Monday, July 12, 2010

Mad dogs and Englishmen

The hot weather has rolled right in to the south west of France during the past few days and we have seen temperatures in the mid 30's C (mid 90's F) every single day.

I learned the other day, that this period of hot weather is known as the "canicule".  Canicule gets it's name from the latin  - canicula, which, as all you latin scholars will know gets it's stem from canis or dog, in English.

Apparently, canicula is the Latin name for the star Sirius, which in the skies above France , raises about mid July and disappears again about mid September.... and here, of course, that corresponds to the scorchingly hot period of summer.

One of the things I truly love to see as the hot weather arrives is the wonderful fields of sunflowers, all turning their heads to catch the sun.  In French they are called tournesol, or turn to the sun.  I planted some sunflowers in the vegetable garden recently in a bid to attract more insects and have a fun flower and they are looking quite good at about 150mm (6") high.   However, on the drive to the market on Saturday, I passed field after field of sunflowers, all a good 4ft tall (1200mm)  and all with bright yellow flower heads, obediently searching out the sun.  I really hope mine will catch up, but I'm sure they will.

My time in the kitchen has taken a back seat too, during this hot weather, relying on cold salads rather than preparing food, but I did make a salad today using lots of fresh produce from the garden, including this year's first French beans..  which were so sweet, they could have been peas.

I didn't think to take my camera again on Saturday, which is a real shame, as the fields deserve a photo.   As I mentioned field after field of sunflowers, interspersed with fields of hay, the big "wheels" of hay sitting in the sunshine, waiting to be collected.  I even noticed that one or two of the farm lads had had a bit of fun, constructing a tractor out of bales of hay.  It seems this is a part of haymaking in this part of the world, and happens every year.    Even the local hay co-operative had a hay tractor outside it's store last year.   The one I saw on Saturday was a particularly fine example and had been adorned with a plough.  The first hay tractor I've seen this year and it has certainly set the bar quite high.  Maybe I'll go back, and get you some photos.

Well, I've talked a lot about Latin, but I think it was the ancient Greeks who originally called this time of year "Dog Days".  I gather it's something to do with what later became imortalised by Noel Coward "Only mad dogs and Englishmen" and this year, I'm really learning what they meant:

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun"....maybe.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Market Day

You may know that, for me, Saturday is market day.   Almost every Saturday, I go to my favourite village market in Villereal, in the Lot et Garonne departement of France.  It's a truly gorgeous market, which I love.

Well,, today is Tuesday, which is why I went to market this morning.   Things have conspired against my weekly visit to Villereal for the past couple of weeks and although I managed missing the first trip, when I then missed the second, I decided that I really needed to supplement the fruits of the garden with some local purchased produce.

I'm lucky, where I live here, right on the border of the Dordogne and Lot et Garonne departements, there is a different market on every single day of the week.  And they are all within a few minutes drive, the furthest away being only a 25 minute drive.  Tuesday, it's the role of Castillonnes, to host it's local market, and, as Castillonnes is just 5 kms away, it was to there I rushed this morning.

I wouldn't say I was a regular visitor to Castillonnes market but I do go fairly often as it is also where the nearest branch of my bank is found, and that branch is only open on market day!!!! And so I found myself wandering through the market, nodding to the various traders I know.    Rene and Sandrine were there from the permaculture farm at Lasspisottes.   The "leek" lady from Villereal, who I have often written about, was also there, with her bicycle propped against the wall behind her st.... well, it can hardly be called a stall, just a basket of delicious fresh produce picked that very morning.  Lauren, my long suffering green grocer at the market at Villereal, also has his stall in the main square at Castillonnes, and, indeed, it was to his stall that I first headed.

But as I arrived in the main square a rather nice seedling stall caught my eye.  I have seen this man here from time to time and his seedlings always look so good.  He sells a large variety of herbs, all potted up and costing just a few cents each.  There was mint, and basil, and coriander, and tarragon, and a host of other truly aromatic herbs lining a stall about 20ft (6metres) long.   All his herbs are sold in pots and he uses a thin plastic former to hold 12 pots.  I like the formers as they are great disposable seed trays, and I often use them if I have any.   Each "pot" is about the same size as an individual yogurt pot, which I also use extensively.

But then, right at the far end of the stall, something caught my eye.   There was a pile of those plastic formers but I noticed that in the top one each cell had a live snail in it.  I thought it was surprising to have that many snails on the plants he had brought to market, but wandered on my way.   I suddenly stopped and turned back as the realisation hit me...

He had snails in every one of that pile of formers.... He had them, quite simply, because they were just another produce of his garden that could be sold as food.

Friday, July 2, 2010

1st Peaches

Back last year I added a peach tree to those trees I already had in the orchard.

1st_peach I didn't really expect any fruit for the first couple of years.   Back in May, I wrote that there were a dozen or so tiny fruits developing.  Well, the winds and dry weather have taken their toll on that number but you can imagine the delight as I have watched four tiny fruit hang on and develop over the past month or two.

Today, on my walk around the garden I noticed that one of these precious fruit had fallen off,.  It was lying on the floor, undamaged by it's sudden descent.  So I picked it up and figured that as the flesh of peaches can so easily be damaged, the best thing would be to eat it there and then.

It was truly delicious and I immediately decided to pick the other three.  They were all small but oh so juicy.

This was a taste first for me, never before having been in a position to eat peaches fresh from the tree.   It's a memory created.

So there you have it, my first peaches.  Truly succulent and, although very small this year, a sign of great things to come