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 three weeks ago we found a yellow plastic bag hanging on our front door handle. A gift of some couteaux from Dede.
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 😀
A couple of days after I wave my French visitors off, Claire arrives with the Crazy Gang of Four. We are all going to travel over to France together for a week of familial fun and frolics. In fact Nick and I face a month playing host to assorted familial configurations. Once arrived we already have an appointment for a Tuttle BBQ, before then a seashore safari organised by Claire and me which involves cartwheels in bathing suits.
Joel and I slope off to Paris for his jolly, then we come back to find the Perrymans have arrived for their long weekend during which we will celebrate Charlotte’s birthday with a return BBQ with the Tuttles chez nous. With CJ and Ry in charge it will be good. The sands of time are rushing through the Cholsey holiday hour-glass. They have had quality time with cousins, aunts, uncles: But before they return to the UK Joel and Claire cook us a fabulous evening meal which is a dummy run (but nothing dummy about what we are offered!) for Joel’s forthcoming Charity French Lunch. We enjoy his own brand of French Onion Soup, with a choice of Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourgignon as the main dish. And then there is Crème Brulee 🙂
After the Gang of Four return to Oxfordshire Ted stays on with Nick and I. He gets some fishing in. In fact we have a fabulous day which Ted thoroughly enjoys at all stages. He is very willing to help take the fish off their lines and into the bucket, and to help Nick process the gutting of our catch and the distribution of heads and guts to a horde of seagulls. It is a spectacular sight. Nick takes Ted to the small Zoo at Montaigue la Brisette whilst I have a very long overdue appointment with Manu. Bar And so Ted’s departure day rolls round and he and I board the good ship ‘Barfleur’ bound for Poole where his mother will pick us up. We stay overnight at TOW and the following day drive to Weymouth to have lunch with Ted’s Great Granny. This is a happy visit and after they must drive to Godalming and I stay on at TOW another night before going back to France to await the next visitors…….
……….who arrive the next day. Marian, Katharine and David come to us every year and it is a welcome week in which to catch up with them. We can always count on David to tweak our computer systems, although Nick seems to take the lion’s share of this. After his sessions with David I have not the heart to burden David further, even though he is more than willing. By way of a small thank you Nick does give the Bradleys a master class in crab dressing. The week slips by and Katharine and I get some night-time bathing off the white wooden steps near La Chapelle des Marins at the town end of La Hougue. We join Dede and his granddaughter Oranne at 10 o’clock and on the first evening the water feels even tepid. As the spring tides approach there is a greater mixing of the waters and the temperature drops somewhat. But I retain the physical memory of that first night-time plunge. Above all my aging self appreciates the stable wooden steps with handrail. What an elegant way to enter the sea!
After they leave we have a couple of days in which to prepare for my sister and her family and that is a whole other post…………..
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.
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!