Razor-clamming Days

These are cold, windy days on the east Cotentin.  Nick is spending a lot of time in the Bois de Rabelais where he and fellow woodsmen have felled an ancient beech and are busy logging it.  Dede l’Accroche is a willing helper.  He of the fungus forays, prawning pursuits, razor-clam raids.  When we arrived in St Vaast we found a yellow plastic bag hanging on our front door handle.  A gift of some couteaux from Dede.  IMG_6653 (2).JPG

Two days ago Nick and I braved a squall, with wind-driven rain pricking our faces, to go digging with Dede for couteaux.  At first Nick had mixed success whilst I trickled up and down the shoreline peering into the murky, rippling sea looking for scallops and other goodies.

Rejoining Nick I started to help him look for the characteristic depressions or holes at the surface which suggest an inhabitant in the sand below.  Soon we set up an efficient team.  I spotted the holes, Nick dug deep with his trusty French fork, and I scanned the diggings to look for razor clams which I spotted more easily than Nick did.  Et voila!  Une bonne equipe 🙂

Later in my kitchen, whilst processing the clams for supper I steamed some of the razors in white wine so the shells could flip open.  What a surprise.  A new piece of information for this seasoned conchologist.  During the foray I had noticed one razor clam that went into the basket was the non-native species Ensis leei, formerly known as Ensis americanus or Ensis directus As one of its names implies, the species is a North American alien, which was first recorded in 1979 near the Dutch coast, spread across the North Sea and is now rapidly spreading in northern direction and also working its way round the English and French coasts of the Channel.  It seems to do well because it has slightly different sedimentary preferences from our other native species.

My new piece of information is that, in addition to the morphological differences in shell shape, and internal muscles scars, the soft body is different too.  It is a strange body indeed, and has invoked some saucy suggestions from those who are familiar with it 😀  And it would seem that, certainly after cooking, the foot of the animal has a rosy blush that the white animal of Ensis arcuatus does not have.  Useful stuff 😀

 

Seven Shellers wash up at St Vaast

Earlier this year the Programme Secretary of the Conchological Society made a plea for offers to lead field trips.  I looked at my diary and the timing of spring tides and offered a few days in October.  The year wore on, our diary filled up, the EU referendum happened and my enthusiasm waned somewhat.  However an Offer means an Offer so here we are awaiting the arrival of three couples and a single woman – all these people are members of the Society but are, to all intents and purposes, friends too.   Although we are all mollusc enthusiasts and we are gathered to look for and record occurrences of marine molluscs,  the second discipline that unites us is archaeology.  Seven out of the nine share that skill, whereas only five us could be said to be mollusc experts.  By Saturday evening we are assembled and sit down to share our welcoming House Special, a fish pie.

On Sunday I propose that we should visit the shore where Nick and I found two live ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) about eight years ago. Despite the benefit of several pairs of eyes we do not succeed.  I keep my eyes open all week and it is only on the last day of fieldwork that some of us find fragments of abalone shell on a beach on the north Cotentin at Plage des Sablons.  I know that the species is living at Cap Levi because I have witnessed pecheurs a pied coming off the beach with ormers in their string collecting bags.  Although we are working springs I think we probably need the best spring tides to have a chance of finding the animals.

We work several shores and Nick, Bas and Terry go out twice on Aroona with our small Naturalists’ Dredge.  They have some success with these trips and Bas seems well pleased with the hauls.  I think the highlight of shore excursions must lie in the foray that we make onto the sandflats on the seaward side of the town marina.  This is the area that is traditionally dug for Razor Clams when spring tides prevail.  Our good friend Andre agrees to accompany us onto that shore and show us how it is done.  Nick has had this experience before and in the past I have gone down onto the beach to observe the locals wielding their clamming forks.  It is a bit of a feeding frenzy and at the end of the afternoon the sandflats are a devastation.  Fortunately in comes the tide and many of the spoil heaps are washed over although the following day does still bear witness to the upheaval.  The darker sediments which are turned over in the hunt for razor clams remain near the surface for several tides afterwards before they are taken back into the mix.

At the end of the afternoon we have a very decent haul of Ensis arcuatus and assorted clams, a couple of Buccinum, and some King and Queen scallops.  Over the next couple of days we eat some of our foraged molluscs with risotto, and enjoy razor clams with tagliatelle and a wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce.  These things taste so good.  I feel like a ‘creature’ of the sea.

