Friday, 26 October 2012

A Book...


There was that big End and then la Grande Silence but Mailhos is not dead!
Firstly I have a book coming out this week in the gallic tongue but soon enough, I hope in English.
The book weighs 590g and has 244 pages recounting the tale of Carol and Jean Francois trying to be farmers from the début in 2006 up to the serene year of 2011… with recipes, chickens and many daft stories.


News is that Mailhos didn’t want us to leave and is missing us and as our work is unfinished, we are returning home to the Bearnaise countryside in the new year to continue our adventures.
Right now the garden is a jungle of weeds and slugs where nature has taken our place both inside and outside. The swimming pool is a green sludge of happy frogs and salmanders while muscat grape vines and wasp nests have left me barely enough room to turn my head in the greenhouse.  
But its not too sad because there are so many happy birds and animals using Mailhos as a haven, especially during the forthcoming hunting season.
So right now the caravan is on its travels and wearing out the husband so he will never want to leave our enchanted life for any long period again with a return in Spring to repair the damage of time and  damage the repair our bones have undergone…. 

*(available from Mollat, FNAC, Amazon fr and Amazon uk and any nice bookshop in Paris)

Friday, 2 March 2012

Peyrehorade Market




Peyrehorade is our nearest gascon town situated on the banks of the reconciled gaves or rivers of Oloron and Pau in the departement of the Landes. Its the town where the rivers navigation can begin and for that reason pleasure boats line the quai waiting for an enthusiastic tourist to pass.
15km from Mailhos, its market is held every wednesday morning hail rain or shine in winter or in summer since the year 1358. I notice that many of our neighbours don't venture so far to buy food and prefer to stay within the confines of their own Bearn. Personnally I love it as Peyrehorade maket bustles and brouhahas unlike the smaller village markets surrounding us and despite the presence of one of the two Monsanto GMO research centres in France being situated within its confines and the biggest local station of corn collection...!


Above the market, the ruins of the chateau d'Aspremont overshadows the town below,  covered in a thick layer of clinging ivy dating from the 16th century. Below, on the banks of the river, lies the once majestic Chateau de Montréal which was abducted and disfigured, internally and externally by the local major and transformed into his personal haven. 


Every wednesday morning, the oldest Landaise market bursts alive as local producers, artisans and street pedlars pose their stalls hiddledy piggledy from the place du Sablot to the place Truquez where the concentration of basque, landaise and bearnaise berets is greater than any other market in the South West of France. 




In the midst of such energy lies the Bon Coin where pigs trotters and tripes are served while the rest of us are dipping our croissant in our morning coffee and under the market arches, dead and live chickens, geese, guinea fowl and ducks are sold to eat or to lay.  





I just buy a cabbage and a few blushing turnips from a little old lady and good, fresh bread from Didier Lemonnier who hides his organic status so that more people will come chat with him. 





After, we cross the bridge to Mr Barthouil's salmon smoking factory to buy a little smoked eel before heading home by the Abbey of Sordes to see if the spring salmon run has started on the river. 



Hail hallelulah, three have passed the young sentinels at the abbey and will be safe in spawning grounds before the fishing season opens on the 10th....



Thursday, 23 February 2012

Sheeps Cheese



I've managed to brave the cold air and sow some turnip, radish and carrot under glass in the garden. Despite frosty nights, we usually have enough to harvest in the garden right up till asparagus time in April but March and April plan on being lean this year, as nothing has survived the unnaturally cold winter that has befallen us. Even the pumpkins and squash, supposedly protected in the barn under wraps of straw have suffered and are now helping feed pink, compost  worms. Beetroots have been drained of their sweetness and winter radishes are soggy and tasteless. Even on the local markets, winter vegetables are scarce as the spinach was frozen to a cold death and greens would be so very welcome right now. I dream of turnip tops and that is what I hope to have under my chicken and thrush protected glass contraption very soon...



Yesterday, we went to collect our monthly cheese supply from the Erbins in Angous. For generations the same family have raised their sheep for spring lamb and milk and make what we think is the most fruity and grassy cheese, one can find, to sell exclusively at the local markets. 



Papa Pierre,  his two sons, Michel and Benat work together on the farm, sowing the grand roux corn, sunflower seeds and grass that will nourish the sheep and make their milk rich and creamy for cheese. From now until Autumn,  they sell a greuil that is the mountain equivalent of fresh italian ricotta  but pleasantly lumpy and light with a naturally sweet aftertaste. We eat it as we would a yoghurt with fruit compotes, fresh strawberries or honey and often as a garnish for a rustic vegetable soup. The cheese itself is best young when we still taste the grass and meadow flowers. Later, when more mature, its our local alternative to a parmesan or pecorino.
The sheep are still kept indoors for most of the day, feeding on their hay and sunflowers seeds until the grass starts growing and they can be left to themselves in the meadows. In  June, all the family and animals leave together for the high mountain pastures where the sheep are free to roam and nibble contentedly on wild flowers and rich summer grasses. Pierre and his patou mountain dog will stay with them throughout the longer lazy days and continue making an "estive" cheese, that tastes even more blossomy.


Their patou sheepdog has no name, no contact with humans so should never be caressed or petted so he bonds as closely as possible with his sheep family. He is not a herd dog but a brave and vigilant guardian of the the flock which he stays with night and day, protecting by dissuasion his adopted family from feral dogs, humans and bears. Of course, I went to pat him and received a look of total stupefaction from this intelligent animal who must see us humans as lesser beings than his woolly family.  



