13 December 2007

More lighting info - now that the dark nights are really on their way.

I put a new 7 watt compact fluo in the clock lamp. The comparison between this and the LED is incredible.

I'll use the LED somewhere else, probably outside. I like this lamp very much. It's such a nice colour and the fluo really lights up the area around the lamp instead of just glowing in the dark like a LED.

Pig skin soup with beans - sounds horrible - doesn't it ?

hardworkinghippy opening a jar of pig skins for making Soupe aux couennes et aux haricots
Pig skin potted in 2005, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

In French, it's "Soupe aux couennes et aux haricots" or even just "Soupe d'haricots couennes" and if you mention that to anyone who appreciates and knows a bit about good food, their eyes will light up - because it's an old classic French country soup, very rare these days, really delicious, easy to make and very quick if you cheat and use tinned beans. As I do, sometimes.

Pig skins are often thrown away or given to the dogs - there's so much to do the day after you kill the pig. However, we know that you eat everything except the "oink" so I decided I'd learn as much as I can about how each part of the pig is used. Our neighbours showed us how to strip the fat off the skin to use as the flavour base for lots of different dishes. When they explained what to do I was a bit dubious, but I've since learned to listen to what they're saying - it's amazing what you learn.

hardworkinghippy Soupe aux couennes et aux haricots 1I made a batch of couennes two years ago - I found this jar at the back of the cellar when I was looking for jars to wash to get ready for my next outbreak of sterilising and it's always a good idea to use up stored food within a few years, so I thought I'd explain what this is and what we do with it. (...makes a change from knitting.)

Preparing the skin well and tying the slices in string before sterilising the jars makes the pieces much easier to manage when you're cutting them up, so it's worth the extra effort to wrap them before you pack them into the jars.

hardworkinghippy Soupe aux couennes et aux haricots 2The pork gives a lovely rich flavour which peps up vegetables, potatoes or any dried pulses you have in the store cupboard, so it's very useful to have jars of these ready to make into something you know will be good.
This tiny jar has enough to make a soupe de couenne for about six people - with extra helpings.

Cut the string off and cut up the skin.

hardworkinghippy making pig skin soupBoil a half a cup of water in a large pan then put the skin in and boil hard to until it starts to burn and sizzle and stick to the pan. Keep stirring and burn the skin - adding a little water from time to time then clean the bottom of the pan with your spatula, repeating this until the mixture smells very good. That's the very individual smell of crackling that burning the skin gives to the soup.

hardworkinghippy Soupe aux couennes et aux haricots 3Add more water and boil again and if you prefer, let the soup cool and skim off some of the fat. Add the pre-cooked or tinned beans and boil, then simmer gently for about twenty minutes then add garlic. Serve with slices of hard bread and put salt and pepper on the table - they help bring out the taste of the pork.
Serve something light after the soup because it's filling and really warming on a cold winter's night.

11 December 2007

Killing and preparing chickens for the table

The first time I kept chickens was in a village in Essex - my first experience of keeping animals for food. I had no cockerel, so the girls were purely for their eggs. I could never kill them (From time to time the fox took care of that !) and when I left England I left my remaining chooks to neighbours.

In France, I wanted to have a “real” smallholding, and that meant having chickens and a cock for reproduction. Once I’d got the whole thing up and running, I let my hens sit on their clutch of a dozen or so eggs and 21 days later little miracles started to happen. I had chicks everywhere and this was the start of a long adventure in free-range food.

Even to this day, I love having chickens and their little ones running around our farm. It’s wonderful watching a mother hen do all the things chickens do and teaching her tiny brood to do the same. I feel so sad that these wonderful birds are often seen only as cheap food and that a very large proportion of the eggs consumed in Europe come from battery hens.

The reality of life in commercial broiler chicken unitMost of the cellophane wrapped birds we’ve all bought and eaten have never had a normal existence either, but live in large hangars like these and have a life of misery.

Unless you’re vegetarian, you need to kill to eat. Killing an animal in the prime of its life is very, very difficult to come to terms with. We’ve four dogs, two cats, and almost a hundred goats and sheep. I nurse them when they’re ill, cuddle and stroke them and we work hard to make sure they're all well fed, healthy, happy and comfortable. Yet, there are some animals that we choose to kill for food because I feel that being an omnivore - especially in winter - is the best way of feeding myself.

