31 July 2009

We've got tomatoes

Walt went out and picked all of these tomatoes yesterday afternoon. As you can see, the weather has been cooperating and the garden is producing generously. Summer 2009 is turning out to be a good one, on the model of 2004 or 2005, when we had great gardens.

Tomatoes at La Rennaudière, 30 July 2009

Now we have to figure out what to do with all these tomatoes. I'd give some to the neighbors, but they are in Blois. Mme M.'s sinus problems have not gotten better.

Salade de tomates au basilic et à la mozzarella

We can make salads like the one above, and we can make sauce. I think yesterday's tomatoes will become sauce for canning or freezing. We are supposed to have a rainy weekend, so we'll spend it in the kitchen. Since the freezer is pretty full, I think I'll do some canning. Tomato coulis sounds good. Or purée de tomates.

30 July 2009

Le château de Culan

Culan is a funny name in French. Cul means "bottom" (or "derriere" in good English) in the anatomical sense of the term. In English, we use it in the expression "cul de sac" but we don't pronounce it the same way. I'm not sure the name Culan has anything to do with all that.

Le château de Culan

The Michelin green guide says Culan's name in Roman times was Cusulincum, meaning "the village on the river." By the 1300s, that had become Cuslencum, and later it further deteriorated into Culanum. Finally, the unstressed Latin ending -um was dropped and we ended up with Culan.

Culan was carefully restored between 1950 and 1980.
This is one of the towers and a close-up of the stonework.

Such is the history of the French language: the words get shorter and shorter. It's phonetic erosion. Rotomagus (4 syllables) becomes Rouen (1 syllable, or maybe 2 for some people). Lugdunum becomes Lyon. Aquae Sextiae evolves into Aix. French words used to get shorter, I should say. Now that everybody knows how to read and write, that evolution has slowed.

Two views from the courtyard at Culan

The castle in Culan is a feudal fortress built in the 1100s or before. It was captured by King Philippe Auguste of France, the rival and good friend of King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England, in 1188. The owner of Culan was lucky enough to have a visit by, who else, Joan of Arc in 1429, shortly before she was burned at the stake by the English (or was it the Burgundians?) in Rouen.

An 18th-century Aubusson tapestry at Culan

Culan castle sits high on a rock above the little river called the Arnon, which is spanned by a Roman-style bridge just below the castle. Seen in the distance, the massive towers of the castle stick up above lush vegetation. When you come upon it from the east, as Walt and I did for the first time in 2007, it's pretty surprising — especially if you aren't even aware of its existence.

Culan sits high above the Arnon river

Culan is located about 130 km/80 mi. southeast of Saint-Aignan. That puts it about an hour's drive south of the city of Bourges, and just a few miles off the A71 autoroute.

29 July 2009

A charcuterie in the Berry

I'm really tempted to drive back down the Neuvy, the town with the imitation Holy Sepulchre, just to try some Berrichon specialties from the charcuterie across the street from the church. A charcuterie, as you probably know, is the French equivalent of a delicatessen. Maybe I should try some more things from the nice Hentry charcuterie over in Noyers-sur-Cher before I drive that far south.

A charcutier is a pork butcher, at least originally. In his shop, you can buy both cuts of fresh pork and all kinds of cured pork products: hams (jambons), bacon (lard), sausages (saucisses), salamis (saucissons), and pâtés. In addition, a charcutier sells all kinds of salads (grated carrots, celery root rémoulade, red beets in vinaigrette are some of the classics) and even plats cuisinés — carry-out main courses you can just reheat at home for lunch or dinner.

Specialty pork products of the Berry region.
(Do you see the spelling mistake?)

This particular charcuterie is run by a man named Christian Sabarly. He is also a traiteur — a caterer who will prepare all the food for a customer's party or other event. He specializes in preparations, foods, and meats typical of the Berry region. Besides potato puff pastries (galettes de pommes de terre) and something called pâté de Pâques (Easter pâté, which is meat pâté and hard-boiled egges cooked in a rolled pastry), I'm not really familiar with Berry specialities. I'd like to know more.