The farm chickens hop along the backs of the feeding sheep looking for room to lay an egg in the best spot. Its lambing season and twins were born just before our arrival and are already solid on their feet and feeding from their tired but upright mother.
Julian, Michels young son is considering whether he will become a cheesemaker or cheese affineur in his adult life. One thing is sure, is that he is the cutest, sweetest farm guide we have yet met. 


The cheese is brined and dried on wooden palettes in the saloir and stamped with their horned family symbol. Once mature, it is sold Saturdays by either Pierre or Michel at Sauveterre market. This family is the team of the century!




Recipe :  how to eat Erbin's cheese....!



Friday, 17 February 2012

Narcisse




The frost has passed (for the moment) and whats left is a sorry sight. 
In six years living in Mailhos, I've never experienced such a hard winter both inside and out. My broad beans, that  I sowed out in October, are mushy and black. Pea plants, which only three weeks ago were whirling their happyway around their twine wigwams are today papery dry and acting very dead. Silver cardoon leaves are a rotting mass of rusted bronze while elsewhere the normally large and bountiful leaves of the agapanthe are lying over the jaundiced grass like a thin layer of clingfilm.  Most of the mimosa is frozen and turning brown before it had a chance to bloom while Mrs Hen Harrier has taken off with another two chickens...
Despite such  misery, I found my first narcisse under the Medlar tree this morning....
There is hope for all!




Thursday, 2 February 2012

Freeze


Winter is wearing its full regalia... Temperatures inside raised to a cozy 16° while outside, they're dropping by the hour.


Alert warnings, measured Orange arriving by email from the french Meteo, warning of heavy snow and 
descending temperatures. Imagine we could soon be cut off from civilisation...
Already this morning, the broad beans and peas were looking a little despondent, laden with a frosty halo, weighing down their young stems.  Just one week ago, I was convinced they were ready to flower and what a disaster that would have been.


Romanesco, broccoli, red cabbage and spinach don't seem to care.






Even my dead summer flowers are happy stalk sculptures, iced with lace. My early winter lack of exertion  is paying off. 


Deer are taking advantage of the cold to graze in peace without a pair of fluorescent, cheimatophobic hunters stalking their every move.



I'm also very happy to have no silly men and their sillier dogs disturbing my daily walks in the forest or my chickens but Madame Hen Harrier is causing chaos in the courtyard and has returned to whisk off another of my brood. This time, an anonymous black one who I never could name because of their similarity to each other. All I can remember is that she had very shiny feathers, shimmering blue and a scowling beak. 
I think I'm going to start getting angry!



and my mister FOX (mrs has the big tail) is also approaching the chickens in a menacing manner accompanied by his suspicious, new Grey Heron friend who oversleeps in the south facing field. Soon will have more information on this suspect relationship....













Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Weeds




January slugs by and the rains continue. Mme Hen Harrier is ensconced in the twisted branches of the liquid amber waiting to pounce on another chicken but fortunately the rest of my brood have beady eyes and no gaudy head-dresses. Brainless, male hunters wander the forests and fields dressed as lollipop ladies, yawping into their mobile phones as they stalk the last deer and boar. Peach trees have buds. The mimosa is ready to bloom. Golden crocus's and narcisse already are.  With no real winter holding it back, I think Spring is already in the air!
Next week I really hope for a few dry days to to begin the winter cleanup of the garden. Right now the soil is rather sodden and liquid-like and even to attempt sticking a fork like tool, 20cm in the soil, would cause havoc. Along with all my stick-like rotting plants that I have been lazy about removing (as winter is about resting tired bones, doing bloody nothing, gathering strength for a new season and reading books and keeping warm), I have a thousand types of weeds which have found a niche in the straw mulch or are happily hiding behind my mustard and phacelia cover crops and due to our mild winter, are growing sturdy and strong.
Apart from rocket and mustard greens which I planted myself and are by this time of the year running thin, buttery lambs lettuce/mâche is everywhere. I grew it about four years ago as a winter cover crop and couldn't eat it all so it seeded and returns for an annual visit when I most need it.




Vitamin flush, chickweed grows freely in mats where there is space and shade and is my favourite of all weeds because its so easy to remove when needs be, in one sharp tug.




Baby borage are still popping up where they can, fuzz free and brimming with oily goodness.


Golden calendula flowers, although never a weed, are surviving where the sun hits a south facing wall and despite being one of the few flowers left in the garden, their petals are being devoured before being visually appreciated.


Peppery persian land cress is not exactly what one would call a  weed but keeps returning no matter how much I cut it back and as my definition of a weed is often a plant I can safely eat without having to care for it, in drowsy january, it falls right into that category. This has to be my favourite of all green things and its all I need to go with a thick slice of Jean-Michel's foie gras and a minerally bottle of Jaquesson champagne to celebrate something rather confidential later this evening.


Cathartic ground ivy seems to be far too content in our garden as it has taken over from grass as our lawn coverage. On sunny days, there is a new growth of small tender leaves that can be offered to the daily green bowl but I just can't eat enough to help the grass to renew itself.


Red arroche has germinated, wildish fennel and spotty lettuce are growing independently,  dandelion leaves and petals are tender, cucumber flavoured salad burnet is in full array, cleavers are holding on...







Of course, there are plenty of other leaves waiting to be eaten but their gustative qualities leave a lot to be desired and I don't really eat things just because they "could be good for me". Food is more than just fuel and theres a lot more than fuel around to appreciate now...


Borage