There are some things that make killing my own chickens easier to accept and the most important is that they have had a good life. The second is that when you start raising chicks you often come across a chick that’s not quite perfect or has been injured and sometimes it’s kinder to put it out of it’s misery by breaking it’s neck. (In my case that was the first time I’d ever killed anything – apart from an insect!)

The third is, of course, that about half of the chicks hatched are male and they grow up into cockerels, and some of them will be the underdogs. If they are left in the pecking order with the older and stronger cockerels they'll be picked on, pecked and ripped by the other cockerels' feet and literally worried to death.

The fourth is that the females suffer a lot of abuse from a dozen or so young cockerels queuing up in the evening at the chicken shed door. There’s lots of fighting, feathers flying everywhere and the "favourite" hens soon become feeble and go off the lay and may become bald on their backs with open sores leading to infection as a result of all the sexual activity.

If you sit watching the girls “walk the gauntlet” on their way to roost. I guarantee you’ll find it easier to kill your first cockerel. (Especially if you’re a woman!)

OUR METHOD OF KILLING CHICKENS – It's obviously best to see this being done by someone who is experienced, so that you have the confidence to do it properly first time.

Start boiling a big pot of water and prepare clean bowls for the liver and heart another for the blood, feet and head and another for the innards.

Tools for killing our chickens - a nutcracker and a very sharp pointed knifeFor killing you’ll need a very sharp pointed knife and a small mallet for stunning.
Go down to the chicken shed and lift your chosen chickens from their perch before the start of their day and put them into a cage or cardboard box with air holes. Leave the box outside the kitchen door.
One person lifts a chicken out and takes it into the kitchen holding the legs together, and the wings together in the other hand - gently but very firmly placing the chicken’s head horizontally. The other person quickly hits the chicken with the mallet on the head. The head should drop if the chicken has been properly stunned. Now grasp the head in one hand and push the pointed knife into the chicken’s neck, through the jugular vein. The blood should flow easily into your receptacle and the chicken will be dead in seconds although it will flutter and shake and needs to be held very firmly until it stops moving.

Some people use killing funnels which make the job easier for one person and restrain the bird but I find it difficult to stun the birds properly and we don't like shoving them into the cones but everyone has their own method - do whatever you feel comfortable with.

Chickens ready for plucking Keep holding the bird firmly until there is no sign of life, and then lay it down near where you’ll be plucking. (We use a bin for the feathers and pluck over the fireplace)

Go and get you next bird, and by the time you’ve finished killing several birds your water should be boiling. Bring the pot over to the fire, resting a corner on the hot ashes or a gas burner to keep it warm if you have a lot of birds to do.

Plucking chickens is easy if you use very hot water and work fastHold the chicken by the feet and submerge it for a minute or so, moving it around gently. Take the bird out and strip off bunches of feathers very quickly while the skin is still hot, because you dip only once. (Doing it again will only cook the skin and the pores will close) With practice, you can pluck a bird in a few minutes. When you've finished plucking, singe the fine hairs on the skin either over a gas ring or go over each bird with a plumber’s blowtorch (air entry closed!).


Cut the skin of the neck close to the shoulders all the way round and pull it up towards the head. Twist the head round – it should be easy to pull off.

Cut neatly around the anus to give you enough room to put your hand it to take everything out the chicken in one piece Turn the bird and cut around the anus, being careful not to puncture the colon. Make a slit from above the anus up to the bird’s breast, put your hand in and gently ease all out the innards. They should come out in one piece, but you may have to fish around for the heart and liver. Take everything out and check that it's healthy and intact.

SEparate the chicken's gall bladder (the small green sack) from the liver carefullySeparate the gall bladder (the small green sack) from the liver being careful not to puncture the sack which contains a bitter fluid which will taint the meat. Put the livers and heart in a small bowl. (for pâté)

Score the gizzard (Photo on the right) half way around the outside and cut in a little - just enough to get a fingernail in to prise it open and remove the contents (stones, grass, insects and grain) along with the hard skin which should peel off easily. Put the gizzards aside with the liver to make “salade de gèsiers”.

