Madame Lumière’s Late Bloomers

From about July the weeds were time-consuming to deal with.  Quite apart from the fact that the plants were managing to go to seed before I could get to them, I am now convinced that a lot of seeds come through our rapid composting process.  Digging all Nick’s compost into the garden is definitely improving the texture and workability of the humus-poor sandy soil we have in St V, so we probably have to grin and bear it in the short-term until we can manage to reduce the quantity of seeds getting into the bin in the first place.

But the soil is beautifully and deeply wet so I am starting in the top right-hand corner where the Allium schubertii grow beneath the roses.  The Himalayan strawberry, Fragaria nubicola, which I allowed to grow around the lovely late-flowering blue Salvia uliginosa (Bog Sage) further along, has sent its stealthy tendrils to the top region of this flower bed and has to be rooted out.  The red berry fruits are pretty, spherical and very pippy.  They taste very watery so are not good eating, but they do look nice.

There are bushy self-set St John’s Wort to root out, also Nicandra which are everywhere and other large invasive weeds. When all this junk is removed there are delphiniums and helleborines in need of rescue.  In fact one delphinium is still in flower with another tall bud spike in waiting, for which the jury is out as to whether it will flower before the frosts.  Standing back I can see that there are lots of late blooms to enjoy and some of my plantings over the past 4 years need to move house and that needs thought……and a bit of persuasion.

Over successive days I clear out the narrow border by the gravels and re-edge with scallop shells, residue from a recent supper.  I always ask the fish man to leave the scallops for me to shuck.  I harvest every scrap of muscle which is attached to the shells and I cut off the frills to bizz up and use for fish bisques.  Only the gills and digestive gland are chucked.

The next bed to get its autumn-cleaning is the one by the back gate.  I dig out the vast Chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) and clean up the large taproot through which roots of the dreaded convolvus are entwined.  Lots of other vegetative junk is excavated.  The Chicory is divided, a sizeable piece put back and 8 pieces potted to give away.

Monsieur le Cool pays frequent visits as I kneel on my piece of foam, and fork and rake around the plants.  He pushes against my knee, looks up at me with his big pussy cat face and penetrating stare.  In the end I have to go indoors and eek out a few more of his daily ration of biscuits.  He is only allowed 60g of dried cat food a day, which looks so little, although he does wash it down with rainwater from the orange bucket so it swells up some inside him.

I’ll keep working round the garden until the end of the month, weather permitting.  Nick, who loves to see clearance of any kind is admiring of progress.  So much so that he finally agrees (after a year of demurring) to the creation of a new flower bed to accommodate “delphiniums blue” ……. and irises in all their irisy colours.  (The “geraniums red” will just have to go elsewhere!)  Mum and Dad’s bird bath is a trigger for the choice of shape and placement.  So the bed gets cut and will lie fallow through the winter so nutrients can leach out of the compost and the frost can cut the ground.

And now for a gallery of late bloomers….

Days of Wine and Roasties

These clement November days are going to be a gift, when I can get round to them.  After our two weeks here in August, trips to Croatia, Skye, Dorset, Devon contrived to delay our return to St V until well into October.  Then I only had a week here before returning to cover half term.

Returning, then, in November we enjoyed a visit from the Palmers.  Stuart spent nearly all his time working with Nick in the workshop, for which I am truly grateful.  Angela and I filled some spare time with a bit of retail therapy.  In particular we had a wonderful couple of hours in the Jardiland near the Auchan shopping centre.

France doesn’t really do nursery and garden centres as well as England does, but this branch we visit is very close.  They have some lovely houseware, silk flowers, glass, basketry.  And the plant section is much the largest I have seen on this side of the Channel.  I find purple and cream pansies which will sit over the bulbs I plan to plant in the square planters by the front door.   And I’m taken with some miniature wooden window-box type containers with 3 hyacinths and the legend ‘Le Gourmet Bistrot’  lettered on the back face.  Sitting on the porch table it will amuse our French visitors who will find it ‘rigolo’.  Such audacity.  We drive back to meet the chaps in Le Debarcadere for plat du jour and a carafe of rose.

On Saturday we do the market.  I don’t need much, a fine specimen from the barrow of caulis outside Gosselin and a 3 Euro sack of vegetables will see us through.  Not forgetting a couple more bottles of that nice red we drank the other evening with roast pork.  I remember to collect the duck I’ve ordered from M. Lemonnier for Sunday lunch.  In the evening we find ourselves sitting round a table chez Fuchsias.  Works of art process and are consumed.  It’s bucketing down so Nick fetches a car.  We get inside and cascade into our respective beds.  On Sunday I roast the duck with plenty of taters, and its a quacker.  We take a drive out to Gatteville to gaze at high seas from the dry comfort of the car.  Very Sunday afternoon drivers.  Then Stuart and Angela are off to catch their ferry.

