29 August 2008

beautiful bramleys

I’ve just been looking online to see the best way of storing the Bramley apples that Rosemary gave me from her tree. It’s been very interesting. Traditionally people have wrapped apples in newspaper or tissue paper but some sites have said it is not necessary with Bramleys. Another, horticultural, site – possibly for commercial growers – says that if a Bramley is dipped in warm water before storing it increases its storage capacity as the natural wax from the skin melts to form a contiguous surface which inhibits infection. Fascinating ! Another site suggests putting them into a plastic bag with one hole which allows a certain amount of humidity which is necessary to keep the fruit fresh, but not so much as to encourage moulds.

There is also a Bramley Apple website hosted by English Apples & Pears Limited, located in England’s orchard county of Kent. On the home page they say that Bramley’s are grown only in Britain. Rosemary would like to beg otherwise. She doesn’t actually LIKE apples, well not raw anyway, and decided she wanted to grow a Bramley to prove that it could be done, as everyone had told her it wasn’t possible to grow a Bramley in the South of France. (If you don’t like apples that much, Rosemary, why would you even have had the conversation with someone ?!) Anyway, I have seen the dear little tree – which fruits better with a Cox’s Pippin as a pollinator – I have got frozen, cooked windfalls in the freezer with some blackberries and then six perfect Bramley’s weighing 1.12 kilos appeared on my doorstep the other day.

You may have noticed that I said that the Bramley fruits better with a Cox’s Orange Pippin as a pollinator ... yes, I then got a bag (1.45 kilos) of small, but delicious, Cox’s.

The French don’t seem to me to have the same interest in apples as we do in the UK. There are usually four or five varieties : Granny Smith; a French Russet or Pomme Gris, which I use in cooking; Braeburn; the Pink Lady variety from New Zealand (what about the food miles !!) – which I remember costing considerably more than other apples in the UK but doesn’t seem that more expensive here, no doubt because it is grown in this country; and the Golden Delicious – which frankly I can’t imagine why anyone buys ! There is a very large growing area around Brittany, Normandy and the Loire Valley, but perhaps the French prefer their apples as cider, Calvados or pommeau !

So English Apples & Pear Limited, perhaps you really meant that Bramley’s are only grown commercially in Britain ? The rest of the website has a rather dire video, about making a traditional Bramley apple pie, under ‘podcast’ – I watched it till the end but I don’t know why anyone would; some rather yummy recipes and an interesting history of the Bramley apple – its bicentenary is next year. What I’d like to know is : where did the pips come from that the little girl planted in her garden ? !!

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll probably make juice with the rest of the Cox’s – I believe that it freezes well – and I’ll just leave the the Bramleys in the bag they were given to me in, in the coolest place I can find, which (for the next few weeks at least) is exactly where they are on the floor in the kitchen.

If you’ve got a moment, perhaps you would take the time to vote in the poll and / or leave a comment. Thanks for looking !

26 August 2008

a curious thing

I was looking out of the kitchen window just before taking L B for our walk and to my horror saw that the pathetic things passing themselves off as tomato plants were looking extremely droopy. I usually try to water early in the morning as I’ve read so much about it being preferable, because plants are less prone to any airborne fungal infections than if they’d been left damp overnight. I do wonder if that is the case, as it is still so warm I’m sure that any water on the plants would dry / evaporate before nightfall, but I’m trying to do the right thing and Patrick our professional gardener in the French gardening group is always banging on about ‘the fungus’ ! I’m watering every second or possibly third day and am slightly alarmed at how badly they are in need of water and I’m relieved when back from our walk that they are looking slightly better, but it has obviously affected them.
Along the canal are many potagers in gardens or small pieces of enclosed land. But there is one potager that is planted in some very fertile soil just by the canal, in open land – the canal is redirected onto this land every few days through carefully dug furrows – unprotected from walkers and their dogs but more importantly unprotected from the variety of wildlife that lives around here, namely badger (although I haven’t seen one recently) fox, hare and of course Nature’s rotavator : the wild boar – sanglier. There was evidence of the boar just a few days ago where they had been digging holes near a tree root making a slightly precarious section of the pathway even more so. But, it seems, very little damage or nibbling has affected these beautiful specimens of tomatoes, carrots, aubergines, peppers, celery, parsley and basil. Where was the slug damage when they were first planted ? Are all the slimy beasts hiding out round at our place ? !