Take off the feet by bending them at the knee, slitting the sinews and cutting the skin with a sharp knife. We put the feet, head and any clean waste into our dogs’ dinner - a soup which we add to their kibble. We feed the innards and all waste to our Larsen trap magpies or use them as bait for live traps for foxes etc. (Fabrice is a registered trapper.) You can either burn or bury them under trees and bushes if you really can’t find another use.

Wash or wipe the birds and prepare them for the freezer or stuff them ready for the oven or for cooking in a casserole. The gizzards, liver and other sweetmeats can be left in the 'fridge or somewhere cool for a day or so until you're ready to use them.

Sweep the floor, brush all the feathers into the fire or put them on your “soft fruit” compost, wipe the kitchen table and congratulate yourself on a good morning's work !

28 November 2007

Introducing Tolcarne Puck

Tolcarne Puck Angora goat
Introducing Puck , originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

This is Puck, a male Angora goat we're using from Eddie and Carolyn Gowen Angora breeders new to the south of France. He was imported from the UK in August and his bloodlines include the Corrymoor and Ballytrim flocks - both great breeders of sound Angoras.

So far he's been a real gentleman, easy to handle, kind to the girls and very good-looking.

La Ferme de Sourrou AngorasWe're a bit late breeding this year, it took me a long time to find the buck I wanted - ideally one new to France because the choice of good male Angoras here is very limited. It took me even longer to find the time go and collect him from near Tarbes - a round trip of almost ten hours!

La Ferme de Sourrou hardworkinghippy's favourite Angora goatsWe've chosen six of our best females to mate with Puck and so far things are going well. We also hope that Puck will cover Suzie our milky Sannen/Alpine cross who is getting on a bit, but is in great condition. That will give us (hopefully) a couple of kids for the freezer and plenty of milk for cheese and colostrum and milk to share with any Angora kids who need it. Normally, we kid in March, but next year the kidding will be in April. I'm really looking forward to having kids again.

The woodburner's lit for winter

Godin Woodburner and home made
The woodburner's lit for winter, première mise en ligne par hardworkinghippy.

The house is toasty warm and I love cooking on this. We keep it alight 24 hours a day throughout the winter. I put a bit of chestnut in it in the morning on the embers from the night before and let it blast a bit to clean the flue, then if we're around we fill it with chestnut and close it right down until we start cooking lunch when it gets opened again either to use the top fast plate for fast cooking or the oven - the hottest oven I've ever had.

Godin woodburner being used to it's maximum !I can make a lovely flakey quiche from start to finish in under half an hour, boil a kettle while I open the chickens and geese and give hay to the goats in the morning. A casserole can be left on the cooler side of the cooker to simmer all day and I dry socks, wellies, pots and pans, and all our clothes around the cooker.

If we're out all day I use oak which stays in well, and just before going to bed, we fll it up with mostly oak to make sure it stays in all night.

18 November 2007

A jambon keeps well for a year - normally !

Jambon made in January - opened in November 2007

A couple of weeks ago we decided to start the new ham that's been hanging outside since January and it's in perfect condition and much less fatty than any we've done before. We've never managed to keep them from one year to the next - they go fast because the meat is great - but we just might do it with this one.

I was a bit worried about this one keeping well because we had a very damp summer, but we took it down in September, dried it out a bit and rubbed more pepper into the vulnerable areas around the bone and it's in great condition. We'll start it now so that by the time Christmas comes it will be at it's widest and easy to cut in pretty slices.

We've still got some pork chops and some of the fattier pork cuts which I'll use for Saté and making bean stews so I'll have a look in the freezer and make some casseroles from whatever I find there for bottling because now that the cold weather has really set in (It was -8° this morning) we've lit the woodstove.

15 November 2007

The good news and the bad news...

Well the good news is that our 450 watts of solar panels and the 2kw wind generator have arrived.

The bad news is that Guy, Fabrice's uncle died yesterday morning.

Those of you who know us well know that this is news that we've been expecting for some time, but somehow when it finally happened it was a bit of a shock.