So now we are the two of us.  Nick is on the last stages of giving the workshop, which will be my space, coats of paint before boxing in the wiring.  Then it will be a case of fitting work surfaces, a desk, shelves.  I’m so looking forward to pressing this room into service.

But I have lost time in the garden to make up.


A Flirtation with Fungivory

About ten years ago I joined my sister Liz on a Fungus Field Course at Preston Montfort Field Centre.  I had a wonderful week learning to seek out and attempt to identify the toadstools and other fungi we found.  Each day we would go to a different woodland, or piece of land with more open habitat, and simply walk around searching.  We took a knife, a wooden trug and our cameras and after a couple of hours we would meet up with the rest of the group and be transported back to spend the rest of the day in the lab sorting our hauls.  We found loads of specimens and I took hundreds of colour slides in the field.  My favourites were the Russula toadstools and the very beautiful Stropharia aeruginosa.  I also had several photo opportunities with the Fly Agaric, the star of many a fairy story.

With so many species to get to grips with, that week in which I dabbled and rubbed shoulders with the likes of the late Derek Reid, who tutored the course, was a unique event.  My sister has gone from strength to strength in her adventures with fungi; I have remained single-mindedly loyal to the Mollusca.

But I have retained a thing or two and I do know that Boletes, or Cepes as the French call them, are good eating.  There are many species, including Boletus edulis, known as the Penny Bun, because that is what it looks like, and only a handful of poisonous ones.  They are utterly recognisable by the porous nature of the mostly yellow-coloured undersides of the toadstool cap.

On our way to the ferry last week we called at the petrol station at Liss to buy an Independent.  Nick spotted toadstools on an area of short turf planted with young trees nearby.  There were many, in groups of 2, 3 or 10, 12…..  As I peered down at them I could see that they were Boletes and in reasonable condition.  I hastily extracted a plastic carrier from the car, not an ideal receptacle but I did not have a nice wooden trug to hand at the time, and picked 15 or so.  We then trundled off, I’m not sure why I felt we had to steal away, I am sure no-one else was going to bother harvesting them.

We crossed the Channel and, once landed at Ouistreham, I phoned Anne and Francois, who are enthusiastic amateur mycologists, to see if they would be up when we got to St Vaast, about 11 p.m.,  so we could get my haul identified.  They would be.

Francois leafed back and forth through his Fungi Guide and deliberated over the possible options.  With Boletes, as with many other fungi, they are often host-specific.  Nick thought the trees under which the toadstools were growing were birch but the leaves attached to some of the caps were too broad.  They looked more like beech it was thought.

I suddenly noticed some pine-needles sticking to other specimens, and this eventually led me to a tentative identification.  By this stage I was in my kitchen having been shown which parts of the fungus to use, and which to discard, the viscous skin on the cap being a definite discard.  In fact the viscosity of the cap and the suspect host eventually led me to conclude that I had gathered either Suillus grevillei (formerly Boletus elegans) which is Larch-specific or Boletus granulatus commonly called Slippery Jack, which grows beneath conifers.  Both are edible species.

I peeled away the skin and also the spongey porous underside to the cap.  The flesh which remains is smooth and in my specimens was a bit waterlogged owing to the heavy rain of previous days.  The following day I called up my Rose Eliot recipe for Mushroom Pate (given below) on my laptop.  It contains nuts as well as mushrooms, along with breadcrumbs, herbs, and egg, milk powder…… and a teaspoon of marmite.  I chopped the Cepes and also some Shaggy Inkcaps I had picked in our garden.  These latter have come up each year since we have lived at 104.  I had to boil off quite a lot of the liquid but I made the loaf and we ate some with saute potatoes and mushy peas for lunch.  It was good.  I took a slice over the road for the doctor and his wife.


1lb/500g mushroom stalks, washed (this is the economy option or you can buy cheap mushrooms or harvest your own!);  1 onion peeled; 2oz/50g butter; 1 egg; 8oz/250g wholemeal breadcrumbs; 2 tbs skimmed milk powder or soya flour; 40oz/100g milled brazil nuts, or hazelnuts or walnuts; 1 tsp Marmite; 1 tsp mixed herbs; Sea salt

Chop mushrooms and onion and sauté together in butter until tender – about 10 minutes.  (This is when I boiled off excess liquid).  Liquidise, then add the rest of the ingredients and sea salt to taste.  Turn into a well buttered and crumbed 2lb/1kg loaf tin and bake in a moderate oven, mark 4 or 350F/180C for 1 hour.  It should come out of its tin without too much fuss and can then be served in slices with gravy, roast potatoes and vegetables.  It also slices well when cold.