Anyway, this morning I am shocked to see what had been gloriously green courgette plants only yesterday now collapsed from the centre and covered in mildew. Some of the tomato plants also look sad, but nowhere near as sad as mine did earlier. Then on the way home I notice that some of the trees planted along the roadside have turned their leaves in and downwards. It hasn’t been terribly hot in the last couple of days – early 30°s but we did have a mistral wind for about 24 hours – that causes worse evaporation than the heat of the sun. So perhaps the mistral was the cause ?

21 August 2008

home doggy salon

Amandine has just left in her smart little black Renault Clio with racing wheels. As she walked up the path I noticed from behind that she has no shoulders and I wonder how she carries a handbag – obviously diagonally or surely it would keep slipping off ? I've just paid her €20 to clip L B and I’m astonished that she charged so little and relieved that it’s all over. L B on the other hand is rubbing himself along the ground and mussing up his ears and quite happy to go with her to her car as she packs the accoutrements away.

She sounded about 12 when I phoned her to book the appointment and didn’t seem to me to be an awful lot older when she arrived an hour and three quarters ago, wearing a baby pink t-shirt with sequins and sparkly silver flip flops. She was very business-like, handled L B very well and played with him for a moment after she lifted him down from the grooming table, but so laid back I felt that a bomb could go off and she would hardly react. She had no option but to shave off his appallingly matted coat and we discussed how she should tackle his head – I didn’t want him to have a pointed snout “he’s not a poodle” I kept hearing myself say. The lady he used to go to, who’s salon is called Le Chien Coquet, has two poodles tied up whilst she works and L B came out with the look of a new breed of dog, the Terrioodle.

I was hoping not to have to have him shaved again – I would really like him to grow his coat to look like a proper Tibetan Terrier and whilst he would never be as stunning as Fabulous Willy who won best in show at Crufts in 2007, I feel that it shouldn’t be beyond my grooming capabilities. After all, I did have Gizmo the Shih-Tzu who lived in this area 12 years ago and I never had to resort to such drastic measures. But TTs have this double coat, which keep them cool in Summer and warm in Winter, and we live in the countryside full of viscious flora that find L B’s coat a perfect place to attach itself to to transport seeds to other places. Indeed, the garden here has an ever widening patch of particularly nasty grasses and pretty ground-cover plants which produce burrs the size of peas and as sharp as needles !

His last toilettage was in March and I have been very good at brushing him since. Whilst he was injured – a pulled achilles tendon – I had not been taking him on our usual walk and he remained on the lead and walked mostly on the road. When the vet gave the all clear to start taking him for his proper walks where he bounds around like a mad thing, I started to lose the plot with the grooming. We walk alongside the irrigation canal and he hops in and out of it to drink and cool down. Add to that his harness (easier to grab him when he’s being uncooperative), rolling in the dust and rubbing his face along where they’ve been cutting grass and in the space of three days his under coat rubbed into a dense layer of felt ! This must now be causing L B to heat up more and it became a harbour for sharp bits of undergrowth and grass seed which weave their way in and can go in only one direction. So, needless to say, we’ve been in and out of the vets with a grass seed in an ear, another in his paw ... It has become ... dangerous.

I feel so ashamed that I seem incapable of keeping him knot-free, that I have not been in touch with his breeders to let them know how we’re getting on. The kennel that he came from – l‘Empire de Mistral – is in the middle of the country near Marseilles. They have seven TTs and they are never shaved. I think I will have to contact them and confess that spending nearly an hour every day just doesn’t work for us and is it a total travesty to keep his hair short ?

I bought a shaver, thinking that I would be able to groom him myself. I downloaded a useful e-book on dog grooming at home which has some really good tips and thought I would have a go. I didn’t read enough of the book, just skimmed down the pages, in my eagerness to try and bring relief to my poor prickled baby. Result : stressed L B, stressed me, burrs and hair stuck to everything including my face because I was so hot, there were rivulets of perspiration running down my face and cleavage, aaaarrrrgggghhhh ! Get him done professionally, which is where dear little Amandine came in with her myriad grooming combs and brushes and a much more serious-looking heavy-duty shaver.

Then from beneath the pelt that came off him like a tiny sheep, emerged this delicate-framed cartoon dog. I’m not sure about the finished ‘look’ – I’ll get used to it, I suppose, and of course it will grow back. But to have all this done in our own environment and a totally stress-free L B – it was worth every centime !