Guy has been completely dependant on us for a number of years. He survived cancer of the colon but he never really got his appetite back and he had a lot of problems associated with his digestion. He was blind and unable to walk, talk or feed himself and had Alzheimer's disease which made his behaviour more and more difficult to manage.

We cared for him in his own home a few minute's walk from us, where he lived with his sister who is slightly mentally handicapped. Although they were brother and sister they acted like an old couple and Christiane is going to miss Guy a lot.

The past few years have been a real roller coaster for him health-wise - he's been in and out of hospital dozens of times. The last time was for a lung infection and unfortunately he stayed immobilsed for about ten days and developed bed sores which became infected and ironically, finally, that's what killed him.

Yesterday morning he looked so peaceful.

We're all very sad to have lost Guy but we know that his going is a blessed release.


8 November 2007

Rutland wind generators and reliability - our experience

Two little windgenerators on the hill at BourrouAt the moment, we've 2 small Rutland 910s wind generators. One is 15 years old. I bought it as a winter back-up to four small solar panels I used when I first went off-grid. The other (A Furlmatic) is 7 years old. They're rated at 75 watts each, but of course when the wind's really blowing they give us more - up to about 250watts.
The first Rutland I bought has been through hell – re-sited three times and damaged twice. The first time was my fault - I dropped the head (It was heavier than I imagined.) and damaged the bit the pales push into. It was easy to fix, but left the unit with a slight rattle. Rutland wind generator in the snow

The second time it was damaged was during a terrible storm in 1999 which destroyed homes and forests all over Europe. The Furlmatic sailed through the storm with no ill effects, but we had twenty four metre roofing sheets stacked and covered and weighted down in front of the generators and the wind was so strong that it whipped them off one by one. Several sheets were forced around the mast of the old 910 and pushed it to the ground. When we went out to see it the next day three of the pales were broken and the head was bent and the back fin was damaged.

We got replacement blades and a new fin from Marlec – delivered in under a week – and we unbent the head and pulled the mast back up with the tractor and the bloomin' thing still gives the same output as before - but rattles even louder !

One of our Rutland 910 windgenerators

For the money (around 700 euros each) and the reliability and availability of spare parts, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Rutland 910 series as a small low cost wind generator - especially as a complement to photovoltaic solar power.

This is an update to this post in the blog. I've just come across a PDF of a Rutland owners manual so HERE's the link.

I’ve been looking for a larger turbine for a few months now. I’d love to be able to have a washing machine here. We’ve 600 watts of solar (450 more coming on Sunday !) but I need at least another 1000 watts to ensure that on a sunny windy day I can get my washing done without leaving the house and still have the luxury of a computer, television and good lighting for the evening.

With "Make your mind up time" looming nearer, (We're going to need lights for working on the inside of the extension this winter and we need to get the cabling done and decide where to site all the material before we go any further on the east terrace outside) I was watching the price of some windchargers on Ebay and the sale of one of them finished around 4pm. At 2.30pm, we had an unexpected visit from a man who stopped off here once - to see our windgenerators - about two years ago.

He's a very shy geeky little man who asked Fabrice technical questions that I answered and undaunted, he kept up the conversation on that basis. His general manner takes a little getting used, to but we stated talking about his system and I showed him and explained the working of ours and little by little he and I started making contact.

With electricity, Fabrice leaves all the design and technical stuff to me, but he'll help me wiring and lifting which is all that a girl can ask for really. It's very exciting having someone who lives nearby like this man, he knows about the things I know about and want to learn more about, that I've never, ever talked to anyone else about in person.

He suddenly stood up to leave and asked if he could take our old 600 watt inverter away that I'd mentioned earlier, adding that he might be able to fix it. Now, I'm desperate to see his workshop and learn more about fixing and making generators, it would be great not to have to worry about getting spare parts.

I smelt serendipity and this felt like an omen. He left just minutes before the Ebay sale ended, so I got on line quickly and bought the 2000 watt windgenerator and it's coming with the panels on Sunday - if all my plans work out OK.

I'm very excited - Fabrice is even showing signs of anticipation, but there's still a lot of work to do digging trenches, wiring, putting the panels and generator up and humphing around batteries, controllers and making things to keep things in etc. before we'll be able to try it out.