Monsieur Sabarly's pork butchery and catering shop

I may well end up having to drive back down to Neuvy soon to buy some things in Sabarly's shop. It's at least an hour south of Saint-Aignan, on the other side of the big Berry town called Châteauroux. Walt hasn't been down there yet, so maybe he'll want to go. Nearby there's a wine village called Châteaumeillant, a big château in the little town of Culan, and a very picturesque village called Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre where I wouldn't mind spending some time taking pictures. Jacques Tati's classic film called Jour de Fête was made there in the late 1940s.

Artisanal Berry pork products in Neuvy-St-Sépulchre

Our little town, now known as Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, was until relatively recent times called Saint-Aignan-en-Berry. We are located at the extreme northwest corner of the old Berry province. I think the change in our town's name probably happened around the time of the French Revolution (1789), when the current system of départements was put into place, relegating the old provinces called Berry, Touraine, and so on, to purely historical significance.

The other side of that sign

Saint Aignan is also on the extreme eastern edge of the Touraine, and the wines made around here are A.O.C. Touraine. They are part of the same region as Vouvray, Chinon, and Bourgueil, which are the Touraine wines with the best reputations. Just a few miles east of us are the Valençay, Quincy, and Reuilly wine production areas. They are all clearly in the Berry region.

Another charcuterie in Neuvy is run by
Eric Puybertier, who is also a butcher


Across the river from us used to be the old province called the Orléanais, which includes the Sologne region. The wines made over there include Touraines but also Cheverny and Romorantin wines. Saint-Aignan is at the crossroads of all these regions and wine areas.

28 July 2009

Sweet Vouvray wines

I drove some friends over to Vouvray yesterday to buy wine at the Aubert winery. H. is a friend from my grad school days in Illinois. She lived in France in the '70s when I did, and now has long lived in California. H. will be hosting a wine tasting for her school district, where she's a principal, when she gets back in September.

She wanted to get a bottle or two of a nice dessert wine to add to the drier reds and whites she'll be offering for the tasting, which is a fund-raising event. Vouvray is the right place to find such wines. The Auberts (like all of the Vouvray producers) make white wines exclusively from Chenin Blanc grapes, and they run the gamut from dry, to semi-dry, to sweet, to syrupy.

Late July skies at sunrise in the Loire Valley

In French that's sec, demi-sec, moelleux, and liquoreux. I think the word moelleux in French gave us the term "mellow" in English. Liquoreux means "like a liqueur" — sweet and syrupy. I believe moelleux might be a term applied specifically for Loire Valley wines, because the Robert dictionary gives this example of its use as a noun: « le moelleux des vins de Touraine » — the mellow character of the wines of Touraine.

Morning clouds over the vineyards

Dry and semi-dry Vouvray wines are made every year. Moelleux wines can be made only in years where the autumn weather cooperates and allows growers to leave the grapes on the vine into mid-October or later. In those years, the grapes reach a high degree of ripeness. Only in very hot, dry years — 2003, the year of the Great Heat Wave, la canicule, for example, and 2005 — do Vouvray wines reach the stage you might call liquoreux.

Big wide paths through the Touraine vineyards
make them a good place to walk with a dog.

In English, we use the term "sweet" to describe dessert wines. In French, the most obvious equivalent term is « sucré » — but it is misleading when applied to these wines, because it can give the impression that you think sugar is added in the wine-making process. It is not. The grapes are allowed to ripen to such a degree that they start to look like raisins. The natural sugar in the grapes becomes highly concentrated as their water evaporates. Better terms to describe such wines are doux (tender) and of course moelleux.

Seen from this angle, it looks like the vines are
swallowing up the houses at La Renaudière.


If the weather turns rainy and chilly in October, the late harvest grapes are ruined. In 2007, we had a very rainy summer. But then the weather turned dry and sunny in September and October, allowing for a fine late harvest and some good mellow white wines. The 2008 demi-sec wine made by the Auberts is also delicious.

Une fleur

By the way, we learned that the current operator of the Aubert winery, whose father is now semi-retired, is the 6th generation of his family to run the place. The caves where the wines are made and aged were created in the Renaissance when big blocks of limestone was carved out of the cliffsides for chateau-building.

