colourful amethyst deceivers. We came back with quite a haul. Now, what shall we cook this evening......! And here's another photo, simply because they are such beautiful, colourful shrooms

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Apples and produce

Today, we finally managed to track down some plain ordinary glass jam pots at the garage shop in Seix (up until now, I have not been able to find them at any of the expected outlets such as the major hypermarkets, 'garden centres' or agricultural cooperatives in the area). So I had to celebrate! We have now collected what we guess to be around 60kgs of apples which are now lazing in the barn pending arrival of our cider making equipment, so I reckoned some of those apples could be spared to top up my already dwindling chutney supplies! The result this afternoon is 9lbs of apple chutney which will be just divine in a month's time. I also have a quantity of spiced apple, cider and orange jelly going through the jelly bag ready for the final jelly-making stage tomorrow. I will also be collecting some blackberries when the rain clears at the weekend and intend to make some bramble and apple jelly too. Yum yum!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Release the hounds!

I may have mentioned a while ago that some animal has been digging up the grass behind the house here. We have suspected it may be a sanglier (wild boar). This afternoon, I encountered two local 'chasseurs' heading down into the woods in front of the house and they confirmed that they had already shot one wild boar in the woods this morning and were now after more. So if the digging behind the house stops, we can be fairly confident that the beast that has been carrying out the destruction is a sanglier. I also encountered a big chevreuil (deer) in the field below Claudine's yesterday evening which made a hasty escape down the hill. All this game in the vicinity bodes well for the butcher's shops this autumn.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Wood n apples

Much of today has been taken up with branching and logging the acacias and fruit trees that were brought down yesterday. The bonfire pile is now rather large! It will probably be the end October/November before we light it, as the leaves and branches need plenty of time to dry out in order to burn well. We have stashed the useful wood behind the house where it will dry, ready for burning on the woodburner next winter. We also discovered another apple tree in the woodland just below Pissou. A bit of clearance work was needed to access it but then a good shake brought down some of the biggest apples that we have yet found - they are not too tart and not too sweet, so perfect for out initial cider project! Many of the apple varieties in the area are apparently now rare and endangered, so it would be good to establish exactly what varieties we have in the orchards around Pissou whilst they are still productive and do what we can to save the trees for the future.

It has been a while since the skies here have been clear enough for a good sunset - however, this evening was quite lovely

Monday, 15 September 2008

Let there be light!

After 4 days of low cloud, it was wonderful to see the mountains again this morning, complete with their snowy topsToday was to be clearance day. Jean-Claude, our neighbour from up the hill had arranged with Claudine to come down and fell a few trees which cast shadow over Pissou, not least of which is the big pine tree in the garden of the house below Pissou which completely obscures our view of the mountains from our terrasse.The trees either side are deciduous and don't cause such a problem. The acacias in front of Claudine's house obscure our evening sunlight and also had to go, along with a cherry tree and miscellaneous other smaller trees in the same area. Jean-Claude was in his element and looked every inch the professionalHis wife, Marie-Claire provided moral support, whilst Claudine, her friend Christine, Andy and myself cleared up after him and proceeded with chopping smaller sections of branches and logging what was brought down. By the time we had finished, the transformation was astounding and already much more light is reaching our houses.

After...A job well done

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Tree work

By this morning, the rain had ceased, thank goodness - there is snow on the mountains over 2000m. It is still cold, but we have so far resisted lighting the woodburner - looks like it should be back up to the low/mid 20s by Tuesday :-)

Today, we started tackling the little orchard which is up the chemin, behind Benazet's house. Two of the trees are carrying really good sized, juicy apples on their upper branches... ideal for our forthcoming cider project. A bit of tree shaking had them raining down and they are now safely stowed in the barn. We then set about tackling the branches which, in places, are weighing quite heavily on the telephone and electricity cables that run through the orchard. We also lopped off many dead and diseased branches in an effort to tidy the trees up a bit in preparation for a proper pruning in due course. They have been sadly neglected over recent years and the lower branches have died due to light being cut out by the heavier upper canopy. They will need a severe seeing to if they are to stand a chance of being restored to their former glory. But it could be a rewarding project if we have got the patience.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Cold, wet...