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At the end of the trip our house guests go home.  It has been an interesting week and we have pulled some decent species lists together for the various sites we worked.  Three of us couples have been spending a week in September together for the past seven years.  We have rented a big house and have been working on stretches of coast in various parts of the country: Skye, Pembroke, Connemara, north Devon, Scarborough, Anglesey and most recently south Devon.  It has always been fun, notably because we thoroughly enjoy going to the shore whether to shell or birdwatch of just to amble.  We three women thoroughly enjoy cooking for the assembled.  We take it in turns.  But something has changed and we can blame that on Brexit.  Would that we had all voted the same way but you cannot turn the clock back.  Divisions have riven the country, communities, families and groups of friends.  The damage runs deep for some more than others.  As I say, something has changed and our particular golden age of sharing a capacious house with a large table to eat and discourse around has passed.  In these recent days I have read a cleverly worded definition of ‘Leave’ in the context of the EU:  it will be ‘To regain what we never lost by losing everything we ever had’

And Shall there be Ormers and Tripe for Lunch?

After Charlie’s visit Nick crossed to France and I spent a week at Winterborne K sorting and clearing.  I weeded out papers from the filing cabinets and folders.  I ditched lots of Conference and Meeting Abstracts, reports, correspondence and notes that I just don’t need and nor will anyone else.  I carefully sift out things that I will pass along to Simon Taylor who now holds the post in Conch Soc that I held for twenty years.  I manage to deal with shells awaiting labelling and curation and get a backlog of glass and plastic containers tucked into drawers.  I play some Bridge with my girls.

On Mothers’ Day I drive to Godalming where I am royally spoilt, having dropped boxes of JMBA with Malcolm and Christine Storey to await collection by Ian Smith.  Ryan and Ted are chefs for the day.  I get presents and CJ manages to read Girl on a Train in one sitting.

On Monday morning I commence my nannying duties.  They run a tight ship, them Perrymans, and there are things to remember each day.  Fortunately Demi, the nanny who is on holiday, has drawn up a big flow chart with clouds of information and five sides of exercise book of ancillary notes.

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Demi’s crib sheets are extremely helpful and I would have been all at sea without Ted’s timetable and kit requirements day by day.  But I am amused that she reminds me that it is a good idea to make some preparations for Ted’s evening meal before I pick him up from school and then get the meal ready during his session on a computer game.  It is also useful advice to know that I must remember to clean the food off the sides of the dishwasher door and wipe all kitchen worktops with Multisurface cleaner!

During my week in Godge I have lunch with Vikky and with Charles and Lis, the first at the Thai Roof Garden Restaurant in Guildford and the second in the café at the Watts Gallery.  The latter is a good find, the food is delicious and well presented.  Meanwhile Nick is in St Vaast with Andrew, the two men having crossed the Channel for a few days in order to bring the timber for the pergola back to England.  Andrew experiences the best of French hospitality chez Taille.  NickAndrewOystersblog

My most enjoyable sociable occasion whilst in residence at 88 Pep is spent at Hambledon Farm amongst the best of friends.  Charles and Susie have arranged a small supper party with the Charlesworths and Upcotts and Susie’s good friend Cherrie.  We are all avid readers so it’s a kind of book group get-together but we cover lots of other topics, not least the forthcoming Referendum which already is threatening to divide the nation.

At the end of my week I drive back to The Old Workshop, take in a game of Bridge with the girls on Friday night, and drive myself to Poole on Saturday morning Cherbourg-bound.  Arriving in the afternoon I am then plunged into an extended weekend of feasting chez des amis.  Bri and Georgy invite us and the Poulets for supper on Saturday evening when our hostess served us Lapin a la Moutarde.  On Sunday, together with Lorraine and Stephen, we are guests of Miguel and Bibi for a Mexican lunch and what fun that was.  We ate tortilla chips and guacamole with our apero, and then enjoyed a chicken broth with rice and assorted ‘sambals’ to sprinkle over.  So healthy and so delicious.   The authentic guacamole would be lovely to eat up as a single course.  We have another lunch date on Monday when we are the guests of Dede and Francoise Burnouf, along with the Tailles, and both their neighbouring couples, who we already know from previous events at their house on the quay. IMG_3495 Dede cooks a lunch, starting with a tasty dish of ormer (‘fished by Dede from the wests Cotentin) and he follows this with Tripes Normands.  In anticipation of a dislike of tripe on the part of Nick and myself, and also Fefe, Dede barbecues some fine magrets de canard on his open hearth.  I do taste the tripe but it is a very poor second to pink-cooked duck breast fillets.