I'm not sure that it's easy to find excellent Vouvray wines in the U.S. Maybe they don't travel well. Maybe only the lower-quality ones are exported. The fact is, French wines and foods always taste much better when you have them in France. It's the air, the light, the beauty of the place. It's tasting and buying them right at the winery. Who knows why it's like that.

27 July 2009

Sloes, quinces, figs, and yellow plums

I'm a person who doesn't believe in throwing food out. It just pains me to waste anything. This summer season is killing me. So much fruit is going to waste. It's not even being picked. It's too much for even the birds and deer to eat.

I've been watching a bunch of blackthorn bushes — small trees, really — ever since spring. Now they are full of fruit. They produce little dark-purple berries called sloes in English and prunelles (little plums) in French. I've read about sloes on line and I've seen pictures that seem to confirm that these really are sloes.

Ripening sloes (with my finger for scale)

I want to pick some but they are still as hard as a rock. There's a site devoted to them called sloebiz.com — it's mostly about making sloe gin, which doesn't tempt me. There and on other web pages I've read things like this about sloes:
In August, the fruits are well formed but partially hidden by the dense leaves all around. Note the characteristic 'bloom' on the sloes. Avoid the temptation to pick in August as these notoriously bitter little berries need as much time as possible to fully ripen (hence the folklore about picking 'after the first frosts').
I've found several references to making jelly out of sloes, but I need to wait until October or even November to pick some. That's all I need... more jelly.

Fat yellow plums in the neighbors' yard

Meanwhile, there is crop after crop of bigger plums. I just looked to see why it is we call them "plums" rather than "prunes" as in French. Well, plum comes from old English plumus, which in turn derives from the Latin prunus. So it's the same word. It's just another example of linguistic corruption and confusion.

Branches bend under the weight of little yellow plums.

Our neighbors have four plum trees right next to each other on their property. One has green plums, one red, one purple, and one yellow. And then in a vacant lot just down the road there is a tree that is now covered with more little yellow plums than you could imagine. The branches are so weighed down that they are touching the ground. They aren't quite ripe yet.

Ripe green figs

Meanwhile, our neighbors — we're watching their yard while they are away for a week — also have a huge fig tree that has hundreds of ripe figs on it.

Fuzzy quinces

And our other neighbors have a quince tree that blew over in a wind storm a couple of years ago. It hasn't died; it's just lying on its side. This morning I noticed that it is not only covered in healthy-looking green leaves, but also in quinces. They're like pears but have a kind of peach fuzz on them. They make great jelly. But then so will all these millions of apples we have in the back yard...

26 July 2009

Un gîte rural en Auvergne

In early September we'll be going to spend a few days' vacation down in the Auvergne region, a four or five hour drive south of the Loire Valley. We're going with three other friends, and taking the dog with us. The challenge has been to find a rental house, un gîte rural, that would be big enough to accommodate us, located in an interesting area, and available to people traveling with pets.

I found one, and it wasn't that hard. The organization called Gîtes de France has a web site that a lot of people say isn't the easiest to negotiate. One problem is that it's pretty much all in French. If you can deal with that, you'll do okay. There's a national site for Gîtes de France, and there are regional sites. The regional sites are sometimes easier to use.

Anyway, here's the gîte I found: it's big — 145 square meters, or 1560 sq. ft. — and it has two bathrooms and two WCs. There are three bedrooms, two with double beds and one with twin beds. There's a living room, a dining room, and a full kitchen.

Some photos of the gîte rural we have rented in Auvergne

In case you are wondering, the French word gîte is used to describe a short-term vacation rental out in the country. Gîte [zheet] means "shelter" or "a place to sleep" and an animal's gîte — a fox's or a hare's, for instance — is what we would call its den in English.

Unfortunately, we can only go down there for three nights, and for Walt and me that's pushing it. We have the vegetable garden to worry about. If it rains a time or two over the four days we'll be away, everything will be fine. If it's hot and dry, well... we'll just water everything thoroughly before we leave and hope for the best.

Most gîtes are rented by the week. That's the case with this one. We are going to pay for the whole week, but only spend three nights there. Some gîtes are rented out for weekends, but we won't be there over a weekend, since we'll arrive on a Tuesday and leave on Friday morning.

