Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wine making - the adventure begins!

We may,just may, become vignerons. Wine makers! I've always wanted to make wine, God knows I drink enough of it. Here's the story so far. (this will be a continuing saga.)

Last week we were over at our friends house in a nearby hamlet when Annabel said; "look at this!" She showed us a couple of pictures she had taken of Robert & Marcel starting to make their annual batch of wine. Huge plastic tub for the grapes, a masher normally used for preparing silage for the cows and a monster wooden cask. (its so old its hard to tell what wood its made of.) Great local color, but the wine making technique would certainly be frowned on at a Bordeaux chateau.

The story is that Robert (aged 77) has about an acre & a half of 'hybrid' grapes. He's able to make about 1,000 liters of wine every year. None of it ever sees a bottle; its decanted (if that's the word) straight into a plastic bidon. All 1,000 liters are gone by the next year. What it lacks in quality it makes up for in
alcoholic content. Anyway they were good pictures and we all talked about how great it was that the local villagers kept up their old traditions.

Last Sunday we were all at a local fund raiser (over 200 people showed up even though the village isn't that large. The salle des Fetes was packed to the rafters.) for the restoration of the church in Neiuvaille which hadn't been opened for 18 years. It was a great 4 hour lunch.

At some point Annabel asked if we remembered the pictures she'd showed us. We did. She then said that couple of days after they were taken Robert came over & said he was quitting the wine making business. He was too old for the work involved and his wife was too old to do all the cooking for the pickers. He was going to throw away his vat and then pull up all of his grape vines. Donald & Annabel rescued the vat and its now safely in their barn.

Sometime thereafter, perhaps lubricated by a bit of wine, the cogs in my poor excuse for a brain finally meshed. Why didn't we rent Robert's vines!
The idea gained instant approval and we now have consortium with Donald & Annabel, Ruve & Michael and ourselves. The question became how to go about it.

We've enlisted the help of Albert who, seemingly, is related to everyone within 10 miles, but more importantly speaks fluent Occitan as well as French. Our
dilemma was that Robert's French such as it is is nearly impossible for any of us to understand and, needless to say, none of us speak Occitan. Albert will negotiate/translate on our behalf.

We plan to offer Robert a peppercorn rent for the vines, use him as our wine making consultant and give him a percentage of the wine. Or at least that's our starting point. This is very likely to be a complicated negotiation.

We all rushed over after the lunch only to find that Robert had gone hunting. France being France things must take their own time so we have a metting with Robert tomorrow, Saturday.

So, our hopes are high, our fingers crossed and I've driven by the vineyard at least once a day all this week.

To be continued.....

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Fall in France

Fall is here!

I love the change of seasons and though I'm sorry to see summer go, I welcome fall. We've had some nourishing rain & even though it spoiled our trip to the Pyrenees I do welcome it. The fields are now green again except where they are a rich plowed brown ready for winter wheat planting. The first leaves are turning so we'll soon have a spectacle of earthy colors over the hills.

e walnuts are beginning to drop much to the delight of Rupert, our standard poodle & my avatar. He absolutely adores walnuts and is very good at finding them then carefully cracking them & picking out the meat.

Fall is the time of year when my friend Michael and I put on our backpacks when we go on our walks. We fill them with bounty; walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, apples (did you know that France has more than 1,000 varieties of apple.), quince, pears and juniper berries. It’s sad, but in our part of France there are many, many abandoned farms. Many still have their fruit trees and the crops go unharvested unless someone like us comes along. Still, there's a little bit of naughty school boy in all of us so harvesting this bounty is fun and feels slightly dangerous.
Our wives look forward to our return with full knapsacks and we get some of the satisfaction of bringing home food after a successful hunt as a result. A somewhat childish albeit innocuous pleasure.

I know fall is here because yesterday I picked my first crop of field mushrooms. The conditions were right, rain overnight, but warm and when Rupert & I went for our morning walk there they were in the cow pasture; lots of nice field mushrooms.
I picked about 2 kilos worth and shared them with Huguette & Bavo (Roop's vet & her husband); later in the day I picked some more for our friend Jean who adores them. Even though they're not as glamorous as the cepes the field mushrooms are my favorites. We'll have mushrooms on toast and/or a mushroom omelet for dinner. ( I like to simply clean & slice up the mushrooms then sauté them gently in butter with a bit of finely chopped garlic. I cook them very gently and if I get my timing just right finish them just before they start to release their juices.)

Another nice thing about the field mushrooms is that I don't have risk life & limb to get them. There's a twofold danger. First, there are the local Frenchmen who all seem to
be about 90 years old and know exactly where to look for the cepes, girolles and morilles. They all have their favorite spots and you can see their clapped out cars & vans along the country lanes in the mornings when the weather has been right. They don't take kindly to 'strangers' picking their mushrooms. Cars with Toulousian plates parked in the 'wrong' spot have been known to spontaneously sprout 4 flat tires. Secondly, there are a number of mushrooms that are dangerous to eat. Even with my mushroom book I'm not always sure. You can, of course, pick them anyway and take them to the local pharmacy for identification. It seems that mushroom id'ing is part of the training of a pharmacist. Certainly our Madam Marty knows her stuff. "Those you can eat, but they don't taste good. On the other hand those are delicious; where did you say you found them?" "Oh, somewhere down that way" I say. So the nice thing about field mushrooms is that even I can identify them with confidence. And, I don't have to compete for them.

Fall is definitly here. I'll start posting fall recipies when we get back from England.

Foie Gras, truffles and pumpkin next,

but .... that's another story.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Rabbiting on

Its funny that once you hear or see something once you'll probably run into it again more than once in a short space of time. This happened to me over the last few days with rabbit. I hadn't thought of rabbit in a long time but;

Sunday night a friend served rabbit pie for dinner. It was great; lots of
vegetables, herbs and a great crust. Then last night we went to a 65th Birthday Party for our friend Rob and the restaurant served roast rabbit - for 40 people. Again, it was good, but not as good as the rabbit pie. Finally, I took a look at Lucy's Kitchen Notebook ( and what do I see, but rabbit yet again; Mexican style this time. It sounds delicious. But;

Why am I being persued by rabbit? I don't even particularly like rabbit, I mean its OK, pretty
innocuous so whats not to like or to like? I'd rather have a chicken, more meat same or better flavour. Wild rabbit or hare's a different matter you can do some interesting things with them. Is it rabbit season? Didn't think there was one, but you never know. Maybe its because its fall and people's thoughts turn to pies & roasts & such like. I'll probably never find out.

In any case my hope is that by getting the rabbit out of my system, so to speak, by writing about it here I will have exorcised the rabbit deamons and they'll go away & let me think about other kinds of food.

Like the steak frites I'm going to cook for dinner tonight!