17 August 2008

what a wonderful world

As I sit typing this, LB has gone back down the road to investigate an interesting smell. I wouldn’t normally have taken him for a walk today as I have to go gardening this morning, but yesterday we didn’t go and he took himself off for an hour and a half, when we were at Phillippa’s cleaning her house for the next summer renters. Usually I arrive and get straight to work and leave him to his own devices – it’s quite possible that that’s what he usually does and I’m blissfully unaware, but he does come to find me at various times whilst I’m cleaning and he has that air of ‘I’ve been off on an adventure’. As it was, the outgoing renters were late leaving so I had a second breakfast with Phillippa of the knobbly end of a warm baguette I had just bought, green tea and a delicious melon smoothie she had made. LB disappeared at this point and every half an hour I went to see if he was back, getting more and more concerned until Philippe jumped in the car to drive up and down to see if he could see him. Philippe came back – no luck, but moments later his friend Arnaud (who he’d telephoned en route to ask him to look out for him) arrived with LB running up alongside. Arnaud had seen him just at the bottom of the drive, nonchalantly sniffing around, so he clapped his hands to hurry him back. I’d been calling and calling and the little b*gg*r had ignored me, so I thankfully tied him up and returned tearfully grateful to the housework.

So this morning I thought we’d go for a rapid walk – no camera, no stopping to pick up treasures / fallen fruit etc. Not long along the canal path the rustling on the bank that I have heard frequently in the same place over the last few days, turned out to be a loir (glis glis) that hopped out of the water and up and further along the sound of a much larger animal that darted out in front of a startled LB – it was a hare, almost the size of LB and he fled up the road and off back into the undergrowth. LB started to run after it but didn’t go far and turned round to look at me as if to say “what was that ?”. Even if I’d had the camera, these two things happened so fast I would never have managed to capture them, but I regret not taking it – I realised that I have been walking past the most beautifully shaped walnut tree and the sun was shining directly on it like a spotlight and amongst the ever-ripening blackberries a spider, striped like a wasp, lying in wait on her web. As far as not picking up things – how could I resist a perfect piece of Eryngium that had been cut some days ago and blown into my path ? – part of the Christmas decorations; one or two blackberries to eat along the way and a few hazelnuts.

The temperatures have changed – it’s going to be a clear, hot day but the nighttime and early morning atmosphere is refreshing and we think that the brief heatwave canicule is over. Last night Alain told me that one day in Draguignan the temperature was 43°. So, gardening this morning is going to be very pleasant with perhaps a swim at the end and when I got home from our walk, Riviera Radio was playing Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”.

13 August 2008

here comes the rain

Just about to go off to bed, switching channels (as you do !) and turned on to Arte to see, who I am sure was, Ravi Shankar playing two numbers with his other musicians. Then on come George Harrison & Ringo Starr and a bunch of other people who get introduced later on. It turns out to be the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and now I can’t go to bed because this is amazing.

Then it starts to rain, torrentially, between George Harrison singing “Here Comes the Sun” and Bob Dylan’s “It’s a Hard Rain that’s Gonna Fall”. The roof over the terrace is leaking and I get soaking wet trying to move pots out to where they’ll get some of this rain. Watering this evening was almost a waste of time but everything will benefit even though it’s not for long. It may not have rained a few kilometres away, so we’ll be extremely grateful and listen to the rest of this concert through the thunderclaps.

There’s obviously a ’70s theme to Arte tonight. The next offering is a French film called : What a Flash. There are painted bodies, breasts and willies everywhere. Just before I switch off, there is a scene of a naked man (there is no reason to assume !) in an hammock with his lunch or casse-croûte in his lap. A man, full face to the screen, is eating and then out of picture comes a hand to help themselves to the picnic baguette. With that image in my head, it’s definitely time to switch the dishwasher on and get to bed !

12 August 2008


I picked my first blackberries of the season this morning – 210 g which I washed and froze straight away. I’ll put them with the windfall Bramley apples from Rosemary & Eric’s and look forward to blackberry and apple pie or crumble when the weather cools down !
Because there was so much rain in May this year – how we needed it – the blackberries or ronces have actually grown into fruits rather than shrivelled after flowering. There’ll be lots more over the next few weeks but the best ones are always out of reach, aren’t they ? I can see me falling into the irrigation canal before the end of the season !

07 August 2008

ferret sitting

I’ve been ferret sitting for Rosemary & Eric up the road. Odd little creatures with a pungent, but not altogether unpleasant, odour. L B was fascinated by the smell on me when I came home, but not too bothered about the creatures themselves when he followed me up in the afternoon to check on them. I told Rosemary that I hadn’t really understood why people kept ferrets until I had been looking after their three : Maud, Marge and Taz.

What a bundle of fun they are, but being new to them I was glad of the footless socks to cover my arms and the gloves to protect me when transferring them in and out of their cages.
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