Still, the whole-week rental price won't break the bank. It's only 360 euros for seven nights with up to 6 people. So for the five of us, that will come to less than 75 euros per person, or 25 euros per night for our three-night stay. That's pretty affordable. Only in France...

Heat costs extra, but there's a big fireplace and firewood is supplied for free. We hope we won't need heat, but a fire in the evening might be nice. Here's a list of some of the house's other features:
  • fenced-in garden/yard
  • television
  • telephone
  • barbecue grill
  • washing machine
  • dishwasher
  • microwave oven
  • fireplace and free firewood
  • outdoor table and chairs
  • bed linens available at extra charge
  • cleaning service
We'll take our own bed and bath linens with us, and we'll see if we really need to pay for cleaning. We'll probably be able to do it ourselves after such a short stay. We'll also take a couple of coolers, basic groceries, and some wine.

Map of France showing our approximate route from Saint-Aignan
down to Aurillac.
Map shows the French regions and their names.

The house is in a tiny village that is 7 km/4 mi. from a slightly larger village (pop. 1200) with shops, and 13 km/8 mi. from the medieval village called Salers (pop. 368). Salers is one of "The Most Beautiful Villages of France" — here's a link to the page about Salers on the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France web site. Salers also famous for a cheese and a breed of beef cattle that go by the same name.

We'll about 30 km/18 mi. from the largish town of Aurillac (pop. 30,000). All this is in the French département called Le Cantal, which is also famous for a cheese also called Cantal. It's a mountainous region, and a lot of the mountains are actually part of a chain of extinct volcanoes. We'll be right on the edge of a national park.

25 July 2009

Sweet and spicy plum sauce

The other day we went over to the neighbors' and picked up 3 kg of little wild red plums that had fallen out of a tree in their yard. The ground was dry and the plums hadn't yet been attacked by insects. Our neighbors had told us to go get some of them; they had picked 15 kg/33 lbs. (!) for themselves and their extended family.

Walt made a tart out of about a third of the plums we picked, but we were left with nearly 5 lbs. of them. I had the idea to make plum sauce, which is spicy and sweet and goes with grilled pork, duck, or chicken. It makes a good dipping sauce for what we call « nems » in France — a.k.a. egg rolls, or fresh or fried Vietnamese-style spring rolls.

Plums pitted for a pie

Here's how you make the plum sauce. Put the plums, whole, in a thick-bottomed pot and add water so that they are just barely covered. Turn on the heat and let the plums and water come to a low boil. The skins will split and fall off the plums, which will start to cook down. Let them cook at a low simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Wild red plums by the kilogram

Pour the cooked plums into a colander and press them down with the back of a big spoon to remove as much juice as possible. I tried putting them in a clean kitchen towel and squeezing the juice out of them that way, but it didn't work very well. That method has worked great in the past for extracting the juice from grapes cooked the same way. I ended up using a French « chinois » — a conical wire strainer with a big wooden pestle — to extract the juice and some of the plum pulp, leaving the skins and pits behind.

Here you can see the consistency.

Put the juice — there must have been a quart of it — back in the pot and season it. I wanted a sweet sauce, and these were very tart plums, so I added about a cup of sugar. The amount of sugar is up to you. I also added about half a cup of cider vinegar for acidity and a good teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes for heat. And I put in two tablespoons of finely diced ginger root and a teaspoon of salt, with pinches of black pepper and allspice (poivre de la Jamaïque). Soy sauce would have been good in place of the salt, but I didn't think of it. I also didn't use any garlic or onion— next time I will.

The jar on the left is the one we opened
when we had grilled pork chops for lunch.

I let that mixture of plum juice and seasonings cook down for 30 to 45 minutes on medium low heat. It just boiled slowly. When it seemed thick enough, I put it in sterilized jars and sealed them. As you can see, I didn't get a big quantity — just three small jars — but then again you don't eat much of it at a sitting. It will last until next year, I'm sure.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A chinois is a conical sieve
with a wooden pestle

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here's a link to the recipe that I based my procedure on. Merci beaucoup to SusanV.