I've spent about six months researching which generator to buy and how to buy it (There are grants in France for Renewable energy projects). I'd like to share that information with other people thinking of doing the same thing, but I'll have to do some work on getting it all together before it's a presentable post in the blog...

I do miss having a secretary.

7 November 2007

We've eight new Geese

Geese 1

These were intensive breeding geese, past their useful lives and sold cheaply (We paid 24 euros for eight) or discarded because they're not worth selling for their meat.

Their feathers are growing back in and they look much cleaner than they were when they came. Two of them have Angel Wing probably caused by over-rich feeding and not enough exercise, but they're all healthy and we'll save the best ones for breeding in the Spring.

Tonight they went into their shed with just a little coaxing from me and Max.

5 November 2007

Fiddling about with 2D 12v low energy lighting

I love nice lighting, but unfortunately, the choice of fittings and decor in low energy consumption lighting is still quite limited.

12v 2D Leisure lights from MarlecI bought three of these units from Marlec Engineering eight years ago, along with several replacement tubes which I haven't had to use yet. They do the job and can light up a whole room, but last week I decided to buy covers for them which give off a nicer diffused light and are much prettier than the original utilitarian square plastic box.

12v 2D innards by hardworkinghippyI took a chance and bought them without measuring the lights and fortunately the 2D tube plus the electrical components fit, but I had to cut off the edges with a hacksaw to get the square box into the round cover.

I rewired the unit, replacing the wires (2.5mm cable which is very difficult to work with and guaranteed to break nails!) with slightly longer pieces long enough to enable them to go round the outside of the box. When you're working with DC (Direct Current) you must ensure that the cable size is big enough to prevent losses along the length of the cable. Here is a Cable size Calculator to help you determine the size you'll need for your own installation.

Rewiring a 2D 12 volt unit powered by solar energy Then I made some small holes with a red hot screwdriver in the plastic to correspond with the fitting holes in the cover unit, so the screws supported the two together.

Up the ladder again, I screwed the unit into place securely and pushed the feed cable through a side hole so that everything laid flat to the ceiling and connected the wires using a "chocolate" block. I tested the light, then went back up the ladder with the glass cover and gently fiddled with it until it slotted into place then I tightened up the last screw and it was done.

hardworkinghippy and 12v solar lightingLights on again et voila!

We have three of these lights - one in the kitchen, the hall and the main bedroom. They consume only 12 watts and give off enough light for working and looking for things. Most of the other lights in the house are low consumption LEDs which don't give off a lot of light, but they "open up" a room and are lovely for mood lighting.

This week, I'm working on another old spotlight which I've bought LEDs for to replace the 12v halogen, so I'll post some information on that, plus some other examples of our LED lighting soon.

THIS site will tell you how and where - depending on your post code - to dispose of your low energy lights (220W or 12v) safely.

4 November 2007

Me at Home Farm with one of our rabbits and a red bra

I've just been looking through some old photographs of rabbits, keeping my mind off the bigger issues around me and simply amusing myself classifying my life.

I've had a lovely day planting bulbs, watering the cuttings and newly planted bits and bobs and helping Max herd round our new geese. We got eight mature layers for 24€ and we'll make sure their last days are happy ones.

We've kept them inside their pen (my toolshed comes in handy again!) for two days and I let them out this morning for the first time - alone. Fabrice left early to hunt deer and on hunting Sundays, I do whatever I want - which is exactly what I do most of the time to be honest.

Normally, we manage new stock together because animals are often confused and stressed coming to a new place and it's easier and safer if there are two of us. Frankly, I felt sorry for the geese, so I opened the door, Max panicked when a goose attacked him and within seconds they headed straight into the pond. They must have read my mind.

These geese have never seen a pond before and they were in a terrible state - but after spending almost all morning in the pond splashing and cleaning themselves, they looked great outside in the field - but I forgot to take my camera...

Rabbits - I used to keep rabbits.

I had about forty or so at one point - too many really, but they are easy to breed but really like to be clean and you have to manage the males and move them around a lot, but if you've enough food for them it's well worthwhile.

One summer it was really hot and over a period of about a month all of them died. I was heartbroken.