.... but did that stop us getting out? No siree! OK, so it wasn't the easiest job motivating myself to head out when the weather centre was indicating 10 degrees and it had been raining for most of the day. But for some time now, I have been wanting to explore an area on the other side of the Col de Port, which heads off along a route forestiere and then on footpaths to below Pic de la Journalade. So, suitably attired, we bundled the pooch into the car and headed out. However, once on the route, we quickly became distracted by the sheer quantity and variety of fungi that is proliferating in the woodland over there. We even found chanterelles growing by the side of the footpath! We must go back when the weather is dryer as we are sure to be able to fill a basket. The forest track ended at the head of the valley where we could see plenty of possibilities for 'going high' on a future date when the weather is not so poor.It was a nice little run out and not as wet as we had expected. As we were moving at a decent pace, the cold didn't bother us either. It had been good to get out.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The Plateau de Guirel

Nice, overcast but warm conditions today. Thanks to some specific, strategic stretches and loosening work on supporting muscles, I have managed to relieve the pressure on and consequently the pain in my thighs that has caused me such discomfort since our descent run from the Cirque d'Anglade on Friday. Bike riding uses generally different muscles to running, so I reckoned a short VTT mountain bike outing would be a good plan. We headed up above Biert towards the Col de la Crouzette and had an interesting meander along woodland paths (narrow and technical in places) and then 1.5kms up the road (12% gradient) towards the Col before branching off along more, varied woodland paths to the Plateau de Guirel, which would have afforded fantastic views towards Mont Valier if it had not been so overcast and hazy! A section of muddy, puddled track brought us back towards where we had parked. After the gear tweaking the other day, the bike is working well and I was pleased with how I had handled some of the trickier sections of the route. It was a very pleasant outing, all in all.

A mini moan

Now, the French healthcare system is reputedly one of the best in the world. So how come the earliest apppointment that I can get to see an 'ophtalmologiste' (an eye doctor) is January?! I guess it is a bit like trying to get an appointment with an NHS dentist in the UK. Eye doctors appear to be a tad thin on the ground. I am even considering a quick flight back to the UK to sort out some reading glasses as I really don't think I can wait 4 months!

Monday, 8 September 2008


Lovely day today. Clear blue skies and sunny... but not too hot. Our cider-making equipment should be with us this week, so we have been busy collecting more apples. The tree below the washing line has produced some lovely sweet dessert apples which will balance out the other tarter apples very well. We also cleared up all of the rotting windfall fruit that is attracting the interest of the wasps at the moment!

The other job this afternoon was to collect a few wheelbarrow loads of horse manure from the field down the chemin which will be used on our veggie patch in due course!

Friday, 5 September 2008

The Cirque d'Anglade

Today has been overcast, but dry and cooler than over recent days (around 20 degrees C), perfect weather for a brief outing with the pooch. We headed up to the Cirque d'Anglade which is above Salau. The route to the Cirque is just under 5kms long over which you ascend a little over 600m, so a steady gradient but on good paths. It took us an hour to reach the cirque and after mooching around for a bit, just half an hour to run back down (the recommended time for the return walk is 3 1/2 hrs!), which tested the quads. We didn't meet another soul.... which was nice!The cirque is used as a summer pasture for cattle and is an impressive enclosed amphitheatre (there is sure to be some excellent ice climbing there in the winter) in which we found framboises sauvages and myrtilles (wild raspberries and bilberries) which Andy has transformed into wild fruit tarts for our dessert this evening. Back home, as soon as the necessary kit arrives, we shall be making 'cidre artisanal' - what better way to make use of the vast quantity of apples that are going to waste around Pissou!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

New toys

Yesterday, along with finding an ace new spot for chanterelles.......which are being used in a scrummy bunny casserole this evening with the windfall apples from out the back, cider and calvados, we also went shopping and bought some new toys. Today, we have been putting them to good use. To the rear of the house, we have mowed in front of Benazet's house and have lopped the apple tree immediately behind the house and also the fir tree on the terrasse which has let more light reach the house. After my initial scything below the washing lane this morning, we ran the funky new lawn mower through and will shortly be looking to borrow a rotavator in order to prepare a section of that land for our new 'potager'! Next year, we should be in a position to grow more veggies, which I am really looking forward to.