24 July 2009

Neuvy-Saint-Sépulchre

About the last place where CHM and I stopped back in June on our drive around the Berry region was a little town called Neuvy. Actually, the full name of the town is Neuvy-Saint-Sépulchre. That's a mouthful. And to make it even more complicated, the last word of the name has an idiosyncratic spelling.

The "Saint-Sépulchre" part of Neuvy's name refers to a church. Part of the existing church in Neuvy, which is dedicated to Saint Stephen (St Etienne), was built in the middle years of the 11th century. Another part was built 100 years later. That "newer" part of the church is a round building featuring an impressive rotunda modeled on the Holy Sepulchre, which is Christ's tomb and is to be found in the walled Old City of Jerusalem.

Part of the Eglise St-Etienne in Neuvy is a structure
modeled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The French people — they were Berrichon people, of the Berry, really, since France as we know it didn't exist back then — who built the church in Neuvy had recently come back from a "pilgrimage" to the Holy Land. I think "pilgrimage" is a euphemism for the term "crusade" — they hadn't gone to Jerusalem as simple worshipers or tourists, but as conquerors and Defenders of the Faith. Theirs had been a military mission — the first great Crusade took place starting in 1095.

The unusual church in Neuvy

When they came back to Neuvy, these anonymous crusaders decided to build a church in their town that would be a replica of Christ's tomb in Jerusalem. They had the support and aid of a bishop named Eudes from the town of Déols, a few miles north next to the bigger town called Châteauroux. Bishop Eudes also had recently done the pilgrimage. They tore down a big part of the church that had stood in Neuvy since 1049 and in its place built the rotunda that still stands today.

The ceiling of the rotunda was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in
the 1800s.
Thanks to CHM for the photo; mine came out blurry.

Later, they found out from other returning "pilgrims" that a rectangular addition had been built onto the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. So they decided to leave standing the part of the older Neuvy church that remained next to their rotunda, in order to keep the whole complex authentic.

Inside the rotunda of the Neuvy church

They set about re-attaching the once-condemned rectangular church section to the newer round section, which had originally been planned to completely replace the older church. The result is a round building with a rectangular building stuck onto it. It's not harmonious, but it is interesting.

Even the people who designed the Monument Historique
sign by the church in Neuvy spelled the name wrong.


"Sepulchre" is, by the way, a chiefly British spelling of the word we write as "sepulcher" in American English. It's « sépulcre » in modern French, but « sépulchre » in Neuvy-Saint-Sépulchre. The Michelin guide spells the name of the Jerusalem church as Saint-Sépulcre. It's enough to make your head spin.

Sorry this is all so convoluted. Just look at the pictures if the text is too confusing.

23 July 2009

Flashes of lightning and balls of fire

We have Internet service this morning. That's comforting. The France Télécom « expert » did not call yesterday between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. as had been promised. I guess there was no need to call since everything was working normally again.

Before 6:00 p.m. I took Callie on her walk out into the vineyard. I went out to see if I could find any evidence of a lightning strike out there. I couldn't. Everything looked perfectly normal — no big burned spot on the ground anywhere that I could find, no trees broken or scorched. Maybe I imagined the whole thing. But I don't think so.

Walt's basil garden in the mini-serre

I ran into Roland, who does gardening work for two of our neighbors. He was out piling up some grass trimmings and cut branches for, I imagine, burning later. I told him my story about the lightning bolt. He said sometimes you can get the impression that a lightning strike was much closer than it really was. He said that the sharp bolt and nearly simultaneous thunder I saw had happened just before 1:00 a.m. — he was awake and watching the storm too.

It rained this morning.

In French, people say that lightning "falls" from the sky — « la foudre est tombée sur une maison », for example. It's just an expression, but I think it's a funny one. One French lightning expert I read put the verb tomber in quotation marks when he used it in this context. His name is Christian Bouquegneau, and he says that balls of lightning probably occur but there is no scientific proof of their existence.

One night, 10 or 12 years ago in San Francisco, where lightning and thunder are rare occurrences, we had an electrical storm. I was standing in front of a sliding glass door and watching the display. There was a crack of lightning and I saw — I swear I did — a ball of fire or lightning or whatever it was fall into our little back garden and zoom, bouncing, across the width of the yard before disappearing into darkness.

