A Sack of St Jacques

We love our time spent in St Vaast.  It is a delightful fishing port. (Take a look at this site, advertising a house to let, for a gallery of photos which give a flavour of this lovely town.)  There is a lively and varied medium-scale fishing industry associated with the port, including a Coquilles St Jacques fishery for which the French show a certain amount of self-discipline.  At least in our neck of the Norman coastline.  These wondrous shellfish are fished between the months of October and May.  During the intervening summer months the local population of these molluscs is left to breed in peace.

Many scallop species are highly prized as a food source; the name “scallop” is also applied to the meat of these animals when it is used as seafood. The brightly coloured, fan-shaped shells of some scallops, with their radiating, fluted patterns, are valued by shell collectors, and have been used since ancient times as motifs in art and design.

When in season scallops are available at all the local fishmongers and in the supermarkets.  Most fun, however, is to buy them from a stall on the quay where you can buy 1 kilo of scallops for 3 Euros.  Of course nearly all the weight is in the shell, but you still get 11 juicy units consisting of the large circular muscle and the orange ‘coral’.  I also keep back the frills which I boil and liquidise to fatten out soups.

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Our neighbour Mme Heurtevant buys her scallops by the sackful and arranged for a 10 kilo consignment to be delivered to our door the other morning.  It was a fairly labour-intensive job shucking them all but Nick and I evolved a conveyor belt system and at the end of it we had 45 scallops to put in the freezer when the season turns from feast to famine!

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Bingo – a Bongo of Pollacks

Some months ago when Nick and I were planning our Dorset – Normandy schedule, he put a marker down for the month of March.  This must be spent in France because it is the best fishing month for our staple white fish, Pollack.

And so it was, early one morning but late in the month, that Nick looked out of the bedroom onto a bright, sunny, still March day and having an open agenda decided to go to sea.  After a hearty breakfast of soft roes on toast he left the house with his big blue bongo and a basic picnic of home-made dried tomato soda bread scones, a fresh tomato, some hunks of of the deliciously orange Mimolette cheese and two Goldrush apples.  (They are selling this apple variety at Verdura just along the road and it is so delicious I have tried to track apple nurseries in the UK who sell Goldrush trees but have drawn a blank so far)

It would be a long day: Nick’s fishing excursions are governed by harbour gates which give access in and out of the marina within a time frame that is governed by the tidal cycle.  He was at sea by 9 a.m. and would not be able to return to his pontoon until after 5 p.m.

As a whole March has been rather a bleak month as far as fishing is concerned.  You need the right weather, sea state and tidal conditions to fish safely and effectively.  Nick finds his wreck, positions the boat in a position determined by water depth and speed of current, drops his weight to an appropriate depth and then allows the boat to drift over the wreck keeping the line at the right height, as far as he can determine, to reach the fish who are sheltering in and around the wreck.

By and large Nick and I do not communicate by mobile when he is at sea but I did get a call at 4 to say he was well on his way back to the harbour gates and “he had done well”.Blog-Fisherman

When Nick got home I understood the meaning of “well”.  Twenty-two fine Pollack had been hooked, one of which he returned on the basis of size.  He gave two to the fellow fisherman who helped him along the pontoon and up to the carpark with his weighty bongo.  Such a catch as this is pleasurable in several ways.  Our first task is to gift as many as possible to our neighbours.  Thankfully most of them are willing to fillet their own fish.  Nevertheless it proved to be a lengthy task preparing the fish for the freezer.  We also keep the male and female roes: he likes the soft variety whereas I like the ‘bally’ texture of the female roe.  Best of all, after a catch like this, we have white fish enough for all the pies, crumbles and fish suppers that will be made for friends and family alike.