3 November 2007

Some of the shelters we've built for our animals - with slideshow

This show takes a little while to load, but it's a nice way to show you some of the animal shelters we've built over the past few years.

We both love building small projects like this and we're very lucky to have all the wood we need on site, so sheds don't cost a lot - perhaps a favour for some old chicken netting from a neighbour and some hard cash for nails, screws, roofing and guttering.

Where there's a shed there's compost and at the end of each slope we put a gutter to catch water which we use for the animals and for the plants nearby. So around each shed there's potential to use these resources without having to move them too far and the areas around the sheds become very rich and fertile. The chickens clean up wonderfully around the sheds and people don't really believe me when I say hardly ever need to weed - but it's true.

You can change the speed of the slideshow on the top of the screen...

I can hardly wait until a shed's finished to start planting round it. Climbers are lovely to soften the edges of sheds and they also provide useful shade for the animals and shelter and nests for the wildlife around. They are also very beautiful and the perfume from the Star Jasmine on the West side of the chicken shed has to be the most wonderful reason ever for digging a hole and putting a plant in it.

2 November 2007

A dead Barn Owl's feet

The feet of a dead barn Owl

This poor thing was probably hit by a car, he was too beautiful to bury straight away so I looked at him a lot to get to know him a bit better. I've never seen one up so close before.

I took a few photographs too - macabre maybe, but at least he had a decent burial.

Knitting socks with wool from our goats on a single bed knitting machine

This is a pattern for a size 5 (38) pair of socks made on a Singer Chunky machine. They can also be made on a Bond or a Superba machine. They take about an hour to make - with no interruptions.

Starting angora socks on the machineKnit 60 sts in rib either by hand or on a ribber machine.
Knit both socks at the same time

Put 36 of the stitches from each rib onto a chunky machine folding the rest over as in the photo
Tension 5 knit enough rows to cover a foot and an ankle
Tension 6 add reinforcing yarn - cotton or acrylic

Angora socksKnit two rows
Push one outside needle out on each side and knit back and forth
Repeat until you've pushed in six needles on each side

One by one, start pushing the needles back in again knitting back and forth before pushing in the next one.

Angora socksRepeat until you've all the needles back in place.
Knit 38 rows
Then repeat the same process, but this time for only five needles

Then turn your tension to 2 and knit two rows
Turn your tension up each two rows until it’s back to 6
Knit enough to match the rest of the rib

Turn the work round (for a really professional finish)

Put the rest of the rib on.
Do one row at tension 12 then cast off.
Knit up the edges of the socks by hand.

Really comfortable and hard-wearing angora socks from hardworkinghippy in France
Here's the finished sock, brushed to bring out the soft hairs of the angora wool on the inside. (Toe wriggling becomes something approaching heaven!)

I also brush on the top part for boot socks because it looks nice and keeps your ankles warm.

28 October 2007

Winter's on it's way !

We've had lots of Crane (Grue Cendrée) formations like this passing above us for the past few days. The birds make an incredible noise while they're flying and it's interesting to watch how the leader drops off from time to time to let another take his or her place. There are the inevitable stragglers and you just can't help cheering them on as they struggle to keep up with the rest in the long journey south.

If you want to track the course of the cranes, or add your own sightings, go to the European recording site where there's a lot of information on this magestic bird.

Seeing them pass on their way south is a glorious sight - and a sure sign that winter's on it's way.

We've been getting ready for the cold weather too and as there's still a bit of heat in the October sun, I've been doing a lot of hand-washing of socks - drying them first outside on the terrace, then bringing them in to dry near the wood burner which we lit for the first time this week. Washing by hand sounds like a bit of a drudge, but once I've found all the matching socks it's lovely to discover old friends who'll keep you nice and warm all winter and the job becomes a pleasure - especially on a bright sunny day.

October sun for drying the socksdrying socks

I started making socks from our goats' wool for ourselves because there's nothing worse than having cold or uncomfortable feet when you're working outside all day.

I make them on a single bed machine from a pattern I designed and gradually adapted for a perfect fit, with no possibility of the socks going under the foot in wellies (Oh how I loathe that feeling!) and I make sure that the socks are easy to get on and off - very important at the end of a long day when you don't really feel like struggling to get your boots and socks off.