Morning sky, 23 July 2009 at La Renaudière

I had never seen anything like that in North Carolina or Illinois, where we often had awe-inspiring, violent, scary thunderstorms. I told a guy I worked with in California about the ball of lightning that had skidded across my back yard. He said he had seen the same thing one time — at his grandmother's house in Missouri. But in his case, he said, he and his grandmother watched the ball of fire come in a window on one side of the house, bounce and roll through the house, and go out a window on the other side.

Emm's comment on yesterday's post reminded me of all this. I guess I never thought there would be such violent weather here in the Loire Valley. I do remember rare but impressive thunderstorms in Paris back in the early '80s, when I last lived there. Usually the weather here in northern France is very mild, though.

Tomatoes in the garden

It was extremely hot yesterday afternoon, with temperatures again approaching 90ºF. The humidity was high. It started raining, with just distant rumbles of thunder around Saint-Aignan, early in the evening, and I have the impression that it rained all night. It's raining now. It's the kind of light steady rain that sinks right into the dry earth.

By the way, yesterday I made plum sauce with those little wild red plums. It has salt, sugar, hot red pepper flakes, vinegar, and diced ginger root in it. We're going to have some with grilled pork chops for lunch today.

22 July 2009

We are back

Many of you may just be getting up to start the day. For us, it is nearly 4:00 p.m. Our Internet/DSL service just came back on. It feels like a wasted day.

Last night we had a wild thunderstorm at about 2:00 a.m. The thunder and the wind woke me up, and I got out of bed to see if any windows needed closing. The bathroom window was slightly open and I decided to close it because the rain was beating against that side of the house.

Nice flower

As I slid the window shut, a long, slender bolt of lightning dropped down from high up in the western sky and hit the ground a few hundred yards out behind our house, in the vineyard. When it hit the ground, the lightning bolt exploded into a big yellow fireball on the ground.

Maybe I was still half asleep. Maybe I was dreaming. But the cordless phone beeped two or three times. I don't know if that meant the power had been cut for a second, or if the lightning had affected the phone service. The clocks on the microwave and regular ovens were still displaying the correct time this morning, so I don't think the electricity went off during the storm.

La Renaudière, near Saint-Aignan, 21 July 2009. Nice clouds.

This morning, we had no Internet connection. I had disconnected the modem and the router last night before going to bed, because the thunderstorms were predicted. Twice over the past few months, lightning strikes have reset our router, erasing all the settings stored in it, including our Internet connection identifier and password. It's a pain to have to set the thing up again; I never remember how many settings need to be changed, or what the proper settings are. I thought that by unplugging the router and turning off the modem, I was protecting our setup.

Yesterday afternoon, waiting for the storms to come

But nothing happened when I turned the Internet devices back on this morning. Our local network was normal — all our computers could "see" each other — but the Internet was absent and unaccounted for. I spent more than an hour on the phone with technical support between 9:30 and 11:00. The France Télécom support agent, after many tests and trials, couldn't figure it out. Everything seemed to be working normally, but still I couldn't get connected to the Internet. No Google, no blog.

While I was on the phone, we had company. Our American friends from the village south of us stopped by to use our Internet connection. They were disappointed. The French woman who sold us our house six years ago stopped by to get some tomatoes from our garden. I couldn't talk to any of them. Walt kept them busy and entertained while I waited on hold, the phone scotché to my ear.

Now, suddenly, the Internet connection works again. An "expert"— same word in French, pronounced [ek -spehr] — from France Telecom is supposed to call me at 6:00 p.m. to resolve the problem. Well, it's too late. It's now working again. I say it was their problem, not ours, all along. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

21 July 2009

Prunes

The other day our neighbor came over and rang the bell. I was out walking the dog. Walt went to the kitchen window and leaned out. Mme M., the one who lives in Blois but spends weekends and summers across the street, said her husband had picked 15 kg — more than 30 lbs. — of plums (those are prunes in French) off one tree in their yard.

Petites prunes rouges

"Come over and take all you want," she said. "There are a lot of them on the ground and a lot left on the tree." She didn't know that I had already picked quite a few of them. M. and Mme M. were still in Blois. They had told me earlier that I could help myself.

They look like cherries but they're plums.