During the lunch conversation is very lively and good-humoured.  Even when the sub-mariner neighbour of F and F launches into a light critique of the English.  I always knew he is an Anglophobe, he has barely been cordial on occasions when we have met chez Taille.  He is probably a misogynist to boot.  Well, that is his loss 🙂  Shame because his wife is lovely and cooked the best tarte aux pommes I have ever eaten, for our dessert.  I even got a doggy bag to bring home.  Our hostess, Francoise, is also lovely and I hope to spend more time with her.

 

 

My F Words

F is for France, Friends, Food and Fun because that is Filling these early August days.    On Friday evening Fefe and Francois invite us to a light supper of Lobster salad.  The following day finds us enjoying a lunch with the Daniells and their friends on a very small boat moored in the marina.  Then on Sunday I meet up with Claire and Emma at 05.45 hr to walk the sand flats in St Vaast on a grande maree.  We find no stray Pecten maximus on this little foray but do pick up some interesting holed shells which can go towards the stash we are accumulating for stringing tree decorations.  On Monday evening Ty and Claire come across to eat a Squid curry with us and play a hand of Spite and Malice.

As weather permits I have been busying myself in the garden and Nick has been replacing the gravels in the potager area with a consignment of nice white chips.  He has raked over and laid some black plastic fabric down to suppress the weeds and we must try and stay on top of keeping it clear.

On Thursday we are invited to a soiree at Le Vast.  Alain and Martine’s house is, to intents and purposes, finished and after they have endured a long building slog I can well imagine how relieved they must feel and pleased with the result too.  Earlier in the day I spent some time at Le Dranguet with Anne and Tatane.  During this afternoon interval I volunteered to join Tatane on a coastal walk that she would be doing on Friday.  We worked out that I could fit this in before the Cholseys were due to arrive in St Vaast.  Little did I know what feat of endurance I was laying myself open to……

Polyvalent at Polzeath

We’ve booked a holiday house at Polzeath and although the drive proves to be nightmaringly tortuous for some, because this is the first day of the school holidays, midnight finds us convened at a house which sleeps the full complement – 17.  There’s fish pie and French cheese which we eat in relay, at intervals as people arrive.  The 7 children roar around the ground floor, finally being shoved off to bed at 1a.m.  Some adults have already caved in!

On Saturday morning the kitchen is a hub.  Starting with croissants, pain au chocolat, local bread and lemon curd we each break our fast and during the course of a morning Daniel puts in a lengthy stint with the omelette pan.  Ems is in training for her half marathon, Joel starts to prepare for our Japanese feast.  The children organise a fashion show complete with make-up and then excursions are made to the beach to fly a kite, frolic in the water draining onto the beach 😦 and then repair to the house for hot showers, cookies, Madeleines, hot chocolate.  I look at the clock.  It is only 1p.m!

A pleasant interlude on my bed with my current Booker title is followed by a leisurely afternoon, the lull before the food preparation session which will be supervised by our chef for the evening, Joel.  During this lull CJ puts in the hours she needs to fulfil a working day.  Dan snoozes, Barns and Nick sort out potential activities for the week, the children visit the local shop with Ems to buy supplies for the midnight feast and then play hide and seek.

At this point my blogging schedule – if there is one – goes to pot.  On Sunday many of us walk the coast to Rock.  This is a very pleasant amble with small children and takes in cliff top, upper shore rock platform, sand flats at low water.  Arriving at Rock we find a bar for a drink and order portions of chips to dip.  Then it’s back to the house except I make a detour via the White Stuff shop to look for the dotty jumper which Anne P wants to buy but is no longer available online.  When I come out everyone has walked on so I hasten in their footsteps, as I think, but then realise that I have lost everyone.  I climb to high ground and Sam who has lingered spots me and tells me Nick came back to find me.  It takes some minutes to locate him then together we three make it back to the house.  In the event we are the first to arrive at the house as the others have stopped in The Oystercatcher to have a bevvy and play some pool.

During the week we aim to keep the children active and we also enjoy cooking for each other.  Lukie cooks a great beef and dumpling stew, CJ and Ry bbq some chicken and then she cooks us Persian lamb which is a triumph.   We loved the sushi and Teriyaki chicken Joel cooked with sous-chef help.  The treasure hunt which I have lovingly organised is well received and leads into a flash egg and rabbit hunt in the large garden.  The large garden really is a boon, the children rehearse over and over again a dance sequence that they perform just before we leave on Friday morning.