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News spreads fast, Francois crossed over the road after surgery to receive his share.  We celebrated with a ‘coup de blanc’, Anne joining us.  Then Daniel popped his head in the door; Huguette (to whom I had given a fillet) had told Genevieve – mother of Daniel – (to whom I had not 😦 and of course, as an ex-fisherman wanted to know where Nick had fished.  Now all Daniel’s mates, commercial fisherman will be in the know.  The evening ended in one of those memorable ‘impromptus’: we baked a fillet here and took it over the road, Anne cooked the ‘joues de raie’ she had in the house, each of us provided vegetables, including our home-grown leeks, cooked in our own way and, with Daniel joining us although like so many fishermen he does not eat fish !!  we ate supper on the Poulet’s verandah.  Happy days!

Aujourd’hui je suis Mme Blogueuse Francaise

So here we are in Normandy and Nick has issued a challenge: to blog this post in French.  So, without labouring too much  to get it all grammatically correct (constant referral to translation facility), here goes.

Nous arrivons et trouvons que la maison est en tres bon etat et chaud aussi, grace a Daniel.  Nous dechargeons la voiture et tout de suite nous accrochons le tableau que nos enfants nous ont donne.   On trouve un endroit parfait.   Notre premiere rendez-vous est de manger chez Poulet avec nos bons amis.  Malheureusement pour Anne, vers la fin de la semaine elle est enrhumee, avec une fievre, donc nous continuouns avec le diner, mais ce se passe chez nous.  Chaque femme a fait un cours, pour les Lumieres, c’est le dessert, donc je fais quelquechose tradionellement anglaise: un trifle.  La soiree est tres sympa; c’est tres agreable d’etre parmi nos amis apres une absence de quelques semaines.

Des notre retour nous avons trouve un jardin qui est bien colore en jaune, mais aussi en besoin du entretien.  Apres toute cette pluie recente les mauvaises herbes sont grandes et luxuriantes.  Heureusement pour moi les racines sont facilement tirees de la terre humide.  Je passe plusieurs après-midis dans le jardin et dans les semaines que nous passons chez nous je vois de plus en plus plantes qui commencent a se reveiller après l’hiver.  Je vais faire un article de blog dedie a notre jardin.

Maintenant que Nick est en France, il et Anne en profitent musicalement.  Presque tous les après-midis, a part de 1700 hr, ils se trouvent chez nous pour passer une heure en jouant leur bodhrans avec des cours qu’ils trouvent sur YouTube.  Peu a peu ils font du bon progress.

Je fais des petites balades, par exemple autour de la Hougue avec Christine et pendant un après-midi je suis allee a la peche a pied des coques.  Christine m’a emmenee a la plage autour du parc a huitres.  Il ne fallait pas descendre loin sur cette plage d’en trouver.  La plupart etaient d’une taille moyenne mais nous en avons peche assez, les deux, pour faire quelquechose comme repas pour le soir.  Mais mince!!  Je trouve que presque tous ces coquillages avaient des petits crabes residents la dedans.  C’est une espece qui vivent comme symbiotique dans la chair de ces mollusques.  On les trouvent aussi dans les moules.  Cela rendent l’experience de manger soit les moules soit les crabes un peu croustillante 😦

Mais nous avons eu d’autres moments de gastronomie bien agreables.  Une soiree au Debarcadere avec les Duponts, Daniel, Bri, Georgy nous a plait.  C’etait un repas de reconciliation après quelques ‘problemes’ sur la renovation de la ferme au Vast.  Ailleurs nous avons mange a six chez la Bisquine, et un soir nous avons fait, pour Bri et Georgy, une soiree de Poker avec Poulet roti a l’anglaise  chez nous.   Nous avons mange un beau repas a l’Armoire a delices a Cherbourg avec Anne et Francois après une séance au cinema pour le film Les Garcons, et Guillaume, a table Ce film multi-prime (en traduction Me, Myself and Mum) est disponible en version sous-titre en anglais.  Anne, Nick et moi ont vraiment aime cette comedie, mais Francois n’etait pas convaincu.  Bienque j’ai suit le film assez facilement en francais, il y avait des scenes avec des nuances de dialogue que je veux bien revoir en version anglais.  Nous passons un week-end assez tranquille qui nous donnent l’opportunite de voir tous les episodes qui nous restent pour la serie anglaise Line of Duty.  C’est un de nos plaisirs de voir plusieur episodes consecutifs.