Some of our socks are more than ten years old and although I often have to darn or patch them when they wear at the heel, it's worth doing because they're still comfortable to wear. One of the nice things about woolen socks is that the wool absorbs a lot of moisture yet still feels warm and soft. You can wear woollen socks for days and days - the only limit being your own conscience !

You can buy these socks direct from us, or you can buy the mohair to knit your own pattern or use my machine pattern which I'll put into a separate posting in this blog.

19 October 2007

Wood pigeon for supper !

The Palombe season is in full swing and chez nous you can see masses of pigeons pass in clouds three or four times a day. I don't think I've ever seem so many birds in one flight as I have this year.

Fabrice has been visiting palombiers, (Shooting towers in the trees.) and he's taken some photographs for me. This is one of them - but don't look down !

Two of our neighbours have built a new Palombière which is 14 metres high. They've spent all summer cutting long straight pine trees, manipulating them round a huge Oak tree, attaching the beams and getting everything into place. It's a real labour of love. They've built a little hut on top and put branches and fern around to hide the structure and themselves. Fabrice was asked to join them on Saturday morning and between three of them, they got seven palombe- which is a pretty good morning's hunting.

These are beautiful well-fed birds who may well have landed in a cornfield where they're a lot of uncollected cobs and corn left after the machine had done it's job. There's a lot of "waste" when the corn's gathered, but none of the corn gets wasted at all really.

When we plucked and gutted these two birds they were full of corn and in perfect condition.

I cooked them the evening they were killed. I used duck fat the brown them, turning often on a very high heat. Then I removed the birds and used the pan to brown the last of the garden potatoes which I then put into the oven to finish cooking. I put the Palombe back into the pan and added some shallots and some Bourru - an unfermented wine which our friends with vines bring us at this time of the year. We've a lot of it and it doesn't keep, so in it went.

I scraped everything that was stuck to the pan then when it was bubbling turned the gas right down and after about an hour we had a lovely meal with some left over for lunch the next day. We had that cold with chutney and good bread and the dogs got the bones well boiled in water in their kibble in the evening.

18 October 2007

Fabrice doing the roof beams up there - we're so pleased to see the whole thing going together.

15 October 2007

The Environment

I hardly ever talk about the environment these days, so people who don't know me probably think I don't care or I don't realise how important it is.

If they'd met me over thirty years ago they'd have seen that I still believed that it was possible to "do something". I was the "pain in the bum" telling people to switch off lights, get rid of their cars, grow food, buy organic or local food, keep chickens, use solar power...

I was then - I still am - passionate about simple living. I think somewhere along the way, we've forgotten than it's really wonderful enjoying what we've been given rather than inventing more and more complicated and expensive ways of finding new highs that more and more people can't share.

I wanted to do a post for Blog Action Day in the hope that some sort of miracle can happen if only we just start behaving ourselves and think about the greedy things we do to to the earth and to each other and talk about what we're going to do.

For me the real issue now is how we humans are going to manage without the cheap energy we got used to during the "oil age" and how we will come to terms with our continuing lack of energy resouces for an infrastructure of production and distribution of goods that we rely so heavily on to live "normal" lives.

In the last few years it's become very fashionable to talk about "saving the planet", but the planet will get by very well indeed without us.

14 October 2007

We got the corn harvest in this weekend

Normally, we just fill the dryer with a bit left over, but this year because of all the rain everyone in the village is really pleased with their crops and we're all trying to find suitable containers to store and dry the corn so that it lasts well all year.

We use the same machines all round the village, going from field to field loading the wagons, then one by one we get our corn dryers filled. The men work together with several tractors pulling all the different machines needed to do the job. It's very exciting and a good crop like this means we don't have to spend money buying in expensive feed for our animals. I've put a slideshow of photos at the bottom of this post because it takes ages to load and by the time you finish reading the post you should be able to see more photographs.

We use the corn for feeding our pigs, sheep, goats and poultry and the local wild birds do very well on it too ! We also swop the corn for other cereals like barley and wheat with our neighbours.

