Friday, May 23, 2008

Those bees, they are wise you know?

We have a big old cherry tree in our garden. It stands proud, probably getting on for 12metres (40feet) high and guarding the entrance to our orchard. There are three walnut trees in the orchard as well, but even they, who are probably over a hundred years old, even they don’t seem as majestic as that cherry.

It’s an eating cherry, a beautiful big red, almost black, cherry. Every year since we moved here four years ago, we have been helped by the young daughter of one of our neighbours to pick the cherries, usually collecting about 10 to 15 kilos (20 to 30 lbs) of sweet ripe red cherries. Actually, we probably pick a lot more than that but that is the amount which make it back to the kitchen – the rest getting eaten on the way!

Once in the kitchen this gorgeous fruit has been turned into wonderful dishes. Of course, at harvest time a great number are just piled into the fruit bowl and eaten throughout the day. My neighbour’s kid also usually gets to take a big bowlful home which they eat over the next few days.

Then some are put into bags and frozen. They will be pulled out from the freezer throughout the coming year to use in all sorts of dishes or even just allowed to thaw and then eaten in their own juice.

Clafoutis, is a traditional dish made with cherries in a sort of custard batter which is very popular in this part of France. The dish is normally made with whole cherries because the pits add a special taste to the dish during baking. I actually make it with whole cherries because the one time I depitted the cherries, the cherry juice stained the batter and made the whole thing look almost inedible – but of course, in France, it’s the taste!

The rest of the cherries are made into cherry jam. I try and do this on the same day the cherries are picked but don’t always succeed. I also make a second batch of cherry jam about now, just as the new fruit is coming to harvest, using up all the left over frozen cherries from last year. I’m not sure whether I can taste the difference.

As I do every Saturday morning, I went to market last Saturday and there, on our greengrocers stall was cerises pays – cherries harvested locally, and it reminded me that it was time to be thinking about harvesting my own.

During last week I checked my cherry tree.. I took this picture of it back in March when it was just coming into blossom and subsequently it filled with crisp white cherry blossom.

Rather than finding 10 to 15 kilos of cherries waiting to be picked, I found about 10 to 15 cherries!

Suggestions from the local French sages who garden are that the weather during spring was so awful the bees couldn’t pollinate the tree properly. It was very, very wet, it was very, very windy and they would be buffeted and knocked off course as they tried to collect the pollen.

Another idea is that the huge drop in the bee population is being seen in failed crops.

But one of my neighbours solved the riddle when he said to me. (In a thick French accent) “Those bees, they are wise you know? They wake up in their hives and look out of the window. It is blowing a gale, it is pouring down with rain, so they simply roll back into bed and snuggle down under their blankets”

Well wouldn’t you?


chaiselongue said...

Strange that here in the Languedoc it seems to be a bumper year for cherries. A friend went a way and asked us to pick her cherries - so many we don't know what to do with them all. Clafoutis, yes, I made that last night, and 16 pots of jam - have you any ideas about preserving them in Armagnac?
The blossom on your tree looks lovely - maybe next year the bees will get out of bed!

Ian said...

Hi chaiselongue,
As I understand it you just fill a jar with cherries and then fill it with the armagnac. Seal the jar and then put it in a dark place and forget about it for about a year.
Try it out - you can bring the results here for September, next year!!!!

Kate said...

I am up for trying that cherries in armagnac too - only wishing to help you out, you understand! I have local cherries in my freezer too, not from my garden but from further up in the hills where the nights are colder and they grow beautiful cherries.They are there in the freezer next to my mother's mangoes!Life is good...!
What a shame you have such sleepy bees, Ian. That clafouti looks darn yummy though.

Maggie said...

Yum! Cherry tarte. What more is there to say.

ilex said...

Wow, that's a beautiful pie. I'll sample some too, please...

Cute story about the bees snuggling back into their beds. I do hope it's just that and not the bee troubles. I thought I heard they were making a comeback in France due to several nicotinoid pesticides being outlawed?

chaiselongue said...

Hi Ian, I've put some cherries in a jar with the armagnac, and a bit of powdered sugar. If I can forget about them for long enough I'll bring some next year! If only Kate could bring some mangoes too.

Kate said...

Frozen mangoes in a plane with me for 18 hours or so....mmmm...I doubt there would be any left when I arrived. But I could try. After all, I did consider bringing a big bowl of salad, if we came direct Adelaide-Kuala Lumpur-Paris-Ian's. Do they let you take an esky on the plane? Wouldn't that be such fun!...I could dry some mangoes but dried lettuce wouldn't be that good! No use me bringing home-made limoncello - surely there's some better stuff right next door in Italy and this was meant to be a trip to Italy, not France at all, that's why I am learning Italian. Ian you are very naughty to hijack my trip and make me come to France!!My French is very rusty.

Maggie said...

Last year we had almost no bees in our garden, but I noticed millions of them on the flowering trees at the Adelaide botanic gardens. A lot of trees there had masses of flowers because we were having unusual almost tropical weather. This year I planted lots of flowering plants and herbs and let things like rocket go to flower and we had masses of bees and wonderful cucumbers. It may have just been a coincidence but I don't think so.
The main bee attracting herb I grew was Agastache Foeniculum (anise hyssop). I wrote about it on our blog, the search link should find it. Just don't pinch our bees!

Ian said...

Hi Maggie, I think your bees are safe from me!! Aparently, though, they fly up to 7 miles. I was astounded when I found that out. The implications for cross pollination from GM crops are huge at that radius.
I grow mainly flowering shrubs in the garden but the forsythia was in bloom at the same time and had plenty of visitors.