A Social Week

During the week after our family jamboree I caught up with several friends before our departure for France at the beginning of March.  Nick and I ate supper with Stuart and Angela, a delicious curry evening catered for by Stuart.  Midweek found me driving to Surrey where I had a dentist appointment (Bo and Ben are sort of friends!), a lunch date with my ‘twin’ Charles at The Squirrel and an afternoon tea session with my long-standing Book Group friends.  Based at Pep Road I was also able to catch up with some of my very important people 🙂

On Friday I picked Mum up from Weymouth and we drove out to Maddy’s for a cup of tea.  There Mum was able to meet Bertie for the first time and she thoroughly enjoyed making a fuss of Flossie, Teddy, the guinea pigs and hens and also Jiminy, the tiny South American rainforest owl, whose thinly disguised tolerance and disdain at being stroked were evident!

On Saturday evening I went to see Monument Men with Celia C.  Despite favourable comments from some, I found the film something of a disappointment because in my opinion the subject of the film had been treated with far too light a touch.  Coming out of the weekend we readied the house and ourselves for a bumpy crossing to la belle France.

Yet Another Birthday ……….. for Notre Grande Dame Speciale

Four score years and ten, that is going some and needs to celebrate.  My dear mother has reached this milestone and whilst some faculties may not be as finely honed as once they were, she remains her contented and charming self.  We all love her and were able to celebrate one Sunday lunchtime recently.  Nearly all her descendants and respective in-laws gathered at a hotel in a seaside town with its own small swimming pool, the latter amenity being a godsend for the numerous members of the youngest generation – 16 of them!

We gathered in the bar whilst we awaited the matriarch’s arrival.  We were all assembled when she arrived with Liz and she was hugely fussed over.  We went through to our small suite where we enjoyed a roast dinner with a fizz to toast and a happy cake moment later in the afternoon. For Nick no family gathering would be complete without an impromptu ‘bottle-walking’ competition!   After lunch the adults adjourned to the bar with a pool-viewing seating area where we could enjoy the aquatic frolics of our collective young.

With so much going on my photographic moments were somewhat erratic.  I had to scuttle round the bar taking a random set of photos.  I also forgot to photograph the cake and the lovely muffins that Chris made.  But the following gallery captures the spirit of the day, starting with breakfast at WK!

Cashel Blue

And finally the last day we spend in Ireland finds us just outside Cashel where we have booked into Tir Na Nog B&B for the night.  Despite all the advice and comments on internet feedback devices, booking into an establishment you do not know is a bit of a lottery.  Happily we find that our host is one of those men for whom nothing is too much trouble and who is willing to make a friend of his guests.  Tommy welcomes us with a tray of tea and good advice for our eating and shopping needs.  With his help we get a decent evening meal, and the following day we buy the woollen garments we have been searching for and happen upon some clothes sh0ps where red SALE  signs advertise real bargains.  I buy a navy mid-length wool and cashmere coat for a snip.  Anne and I also stock up on the locally-made black pudding which we have enjoyed on our breakfast plate.

After checking out Tommy accompanied us to the local cheesemaker of Cashel Blue, a drive of about 10 minutes.  We had chosen Cashel partly because we had enjoyed this cheese in Connemara and wanted to buy some take home.  Little could we have imagined that the source of this delicious variety of Blue cheese was on Tommy’s doorstep!  After a chat with the director we each bought a 1.5 kg ‘wheel’ of Cashel Blue and a smaller piece of their Crozier Blue which is the only blue cheese to be made with sheep’s milk in Ireland.

With little time to dally in Cashel we were not able to visit the Rock of Cashel with its castle atop.  After buying our clothes and black pudding we headed for Rosslare where we made a brief pit stop for soup before checking in at the ferry terminal

Birthday!