We give the whole cobs to the goats and pigs and they have to work to nibble the corn off. We have a hand machine to grain the corn for our sheep and poultry and we've a neighbour with an electric machine who'll do a load for us when we visit him.

I've gathered in most of my Indian sweet corn which I planted in the potager, it's a good crop too although about eight of the cobs were attacked by a mushroom and disfigured. In France this is considered a "maladie" called "Charbon" and the corn is worthless. I was really disappointed and showed the corn to my Flickr friend Podchef (Now there's a man who can cook!) and he suggested that it was a highly prized delicacy in Mexico called Huitlacoche !

Huitlacoche [wee-tlah-KOH-cheh]
Mexican Corn Truffle
Huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche) is a fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn (Ustilago maydis). The fungus is harvested and treated as a delicacy. The earthy and somewhat smoky fungus is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups and other specialty dishes.

Fortunately, I didn't give Peggy all the "damaged" cobs, so I'm going to try cooking with the Hiutlacoche and see how it tastes. Fabrice will never eat it - I just know...

Here are the four cob colours I got from last year's saved seeds and I want to keep as many as I can of the best from this year for planting on a bigger patch next year.

4 cobs all different

...and here's the corn harvest Slideshow:

11 October 2007

What a great few days !!

I've only been away for a few days, but when I got back home the air felt cooler and smelled of Autumn. This is the first time I've taken a plane in a long time and I did it because I really needed to go and get back quickly. I feel very naughty flying, but I'm so glad I went because I really needed to see my friends and recharge my batteries a bit before winter comes.

The first night in the UK, I stayed with some old friends Jack and Anne. Jack picked me up from the airport and we got home in just enough time for Anne to show me round their lovely gardens and visit the bulb shop they opened this year, part of it is shown in this photograph.

We spent ages wandering around the garden and talking about plants and planting. I'm in awe of Anne's memory for Latin names. I remember the names I learned a long time ago, but I have the feeling that there's not a lot of room left for the new ones I've tried to remember ever since I've been learning French. How Anne can remember thousands of species and varieties of the bulbs she's got is a complete mystery to me.

Being able to wander around a garden owned by someone who will sell you the plants that you can see growing is great, but it's even nicer when the owner's a friend and she'll let you take all the ripe seeds you can find paper bags for!

I've watched their business grow with great interest. Jack and Anne were neighbours in Theydon Bois in a lovely house called Rose Cottage. Like me and many other people in the village, they opened their gardens each year to the public under the National Gardens Scheme, selling plants to raise funds for Cancer charities. They became well known for having unusual and interesting plants to sell and attracted a lot of visitors. Now, 11 years later, "Rose Cottage Plants" boasts an amazing collection of unusual perennials and possibly the best collection of bulbs you've ever seen - all available for sale in their on-line bulb shop. They have a website Rose Cottage Plants. with a superb informative Plant list - and this web page is only the "A"s!

Next day, I caught a train to Northampton where I was picked up by an internet pal and the day after, after a bit of gardening and a lot of cake baking, we made our way into the wilds of Wales where, at the wedding of one of our group the biggest treat of all lay in store - meeting up again with all the women I've been in contact over the past few years on the 'net - a bunch of women who have become a lifeline for me. We spent Saturday morning having fun decorating the couple's huge barn with plants and flowers, taking delivery and preparing all the fantastic local food to feed everyone.

The wedding was beautiful, in a tiny little church overlooking the Welsh valleys. The bride wore a glorious red dress with a magestic train and the groom wore the kilt.

Even the Welsh rain stopped just at the right moment when we left the church to make our way back to the reception which was a grand affair, with afternoon tea and hundreds of home made cakes and later in the evening, a huge barbeque of Highland cattle burgers and steaks, followed by fireworks.

The atmosphere was lovely and it was great to share such a happy day surrounded by so many wonderful women. Still, all good things must come to an end and late the next morning, after cleaning up the barn and finishing off our swopping session (which is always an exciting part of our get-togethers) we headed back to the Midlands to meet up with another friend who couldn't make it to the wedding but wanted to see us and get some things from the swops and we shared yet more cake. The following day I caught the plane back to Bergerac - exhausted but full of energy and inspiration.