Wednesday 28 September 2011

Toadstool Time

We have fungi. No not edibile ones!  At least we assume none are, so we are not hovering hopefully with a frying pan at the ready. We are, however, just curious as to what keeps popping up in our grass before being ruthlessly chopped down by the lawnmower. 

growing on larch stump
Unless you are an expert, fungi are notoriously difficult to identify. Here in France, foraging in the woods for edible species is a popular past-time. To help make sure enthusiastic pickers do not inadvertently poison themsleves, anyone can take the fungi they have collected to the pharmacie [chemist] which will help sort out any edible ones.

under pines and poplars
Most of our fungi grow in the grass near or under pine trees; although there is a colony of 'something' flourishing on an old larch stump. One sample also pops up near the roots of our poplar trees. 
near pine trees
No idea what they all are--we did identify the death cap, so it doesn't feature in our little gallery.
next to larch tree
tucked into our hedgerow

Sunday 25 September 2011

First days of Autumn

1st tinges of color in the oak leaves
Last Friday was the Autumn Equinox so summer is officially behind us. Late summer gave us weeks of wishy-washy weather with below average temperatures. However, it has now turned glorious. Proper bright blue skies and temperatures in the low to mid 20s. Indian Summer, with the first leaves on the turn, has arrived!

The grape harvest is as good as finished but there are plenty of other signs that Autumn is settling in for a 'good' session. 

drop, drop, dropping.....!
Our walnut trees have been dropping nuts for a while now and you can barely move without scrunching several underfoot. There are loads of acorns and conkers [wild chestnuts] too this year. It keeps the red squirrels very busy. They are making good use of this harvest and seem to have become adept at playing 'cat & mouse' with Katinka without it really interferring with their collections. Thankfully, so far we've had no 'presents' of russet furry bodies.

autunm sown field

Several weeks ago Eric finished his autumn planting and now tiny green shoots have popped up in orderly rows. The minute leaves look to be of a brassica type plant so we suspect it's colza [rape seed].

red apples in a village orchard
Everytime we drive into the village we pass an orchard with a number of very heavily laden apple trees. The fruit on the two red trees really stands out. We wonder if they are going to harvest them -- as far as we can recall, last year they didn't.

wild rosehips packed with vitamin C
The hedgerows show splashes of bright color with wild rosehips as well as sloe plums. When we lived in the Netherlands you could buy comercially produced rosehip syrup called 'Roosvicee', it was very popular and you added it to natural yoghurt. Rosehips have far more vitamin C than oranges. We've been told that you should leave off harvesting the sloe plums until the first frost if you plan on making sloe gin. Sadly our hedgerow hasn't enough rosehips to make turning them into syrup worthwhile.


Friday 23 September 2011

La Chapelle Saint-Jean-du-Liget

La Chapelle St Jean-du-Liget
Tucked away in the Foret de Loches is a small round chapel. It's sign posted 'Chapelle du Liget' from the road which runs from Loches to Montrésor. Not far from the Chartreuse du Liget, it's a wayside chapel belonging to the charterhouse.

It has recently undergone an extensive renovation to restore and conserve some excellent late 12th century frescos which decorate the inside walls of the main part of the strucutre. Sadly the porch has long gone.

Dormation of the Virgin [last earthly sleep of the Virgin]

Last year we read in the local newspaper that the renovations were finished and that at the weekend one could obtain a key from someone in Sennevieres with a view to visiting... at least that's what we think we remember. Despite carefully cutting out the clipping to save for the future, we lost it. Once, when we were on our way from Montrésor to Loches we tried pot luck but it was tightly locked up.

decorative corbels
Last weekend once we'd visited the Chartreuse du Liget we passed the sign to the chapel and decided to turn back and gamble that, as it was the "journées de patrimoine", it might be open. We were in luck, it was.

Inside it is a very simple round structure which must have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary as scenes from her life are depicted. Outside all along the walls just under the roof line runs a series of restored decorative corbels. Some are of grotesques, others are Christian symbols.

Photographing the frescos was a little tricky as just inside the door is a locked grille to prevent visitors from going up and touching them. But we hope the photos give an impression of this little gem. 

inside of chapel
If you'd like to read about some places other people visited during the Journées de Patrionine visits then have a look here.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Journées de patrimoine

Current private residence, Chartreuse du Liget
Last weekend historic monuments all over France -- both public and privately owned held their annual open days: 'Journées de patrimoine'.

Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and later King Henry II of England was, in his time, a busy little bee in our corner of France. Henry is probably best known for: marrying Eleanor of Aquitaine, ex-queen of France; being the father of Richard the Lionheart; and the instigator, intentionally or otherwise, of the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in front of the altar in the Cathedral.

entrance, with St Bruno, founder of the order
Tradition has it that 'La Chartreuse du Liget' at the edge of the forest of Loches, was - one of a number - founded by Henry in penance when threatened by the Pope with excommunication for his involvement in the murder. The official royal charter of this Carthusian monastery, or charterhouse dates from 1178 [Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170]. However, Henry had already purchased Liget Woods in 1153, well before the assassination, and given it to Villeloin so that a group of monks could set up a small community there.

