Wednesday 18 October 2006

One day in History

A Blog about a Blog.

Paul heard about this and told me and a load of veggies on Cix, so now I’m telling you.

It’s a project by the British Library to collect blog/diary entries for the 17th October 2006 and store them for future reference. Make the 17th October HISTORY. Record your blog here

This is my entry:

It wasn't a great day yesterday - I saw no news, heard no radio, talked to nobody in person. I wasn't even in the UK but at my farm in Northern France. I dug out some encroaching brambles, planted some bulbs and did a little tidying up but the weather was dull and I lacked motivation to achieve many of the week's goals. I spent a good deal of time on the Internet, mainly in a private conferencing system (Cix) and partly on the flickr photo archiving service. There is a problem with my internet email which I'm trying to track down with the help of Cix support but we're not getting far. I took part in discussions about lack of butterfly habitat, driving and ferry ports in France, Avicenna's proof of God. And I cursed the fact that I don't have broadband and must do all my internet connections via a slow telephone line and modem. I did no painting at all.

It’s possible to read other people’s entries although I haven’t done, that old lack of bandwidth problem. You have until the end of the month to record your day.

Monday 16 October 2006

Apple Picking


These lovely days of Indian summer are ideal for collecting the harvest from the 40 or so apple trees in the fields. These trees were planted for cider making and are mostly very old and decrepit, struggling under a burden of mistletoe and neglect.

Without being able to identify the varieties and having no one to ask what was planted we have resorted to giving the trees working code names. Amelie, the first tree named is a yellow fruited sort, early ripening and only pleasant to eat. She’s also had a drastic haircut in the recent past and has only a tiny mop of short branches on her trunk. Beatrice on the other hand has exceeded all expectations. When I tested her a month ago I found her rather ordinary, now she is beautiful. Her branches are laden with delicious crimson fruit with a slight bloom. I picked two large buckets of apples from her today in only an hour. Other trees of note that I have taken fruit from are Katherine, crisp and sweet and Phyllis subtitled the photogenic tree for her glorious crop of golden orange fruit carried on a lollipop shaped tree straight from a story book.

Apple picking isn’t all that easy. The trees are a long way from the house over rough meadow and I have only a step ladder and a wheelbarrow. The stepladder is far too short for reaching 7/8ths of the tree and the wheelbarrow cumbersome in the long grass. Once you have your step ladder positioned securely, not easy on the soft uneven ground there are the obstacles of twigs in your ears and the low sun in your eyes. As you reach for the apples, teetering on three legs of the ladder, you are obstructed by earwigs, snails and drunken hornets. Desperate to reach more apples before having to move the steps, you drag on branches unbalancing yourself even more. Your hands become full of apples and the picking bucket becomes unreachable. As you tug at some small unworthy specimen a perfect ripe example falls from the branch and bruises itself as it bangs its way all down the ladder. Then your hair becomes caught in the branches. It can only be a matter of time before I come crashing to the earth and I’m waiting anxiously for Paul to get here so I can go a little higher and reach a little further secure in the knowledge someone will collect my broken bones when the inevitable happens.

Tuesday 10 October 2006

The last day of Summer


Today is another last day of summer, glorious sunshine, late butterflies, a surprising quantity of dragonflies, gentle breezes and warmth.

I’ve gathered some sloes to make a drink called Patxaran, a Basque liqueur, from a recipe recounted to me by my friend the Archdruid. I’ve formalised his suggestion thus:

Take two thirds of a litre of anise (buy a litre bottle and drink the rest, you’ll need the space for the other ingredients). Pick your sloes and give them a good rinse in plenty of warm water to remove bits of leaf, bird shit and dead spiders. Allow to drain for a couple of hours as you don’t want to dilute the alcohol with unnecessary water. In the bottle mix 100g sugar, lots of sloes, ten coffee beans and a vanilla pod. Allow to steep for several months.

I’ve never made this before so I’ve no idea how it will turn out but I’m hoping it will match my recollections of a superior sort of cough medicine served on ice which I drank through the night in Valencia many years ago.

Today is also my daughter’s birthday. Happy Birthday Xtal. She’s had a terrible week so far when lousy thieves entered her room and stole her laptop and several hundred pounds worth of other personal items. I can’t be with her but I hope everyone will join me to send out warm fuzzy thoughts to her and sharp vicious bolts of pain to destroy the lives of the scum that have hurt her.

Tuesday 3 October 2006

Better than Conkers


We’ve more than half a dozen sweet chestnut trees around the farm, mostly in the boundary hedges. A survey today reveals that although all the trees have fruit only two trees are producing anything of harvestable quality although it’s possible the other trees will mature later.

The two most excellent trees are in the big entrance field on the boundary with the forest near to the house. One tree is dropping heavy crops of small nuts which are ripe and ready now and most delicious roasted. Each prickly seed case has three or so potential nutlets inside but usually only one has developed leaving barren shells where the nut has failed. The husks are splitting on the tree and dropping the nuts out of the husks making them very easy to gather. The other tree is producing much bigger husks than I’ve ever seen before with just one or two large nuts in each case. This tree isn’t quite as ready as its neighbour and although the wind has brought down many prickly green balls they are not opening to reveal the nuts inside. These prickles really hurt.

These two types correspond to the horticultural definitions of marrons and chataigne, the larger nuts are the marrons, used in the eponymous marrons glaces.

I’ve gathered nuts and a big pile of the unsplit cases. I have noticed a few maggots in some of the nuts but generally the quality of these chestnuts is far better than those I bought in a major supermarket last year.

The nuts will be eaten roasted, boiled, dried (if I can rig a dehydrator) and made into candied chestnuts. Unfortunately chestnuts don’t store well or for long in an unprocessed state, needing cold, humidity controlled conditions and still being prone to drying out or going mouldy.

I’m hoping the green cases will finish maturing and split open naturally because they are almost impossible to open otherwise, and of course, there are loads more to come on both trees so there will be plenty of time to gather nuts again.

A useful resource: The Australian Chestnut Growers has been helpful.

Sunday 1 October 2006


Today, I shall eat cake.

Today is my birthday. It’s possibly the first birthday I have ever spent entirely on my own without family or friends. It’s not so bad.

Yesterday I went shopping for my presents. I got a non-stick frying pan with glass lid, some slippers and some small ready prepared canvases for oil painting. Yes, dear reader, I went to Aldi.

My cake is a carrot cake, I’ve no idea how I will eat it all but it’s hard to make a cake small enough for one.

Later, if the wind drops, I will have a bonfire. As well as feeding the pyromaniac in me this will be symbolically cleansing and afterwards I shall make new year’s resolutions.

Happy Birthday Manda.