Friday 15 October 2010

The Hunt

two deer

It's autumn, time for the deer to rut. These two fine gents were just enjoying the warm sunshine and some fresh grass so that they could spend the night bellowing and tearing up the turf in anger. It's interesting to see the variations in coat colour although I've yet to spot a white one. That would be special.

In Normandy the hunting season started a couple of weeks ago. Although hunters are not supposed to fire their guns within 50 metres of the house and I have asked them not to hunt on our land anyway I'm still somewhat nervous for myself and the cats. I feel I should wear a fluorescent jacket and keep the cats on leads with me whenever we go outside. And that's just for the casual hunters out for small game.

On days when there are formal hunts in the forest dates are published, notices are put up on the boundaries and warning horns are sounded. Unfortunately living within the forest I'll only see the signs if I happen to go out, the dates are yet to be published and the horns are not very directional or helpful, still there have been no accidents here yet.

Naturally as vegans we don't take part in the hunting, except for hedgehogs. Hedgehog mushrooms that is.

sheeps feet

In France these unmistakable and common fungi are known as Pied de Mouton, Sheeps Feet. They grow under the trees close to the boundaries with fields, often in the company of chanterelles. For the beginner collecting their first wild harvests it's their spines which help to confirm that they are safe to eat. There is nothing else quite like them.

We gathered a fine crop a couple of weeks ago but the freezer was stuffed full of tomato paste so I needed to find a way to use them. This Scandinavian style treatment reminiscent of pickled herring is an interesting recipe. I'll give it as I found it but if I was making it again I think I'd change things as bit as indicated.

* 750g hedgehog mushrooms
* 1 bay leaf
* 10 allspice berries
* 1 onion, cut into rings
* 125ml water
* 20ml white vinegar
* 75g white sugar

Place the mushrooms in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook for 3 minutes. If I were doing this again, I'd slice the mushrooms first, drop them into boiling water and blanch for just one minute. Drain and cut them into 3-inch slices. Place in a glass container together with the bay leaf, allspice, and onion rings. I used half a teaspoon of ground allspice as it was what I had, o.k. but leaves unsightly speckles. I'd also add some black peppercorns next time.

In a large saucepan cook the water, vinegar, and sugar together for about 2 minutes and pour over the spices and mushrooms. I couldn't bring myself to use so much sugar even on first attempt and used just 50g which I felt was plenty sweet enough. I'd also up the vinegar a bit, say to 50ml and add half a teaspoon of salt. Let cool and serve. --Carla Sundström

The liquid doesn't quite cover the mushrooms. Use a jar or bottle you can seal tightly and give it a good shake from time to time. The mushrooms will keep in the fridge for about a week and can be used in sandwiches, salads or in a tomatoey pasta sauce which is really good. I'm sure the same treatment would work on button mushrooms from the supermarket if foraging lets you down.

pickled fungi

Wednesday 6 October 2010

The Bad, the Worse and the Ugly

Right, let's get this over with before paralysis causes a fatal termination of the blog. The pictures aren't going to have much relevance as I've also failed to capture the failures on film.

Leaving the woods to return to the lane.

This year hasn't been a good growing year in many respects. Yes, unusually perhaps, the bulk crops of alliums, potatoes and tomatoes have all done well. We've had many courgettes, the pumpkin crop is sufficient and I've even managed to grow a few cabbages from seed, a personal best! However, the more interesting, the more esoteric and the frankly untried have produced little. Some of it may be that intrinsically they are unsuited to the conditions and weather here, the rest of it is undoubtedly poor care on my part.

The Devil has spat on the blackberries now, luckily he missed this ladybird.

I had half a dozen or so new crops to try this year; two sorts of cowpeas, lupini beans, grain amaranth (not entirely new, I've grown it once before), millet and some types of pea from HSL which looked interesting.

The cowpeas didn't do at all. Although they made plants and even looked as if they might flower once or twice nothing came of it. Given that it was an exceptionally warm and dry early summer here which should have been ideal for them I'm not expecting that these will ever be successful here. One type was planted on poor soil which might have caused a problem but the other was in quality ground and did no better.

The lupini beans grew well but didn't start to flower properly (apart from one stunted and possibly diseased plant) until a couple of weeks ago. The large plants have since been knocked over by strong winds and torrential rain. I don't think we'll get even a handful of beans from them.

The grain amaranth has grown well but wet weather is hampering my inclination and efforts to harvest it. This one will be a fail which is mostly down to me - I need some tarpaulins/ground sheets to hang the drying seed heads over and I've avoided sorting it out until it's much too late.

The millet was a proof of concept experiment. I bought some ornamental F1 seed just to see how it did, and it did o.k. but the deer had four out of six plants and the F1 seed is of limited value for saving. Given my own poor performance this year in tending novelties I'm not sure it's worth attempting again with open pollinated seed that will likely be less robust and weather proof.

The peas had a horrible time. First of all they were washed out of their pots before germination. They were planted out in drought and barely got going before the bloody deer ate them back to stumps. I managed to get a handful of Beltony Blues for seed next year but we lost all the first crop of Irish Preans and what the deer haven't had of the second flush have gone mildewed.

Other more regular crops have also suffered. I planted the beans on poor soil this year, reasoning that with some top dressing they could look after themselves. The hot dry spell stunted them and by the time they got going weeds and lack of feeding finished them off. Possibly my worst ever year for french and runner beans.

The Golden Bantam sweet corn fell to deer just as it was about to flower. The Flint corn in the three sisters bed is just about making cobs but I'm not sure they'll be mature enough to dry properly before the end of the month.

Time for a new start.

The blue sky of tomorrow.