Hunter-gatherers, we

Bas and Rosemary arrived on Friday morning.  Conveniently placed for the Portsmouth ferries they had taken an overnighter which gets into Ouistreham at 6-ish in the morning.  They came bearing croissants, mini-brioches, a tarte aux pommes and some plants for my garden: 2 Alliums and an everlasting Wallflower.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.  If I’m a keen sheller, Bas is indefatigable.

Even though we were going to do a proper tide at the end of the afternoon, he was all for a quick foray to the shore.  ‘My’ saltmarsh 10 minutes walk away was a good magnet.  It hosts a rare tiny snail called Truncatella subcylindrica, otherwise known as the looping snail.  Its looping gait is like that of a caterpillar as it moves by alternately attaching its foot and then its snout to the substrate.  It is difficult to find as it is minute and lives under stones and in shingle at high water mark.  Our snails were nestling on sediment under a slab.  The shell is beautiful, Bas took a photo of several animals (below).

We had one of my basic lunches – a soup of bizzed up potatoes and cauliflower stalks tarted up with florets floating on top, and a bit of charcuterie.  The idea of working a low tide is to chase the tide down; 2 hours is about the length of time in which I can sustain enthusiasm for this exercise.  If you start too soon by the time you get to low water and the zone of maximum interest your energy levels have flagged and at this time of year you cannot feel, or use, your fingers anymore.  There were a fair number of locals digging the sandflats by St Vaast harbour.  You have to squelch across slightly sinky muds to get to the sand banks which gradually become exposed.  About 50 locals were digging for razor clams.  With an onshore wind the tide didn’t really go out far enough.

Nick went to another bit of the shore to collect ingredients for the evening meal then joined us and dug up a few razor clams himself.  The rest of us were sieving the sands and collecting assorted clams as well.

Our neighbours were joining us for supper – we would be 8.  We were operating menu B because Daniel had been unable to buy fresh squid at a sensible price for his Encornets farcies, a signature dish.  So we were going to start with ‘flies’.   These were the limpets, gathered by Nick, which were placed on a buttered skillet, sauteed (and they do jump!) with a bit of vinegar.  Our main course was boned ribs of beef , wrapped in foil and cooked (by which I mean shown some heat) on our fire.  Nick and Daniel were in charge of the kitchen leaving me to lay the table.  I liked that!

Everyone ate the flies, with varying levels of enjoyment.  Daniel preferred to mop up the buttery juices from the skillets.  I think there was general self satisfaction at having eaten such a humble dish, albeit the calorific value of the limpet bodies was minimal.  I think Nick must have expended more energy collecting them than he derived from the eating thereof!  This must have been a problem for our hunter gatherer ancestors.  So as not to waste an iota, Bas collected up all the shells which he will set aside as a sample of one man’s gathering for one day’s meal and which can be measured for a size distribution analysis!

We ate the beef with potato puree – this is no ordinary mash as the the potatoes go through a large mouli and have quantities of butter and cream added.  It melts in the mouth.  There were Dijon and whole grain mustards, and a pot of  ‘horserubbish’ sauce which we have to bring from England.  With a cheese platter and salad, and a Tarte aux Pommes to follow we were well fed.

The rest of the evening was spent playing pool and the men managed several games.  When we joined them in the attic we women were encouraged to play a game of doubles.  Rosemary and I have played before but Liz and Anne were debutantes.  Anne was slightly nervous but potted a ball with her first shot.  We managed to spin our turn out (without much effort!) and spent the longest time trying to pot the last 2 yellows and 2 reds.  When we finally brought our marathon game to an end it was 2.10 a.m!


2 thoughts on “Hunter-gatherers, we

  1. In the midst of all the discussions going on about environmental issues and sustainability – see for a current example – it’s refreshing to see such a localised and unpretentious example of the things that can be done to better live off the land.

    Getting this insight into your hunter gatherer activities is become one of the great pleasures to be derived from your blog, and a theme that I think you should definitely develop.

    I can imagine that plenty of people other than your loving children would be interested to read about the many particular pleasures to be scavenged from the Normandy coastline, especially were you to approach each nautical morsel in turn and give us a little anatomy lesson in the process 🙂

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