The morning of my birthday dawned.  This was to be our last full day in Connemara, however we picked up a message from Irish Ferries to say that our Tuesday crossing was cancelled owing to sea conditions that would be the same as those during which we travelled to Ireland.  We needed to stay two further days in Ireland.  Geraldine was happy for us to stay over, which would effectively complete the week and we searched for a destination with B&B midway across Ireland.  In the end we chose Cashel, which is actually much nearer Rosslare.

We ate a good Irish breakfast during which we were blessed with a view of a rainbow.

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After staring at the maps we decided to drive a bit further afield, so we headed southwest for Finish Island.  Here we found the extensive sands and rock outcrop in much the same state as the other beaches we have visited.  Some minor sea defences and the faces of turfed sand dunes which back the shore had been truncated by the waves.  Three men with an excavator  were replacing the large stone blocks.  Sand had been swept over beds of seaweed over the shore.  More floats were found.  After a good dose of wind and intermittent drizzle we retreated to our burrow and made a peat fire.  Champagne was served, together with crackers and foie gras and a handful of cockles we had collected at Finish.  Anne and Francois gave me a pretty jug that I had admired at the Roundstone pottery.

After, we drove into Roundstone to O’Dowds for a birthday supper.

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We were seated at the only small table in the cosy nook by the fire where we ate seafood with glasses of Guinness and afterwards I tried my first ever Irish coffee.  Special friends, happy memories 🙂

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Marine Harvest

The weather on Saturday was wild.  The spring tidal predictions for this day were the best for the year; that is to say the most meaningful for those who like to go to the shore to search the lowest sublittoral which is rarely exposed by the receding tide.  We know a place where you can collect with ease a good selection of edible mollusc species.  The high winds and heavy rain were deterrents for this seasoned beachcomber, but Nick and Francois were not to be dissuaded.  After a good Irish breakfast they set off on the 45 minute drive to their destination.

There Nick was able to relive his 2010 experience of that shore.  For Francois it was something of a revelation.  When they returned to the cottage they proceeded to sort their bounty ‘into species and prepare them for a seafood supper.  Most labour-intensive were the mussels, lovely big shells sporting established epifauna.  They scraped these in buckets of water whilst they watched 6-nations rugby on telly.  I boiled the two ‘bulots’ (whelks) and steamed the ‘petoncles’  (small scallops) ready for a little risotto.  I cleaned the only ‘St Jacques’.  In 2010 we fished about 20.

Just before we ate Nick and Francois opened the oysters – native oysters of assorted sizes.  In France native oysters are a delicacy these days, the more easily cultivated Crassostrea, considered to be inferior in quality, are widely available.  To my continuing amazement oysters can be bought from a local shop in a small inland town or village in France.  As if they are an essential commodity as, say, a kilo of onions!

We ate our fruits de mer feast with our own St Vaast lemons, Irish soda bread and some of our homemade scones.  It does not get more wholesome than this.

Flotsam and Jetsam: but where are the Strandlines?

Some parts of the Connemara coast are blessed with sweeping sandy beaches.  They act as magnets for recreation of all kinds.  Some beaches in western Ireland are favourite haunts for shellseekers.  The Gulf Stream has a positive benefit for biodiversity and this results in rich species lists after a session of tracing the strandlines across the shore, both at the top of the beach and along the water’s edge.

During our trip to Connemara we walked Dog’s and Gorteen Bays just west of Roundstone.  We also drove south east to Finis Island and west to the southwest-facing beach at Ballyconneely where shelldrift was very sparse but the men found beached colourful trawl and net floats.  The tops of the beaches were covered in decaying seaweed, banked up and with all manner of rubbish mixed through.

It was clear that the recent tempestuous weather has brought about large-scale sand transport with the result that the normal gradual accumulation of shells and other biological remains is obliterated before it becomes a recognisable horizon across the shore.  I did collect some of the more colourful tellin species on two occasions with the intention of creating a collage for Anne.

I will let the beaches speak for themselves:

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Finis

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