In order to relive some Cornish memories of yore we make a musselling foray to the shore one morning.  I select Constantine Bay as a likely locus for our gathering and sure enough we do find plentiful supplies on the rocks there.  Leaving the beach I notice that there is extensive algal cover of Porphyra.  I have made laverbread in the past but only with the raw material bought from a fishmongers.  But I gather some as it seems a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity and after consulting the internet I see it is not big chore to wash and simmer the weed for a good long time after which you sieve and liquidise the resulting gleep.  I make batches of laverbread patties with bacon pieces and we eat this for breakfast with black pudding and poached eggs garnished with spinach and a basil leaf,  prepared by Dan.  This is his gastronomic contribution.  Always goes for a bit of style.

It is Barns’ and Dan’s idea to make this an electronic device-free week.  The children are allowed no interaction with i-phones, i-pads, i-pods.  They play games and the adults play with them.  Ruby notices this because she tells her father he is awesome for playing with the kids and not going on his computer!  You couldn’t ask for better affirmation.

Tide of the Century

Over the weekend of 20-21 March we were promised the tide of the century.  The low tide would register the highest coefficient for many a long year, or the lowest point below Chart Datum depending how you measure these things.  Supertides were to be worth witnessing both at high water and low.   In the late afternoon Claire, Ty and I sallied forth on Saturday and Sunday to wander the sand flats at Saint Vaast and to witness the multitudes of pecheurs a pieds.

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Where peche a pied on the sand flats at St Vaast is concerned it is all about razor clams.  I have blogged elsewhere on the subject of fishing for Couteaux and the serendipitous nature of the clam haul you might make.  Whilst I am very fond of razor clams as a comestible I like St Jacques rather more and the chance of find one or two which have been stranded by the retreating tide is much more appealing.  As luck would have it over the two days we visit the shore I find 4 live ones which is just enough to make a mouthful to enjoy as a little starter for the meal we share with the Tuttles on Sunday evening.

Peche a pied is a more popular pastime in France and better regulated when it comes to minimum sizes.  Tableau de synthèse  Helpful information appears in the La Presse.

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And card rulers are available at Tourist Offices.  There is no excuse for ignorance!

A Very Franglais Wedding

On Friday morning Paul, Viv and Hilary bade us a brief farewell and set off for Brittany.  Nephew Tom is to marry Delphine on Monday and P and V have rented a gite for a week in the area.  Nick and I tidied up and readied the house for Marian, Katharine and David who are to spend a week in St Vaast from Saturday.

At the end of the afternoon we left St V and drove south and west to a small hamlet called St Meloir des Bois.  There we found the others installed in a house in the centre of ‘town’ next to the church and Creperie Sucre Sale.  We settled in and over the successive couple of days our nieces and their families duly arrived.  On Saturday afternoon we drove north to St Jacut de la Mer, a sprawl of bays and sands centred around a peninsula.

Hilary was very take with the regimental configuration of the mussel farm on the shore there and immediately pulled out her sketch book and found a suitable bench from which she could work.  The rest of us descended the much-trodden steps to the shore at the north end of the peninsula.  The huge sand flats exposed when the tide is out, and the offshore islets which dry out at low tide are magnet for the French peche a pied public – just look at the images from the internet via this link.  I have worked this shore a good few years ago along with a group of Conchological Society members when we were surveying honeypot shores along the Brittany coast.

We took supper at the Creperie that evening, enjoying Breton galettes made with buckwheat flour and containing a range of delicious fillings.  I chose Noix de St Jacques et Poireaux fondues.  For dessert we chose, unwittingly, monstrous and totally sumptuous Crepes Gariquettes.  I would have been happy to share mine with the other four adults.

Sunday was a busy day for the family and they decamped from the gite at 5pm to move into La Malouiniere de la Ville Gilles, at which mansion the evening reception would take place on Monday evening.  After a calm and quiet evening with Hilary and a meal at the Creperie, I slept for only a few hours before I woke at 4.30 and after trying to resleep I rose and went downstairs to sort out my photos from my iPad.  If I allow too much of a backlog to accrue the memory fails and prevents me from taking as many photos as I would like.