This recipe makes use of the complementary protein in the nuts and mushrooms, and in wholewheat bread and skimmed milk powder (or soya flour), with an egg thrown in as well, to make a nutritious, tasty and fairly economical main dish.

Et Maintenant La Vie Francaise

Mum and I arrive at the house to a warm welcome and a light supper.  It is good to be back after a longer than usual interlude.  The garden is looking verdant, the grass is cut and lush.  Yes there are far too many weeds but on the plus side there are lots of raspberries to pick.  A stand of Nicandra has set itself underneath the Yucca which I now acknowledge has rooted and looks set to thrive.  The seedling Echium I transplanted from the narrow bed by the gravels is huge and threatening to overwhelm the Dietes bicolor.  It looks as if it is the second species that grows on Tatihou; with luck I will have one plant of each.

Early days are spent making raspberry jam, and working on the curtains for the salon-sejour.  We arrange for Francois, Anne and Daniel to come and eat with us on Friday evening.  I’m going to give them a classic fish pie, make it with cod for a treat, and hope that Daniel, the fisherman who does not eat fish (there are a lot of his like), will at least try some and will be able to get the mash down if nothing else.  He agrees to give it a whirl.

In the event the pie is much enjoyed by the Poulets and Daniel nibbles at the edges but eats the puree (mash).  I serve roast parsnips (because I want them to try them; you never see parsnips in France) and peas with mint.  The latter causes merriment, apparently Francois thinks peas cooked with mint are VERY ENGLISH.  Daniel has brought a rhubarb tarte and I have made a damson crumble.  These are preceded by a large salade dressed with Anne’s ‘secret’ recipe vinaigrette (the secret is the addition of a teaspoon of good soya sauce to the usual ingredients) and cheeses including a piece of Partridge – a Devon blue I bought when chez Ingram.  In France they eat the cheese course before the pudding.

After we play Pool.  The men play a couple of games then Anne and I are encouraged to a match.  We make such another meal out of this game that at 1.30 there is considered no more time for Pool and it is time for bed.  Mum has truly entered into the spirit of  the whole evening.

On Saturday it is wet an’ ‘orrid so we skip the market as it is just the day to take Mum out for the lunch.  Originally it was going to be a Sunday event but we have been given another proposition for the weekend, which requires a fine day so juggling fixtures is good.  We are shown to a table in the main dining room of Hotel Fuchsias.

We are offered dainty crostini with tapenade with our aperitifs, and the amuse-bouche is a very small glass pot containing seafood soup with a rouille topped mini-toast and a tiny pot of grated Emmental and miniscule croutons.   I start with baby scallops floating in a watercress soup, followed by a small piece of pork filet mignon with assorted vegetable confections.  For pudding I have exotic fruits in a brandy-snap-like almond basket.  We get home, and the afternoon and evening are spent quietly.  We don’t want to eat again.

On Sunday we have an early lunch and by 1.30 we are ready for Anne to pick us up for our outing.  She is taking us to the Chateau de Crosville sur Douve, a privately-owned 16th century manor house with substantial gardens.  The current owners acquired the property in 1980 and in order to raise funds for upkeep they let the reception rooms of the Chateau as a venue for events.  They also host a few antiques fairs, and garden sales when plantsmen and nurseries (pepinieres) bring plants and garden tools, ornaments etc to sell.  This is the first year they have run one for autumn-flowering plants.

The circular lawn area in the front of the chateau is skirted by stalls which include a hydrangea specialist, a bulb-seller and other traders selling both familiar and unusual plants.  I spot some flashy Lewisia in flower.  I have tried these in the walls at Godalming in the past without success.  I discover that they like partial shade which is probably why mine failed in the full sun of the south-facing dry stone walls.

At Chateau de Crosville you can get through to the rear of the property up and over a wide flight of stone steps which passes through the body of the house (escalier de reception).  There are doors off either side of this covered passageway giving access to rooms which have been pressed into service for the day to serve as gift shop, tea-rooms.

Anne buys some unusual shrubs and climbers for her large garden; I restrict myself to two Lewisia (which I set in some of Nick’s latest ‘crop’ of compost in the chunky, beach-worn, hollow concrete blocks which I use as planters for geraniums and the like) and an additional variety each of Salvia and Echinacea.  We also buy Allium bulbs.  By the end of the afternoon Mum has been on her feet a long time but is still buoyant.  We eat simply in the evening and are not too late to bed.  Tomorrow we will have to have a grand tidying before we board our ferry for Poole.