So yesterday morning we went and picked up a lot of plums off the ground. The weather is so dry that they hadn't started to spoil. I washed and sorted through them all and weighed them. Three kilograms. More than 6½ lbs. Now what are we going to do with them?

20 July 2009

Greens and beans

We are still harvesting chard (a.k.a. silverbeet), and now we're starting to get beans too. Thanks to Carolyn, who comments here and has visited, we have some very nice pole beans growing tall in the garden and now producing profusely. We also have wax beans, which are a bush variety, and they are producing too. We have some lima bean plants, too, and we are hoping for at least a small crop. We don't get lima beans in France otherwise.

Pole beans and wax beans

I gave our American friend H. some Swiss chard last week. She and her husband have a house about 10 miles south of Saint-Aignan, and they are here for the summer. Actually, H. and I went out to the garden together and cut the leaves. A., her husband, is like me — he loves greens.

A day or two ago H. said she had cooked the greens with onions and lardons — those are the little chunks of smoked or salted pork you buy here in France and use to season vegetables, stews, or egg dishes. Think bacon cut into chunks rather than thin slices. Anyway, she said she cooked the chard with lardons and onions and then combined it with cooked pasta into a kind of stir-fry.

Swiss chard stir-fry with pasta, smoked pork, and sausages

We decided to do the same thing, and it was excellent. I think that's obvious from the pictures. We cooked the chard first in water with salt. Then we cooked the pasta, re-using the chard water to give it flavor. Finally, we cooked the lardons and onions together, along with some garlic.

We also added a couple of little sausages, cooked and then cut into short sections. And we put in some hot red pepper flakes and black pepper to spice it up. Then we combined it all in a wok and stirred it around for the flavors to blend, adding in a little more of the chard cooking liquid (known as "pot liquor" in the U.S. south).

A mix of pole beans and wax beans will be our lunch today. The pole beans are pretty, all spotted and striped with a reddish-purple color. I'll be interested to see if they cook up all green. Carolyn, as I said, send us the seeds for the pole beans, along with seeds for several varieties of heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes are also doing great. What a pleasure it is to have the pole beans and the unusual tomatoes.

Other news from the garden: Walt pointed out to me this morning that one of our eggplants is producing white fruit rather than the more common purple variety. I'm sure eggplant is called by that name because the white varieties do look like eggs. I'll be glad to see them again.

When I was growing up, we had white eggplants but not purple ones, if I remember correctly. I think the white ones lost out because they bruise easily and don't look as pretty on display. Only once in a while do you see white aubergines (the British and French term) in markets in France or in the U.S.

19 July 2009

The garden, and a sudden trip plan

I took Callie out for her regular afternoon walk yesterday. On the way out, I browsed through our vegetable garden see what was happening. There are quite a few more ripe tomatoes now. The small ones are turning red, but the bigger varieties are still green. The weather is mild — not to say chilly.

Today we'll pick some Swiss chard and make a pasta/chard stir-fry dish — onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and maybe a couple of little sausages I have in the freezer. Yesterday and the day before we ate a zucchini casserole — a gratin — with zukes from the garden. It's the season.

Sweet corn growing in the garden

After checking out the garden, Callie and I slipped through the wires of the electrified fence — it doesn't appear to be electrified right now — that protects the vines and grapes from marauding deer. We wanted to walk down the hill toward the north, through some woods. Callie gets very excited when you take her on a seldom-used path.

Wild blackberries are already starting to ripen.

At the bottom of the hill, I took a few pictures. I noticed a big tree that had blown over in the other evening's wind storm, and this morning I saw another one that had a big limb broken out of it. We were lucky not to have any wind damage the other night.

A view from the bottom of our hill, looking across the
Cher River Valley to the other side. There are sheep
in the pen behind the white house.


In late August, some friends of ours from America and from Normandy are going to be spending three days together in Paris. On the spur of the moment, I decided yesterday afternoon to buy myself a train ticket and go to Paris for part of their time there. It'll be fun. I'll spend two nights in a hotel in the Latin Quarter.

That's the nice thing about living here: I buy a 10€ train ticket, jump on a train, and be in Paris in two hours' time. Walt will stay home with Callie this time.