At the appropriate time we dressed ourselves in our wedding finery and set off for St Lunaire Mairie where the first of four events in our day as guests would take place.  Family and friends arrived, many of us on foot having parked at Delphine’s family home.  The little folk were the object of much attention, not least the youngest at two months!!  And already smiling 🙂  The civil ceremony was conducted by a rotund and twinkly affable mayor who added personal touches to the occasion.  Delphine’s parents had generously included Nick, Hilary and I on their guest list for lunch at their home.  We were regaled with a lovely selection of quiches and salads.

At 2p.m. we presented ourselves on the quai at Dinard to board a pleasure boat for a trip across St Malo bay.  It is a bit of a bumpy and windy trip but the skipper manages to find a lighthouse behind which we can tuck in, whilst we drink a champagne cocktail and Tom and Delphine exchange rings and tie a fisherman’s knot.  Once ashore we drive to our Chambres d’Hote at les Chesnais and this is a stone’s throw from the venue for the evening reception.  A champagne reception on the lawn with croquet, boules and mölkky, is a delight with beautiful canapés, then we sit for a two course dinner which incorporates games and later dancing.  Towards the end of the evening a selection of French gateaux and plates macarons are served with yet more champagne.

This has been a wonderful day with a mix of French and English language and custom.  How lucky Nick and I are to be part of this blend of the best of each nation.  At 2 a.m. Nick and I fall thankfully into bed.

 

 

 

Couteaux

We are enjoying some really good low tides at the moment. Not only are the co-efficients good, but the weather is calm and bright so there is very little water movement to make visibility difficult. Daniel invited Nick to go fishing for razor clams. There are healthy beds of Ensis arcuatus on the sand flats either side of the jetty at St Vaast La Hougue.

You never know how you will fare.  It partly depends on the extent of the ebb on a particular day but also the razor clam population seems to shift position in relation to the littoral and sublittoral.  On this occasion pickings were a bit lean and Daniel is a master of this craft so he always fishes more clams but Nick did come back with a nice mixed bag of molluscs with which I was able to present a platter of grilled razors and a risotto dressed with a motley assortment of molluscs.

 

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.

When Winter followed Spring

Back in St Vaast and pleased to be just we two, chez nous.  The daffodils continue to bloom sequentially with the earliest variety now in need of dead-heading.  Nick spends time in the garden tracking down the bee orchid rosettes and staking them.  I need to find a good time to lift a few plants which we will give to Bas and Rosemary.  I plan to delay this until a day or two before our return to Dorset.  Whilst the weather is kind Nick manages two fishing trips.  Now is the time for the large pollack that frequent the offshore wrecks and he is not disappointed.  On his first trip, solo, he lands ten very fine fish.   We give six away and freeze 8 fillets.  Two days later Georgy and Francois join Nick and they again catch ten fish between them.

I go shopping with Brigitte one day, and join her and Anne at the gym for a couple of sessions on other days.  I try a Pilates for the first time.   As the first week draws to a close there are rumours of snow on the way.  On Saturday I decide to lift some of the bee orchids for transfer to England and I translocate other plants to add to the two major drifts of plants.  The ground is so wet that this task is achieved much more easily and speedily than this time last year.  In the long term this should make mowing more easy, in addition to lending more coherence to the orchid flower spikes when they bloom.  It is as well that I get the job done with a bit of time to spare.  On Sunday night it snows heavily and a blizzard continues into Monday.  We have at least 30 cms of snow around our house.

As the day wears on it is clear that we will not be crossing the Channel on Tuesday.  We lose electricity in the middle of the day on Monday and this does not return until 48 hours later.  Worse, we then have to contend with 36 hours with no water supply.  Fortunately clean snow can be collected and melted for most purposes, leaving bottled water for drinking and cooking.  We negotiate our way through these privations with minimal discomfort.  Our wood-burning stove throws heat out, our two-ring gas hob enables us to cook, and my stock of candles sees excellent service.  We have an ear to the outside world courtesy of our small transistor radio.  One afternoon we cosy down on our sofas and play a four-handed, four-pack game of Spite and Malice with Ty and Claire.

The northeasterly gale blows onshore, a very unusual occurrence on our coast.  It hits the oyster park and very large numbers of oyster sacks are swept off their trestles and cast up at high tide.  Some are ripped open and the oysters spill out.  On consecutive afternoons we harvest two modest servings from these serendipitous strandings.  We take our second cache of these desirable comestibles over the road to share with Ty and Claire on the evening before we catch our return ferry.  Claire is cooking a guinea fowl stuffed with dried fruit and pate which has partially defrosted and should be used.  It is delicious.