Now in private hands it was, once, extremely wealthy and influential. Hosting the visits of a number of French medieval kings led to valuable privileges. 

back of entrance gate
 Carthusians were an enclosed order. Monks lived individually in small cells which lined a courtyard. They had the absolute minimum contact with the outside world coming together only for the religious services of the day and for dinner on Sunday.  Each cell even had a small hatch through which the monks' meals were served so that their prayers and contemplation times were not disturbed by lay brothers. These did all the manual work such as growing the food, cooking and generally running the charterhouse.  

The lay brothers lived separately away from the charterhouse proper in what was known as the "maison basse". At Chartreuse du Liget the laybrother's house is a couple of hundred meters down the road and is known as the 'La Corroirie'.

Not much of the medieval Chartreuse du Liget remains as it was sold as a nationalised building in 1792 after the French Revolution. The location and later buildings are, however, charming. 

La Corroirie: lay brothers house down the road
On the day we were greeted by three very helpful children, presumably from  families with connections to this, now private, property. Not sure what the Carthusians of old would have made of this...

Sunday 18 September 2011

Round the back of St Ours

looking down into a garden
Several weeks ago we took our friend Jane up to the medieval quarter of Loches to have a look at the church of St Ours where Agnes Sorel is buried as well as the Lansyer house. Emmanuel Lansyer (1835-1893), was considered, in his time, one of the best landscape painters. The house he lived in, in the medieval quarter, is now a museum and the garden has a lovely view over the city of Loches.

floral safety feature
A bit tucked away round the back of St Ours is a small and quite intimate public garden. It is screened from the cobbled street which leads from St Ours to the donjon by a high wall and the entrance is an ornamental grilled door. You could easily mistake it for someone's private garden. 

Inside are some formal rose beds, a grassy space, a couple of peach trees and some benches to look out over the roofs of the Lochois living in the houses below. From here you can also look up and get a great view of the Romanesque towers of the church.

looking up at St Ours
The most charming thing, in our opnion, is the lovely flower border that has been planted to keep people from leaning out over the low wall which edges the steep drop at the end of the garden.

no takers
To one side is a restaurant--one we have yet to explore further. Its terrace has no clear boundary with the garden--the one seems to flow into the other. That day the weather wasn't very good--a misting rain came and went, so there were no takers for the terrace. 
mille fleurs
On a sunny day it is a super spot to bring a book for a quiet read.

As always you can click on the photos to enlarge them

Wednesday 14 September 2011


red wine grapes yet to be harvested
Right now it is a busy month for the vignerons with the vendange going full tilt. We don't notice it here in Charnizay. Apart from one small outpost near Bossay sur Claise all the vinyeards of the Touraine AOC are well to the north of us.

There is an added bonus to the vendange activities in September though: you can buy 'Bernache'. It's a name particular to the Loire which is given to the fresh fermenting grape juice. It is only available at this time and is a real treat. About 5% alcohol, it is cloudy, often very unctuous and sweet. As it matures it changes, losing a bit of its sweetness and gaining a vague hint of the wine it will become. Vague for ordinary people like us. Expert vignerons can tell from the older Bernache what their wine will be like--but it takes a trained palate & experience. Sometimes you can find Bernache in your local supermarket; we go to the Co-op at Francueil and buy a few bottles of wine as well.

bottles of bernache
There's nothing fancy about it. It's sold 'en vrac'; not bottled. You either bring your own container(s) or they'll fill re-cycled bottles for you. 1ltr 1/2 Cristaille water bottles seemed to be the re-cycled bottle of choice. It's rather like going to a filling station for gas. You line up and they squirt the Bernache into your bottles from a large gleaming and chilled vat. In the bottle it looks like cloudy apple juice. They make a small hole in the bottle cap before handing it to you to allow the natural fermentation gases to escape; so you need to keep the bottle(s) upright. It is good practice to wedge the bottle(s) securely for the drive home. Otherwise after the 1st bend you come to you'll find your car awash with sweet sticky Bernache and smelling like a winery! 

Niall: vine photography in action
Chatting to the lass who was manning the bernache 'pump' we heard that the vendange is proceeding reasonably well, despite the heavy rains last Sunday. The rosé Bernache, made from the red wine grapes is due in a good week or so, which means we will be going back for some of that. After all, it is a speciality which you can only enjoy for a brief time.

[apologies for the fuzziness of bernache bottle pic. We were in a rush as the bottles were going to a friend]

Sunday 11 September 2011

Tiles for the terrace

 terrace, looking NE where corner step will be
Today it's raining and cool. What a contrast to yesterday when it reached nearly 30C here: a real summer's day, hot and sunny.

In Edinburgh they have a saying: 'If you can see the Pentland hills it is going to rain; if you can't, it's raining'. It's a bit like the second bit where we live: if you can't see the other side of the Aigronne valley it's raining. Right now we can't see the other side.

Typically, on such a lovely day for doing things in the garden we needed to go and visit Leroy Merlin--well known to anyone in France who does any kind of home or garden improvement. We needed to order the tiles we'd chosen for the terrace. Before we moved in we had the terrace dug out, concreted and a small breeze block retaining wall put in. We'd decided that the finishing would come later once we'd settled in and were clear what we wanted.

terrace tiles
Later has now arrived. We want it done before the winter as there are also some drainage issues. We need the terrace to slope slightly away from the house so that water runs in that direction. As it is a large space, 52m2 in total, we also need to have a second soakaway put in. When it rains here, boy can it rain!  We'd also found, using the terrace over the summer, that the step up to the grass was far too small. Now it is going to be widened and placed in the corner on the angle so as to 'open' the terrace up to the space beyond.

We'd liked the look -on the internet site- of 3 different tiles. When we got to the store yesterday morning they didn't have one of our choices but the other two were on display. So we looked at two others we hadn't considered during our internet search but, in the end, came back to our original equal favorite. 

The tiles look like stone setts and are a pale golden colour. Most importantly they are anti-slip and have a high resistance to fading. The colour should blend in with the tones of the stone & render of the house keeping it all light. They looked good in real life and the store had them in stock so the order was placed. The staff were efficient and friendly and we were in and out very quickly. So a successful visit and it meant we would get home in good time to deal with the grass.

some of the kit for the new step and soakaway
But the best laid plans.... we have just over 2 1/2 acres and we take it in turn to mow large sections of it. We were just changing over, having got about half the area done, when Niall noticed that the front left tyre on the ride-on mower looked very soft. We had a flat! On Tuesday we'll take it to the garage in the village for repair. The rest of the grass will have to wait until the tyre is fixed and it stops raining.
However, rain or shine tomorrow the work starts on the terrace and we're looking forward to having it finished.

[terrace tile image from Leroy merlin catalogue]

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Pickled peaches

washed fruit and alcohol ready to go
We harvested our peaches last Friday as a storm was predicted and we were worried that they would drop and bruise.
Apart from one or 2 which could have done with a few days more they were ripe and we took our haul into the kitchen. We didn't actually weigh them but it was probably about 2 kgs of fruit, maybe a little more.

Next morning Niall came down and found a number of peaches rolled into odd corners of the kitchen and Tinka looking suitably angelic waiting for her breakfast.....hmmm

bottled and ready to store
We ate some--they're small, white fleshed, a bit fuzzy on the outside, but delicious. A few we gave to friends who dropped by and the rest we needed to store. 

Many French households have enormous chest freezers. We don't. We have an ordinary large-ish fridge-freezer which is already pretty full of frozen stuff, so we needed to store the peaches a different way. We decided to preserve them in alcohol. Boozy fruit at Christmas sounded very appealing! In addition, it is terribly easy: all one needs is glass preserving jars, alcohol--either flavoured or not for preserving,  and the clean fruit.

We had neither the glass preserving jars nor the alcohol so an expedition to the supermarkert was called for. In the wine and spirits section we found bottles specifically labeled as alcohol for preserving fruit so we went with these rather than brandy.

peaches getting 'pickled'
Once home it was 4 easy steps:

1. Sterilise jars

2. Rinse fruit and check for 'intruders'

3. Fill jars with fruits and alcohol

4. Store for at least 3 months in a cool dark place.

We decided to add some cloves and a cinammon stick to each jar for added flavour. Hopefully this will give the peaches a spicy taste. We now have to wait until Christmas to see if it is a success....

Saturday 3 September 2011

Ploughing & Harvests

ready, drivers!
Today is Charnizay's 'Concours de Labours' [ploughing competition]. Every year a farmer 'donates' the use of a field and the farmers with their tractors gather to see who can plough the best furrow. Sadly no horse drawn ploughs take part as they did in competitions we saw in Limburg (NL). However, they do hold a lady's competition as well as a men's. We'll get a full report of the results the next issue of the 'Petit Charnizeen' our local newsletter.

"older" competitor

When we eventually found the right 'lieu-dit': St Michel; much had already happend and most folk were clustered round a central judge's tent aka refeshment stand for a pre-lunch chit-chat. 

off to lunch!

The tractors were all left standing proud next to their furrows which were neatly marked with numbers.   A few cars sped off in clouds of dust and then all of the remaining folk piled into an animal transporter to trundle back to Charnizay proper to have lunch in the chapiteau [marquee] which stands all summer next to the Airgronne. Ploughing resumed in the afternoon.

vendange, medieval style
The vendange [grape harvest] has started in the Touraine and although most of the AOC vineyards are to the north of us there is a small outpost of the AOC in Bossay sur Claise just to the south of us. Picking is quite early this year as the spring was so hot and sunny. We have thunderstorms forecast for today with possibly even hail which is not good news. Fingers crossed we don't get hail; just, if anything the downpour. Right now it is pretty warm, humid and claggy. 

Just to be on the safe side we harvested our peaches. The previous owners planted a small peach tree and it is still very young.

our peach harvest

Last summer it gave us 5 peaches, this year we have had a - comparatively- bumper crop. They ripen very late as the people who planted it weren't really very green fingered. They planted it  where it gets buffeted by the NE and NW winds which come over the ridge. Still it has established itself there and done us proud.