Monday, September 30, 2019

Nuts to you!

The lone walnut tree out among the vines is starting to drop this year's crop. I think it's the only walnut tree in or around our hamlet. It most likely belongs to one of the growers, but nobody tends the tree or harvests the walnuts. With one exception: for a couple of years, I would see one of our neighbors walk out and gather up a bag-full of nuts. It's been a few years, though, because he became ill and passed away about a year ago.

The green outer shell peels back to reveal the familiar hard-shelled nut inside before it falls to the ground.

The walnuts from this tree are pretty small and not really worth messing with. Besides, we have generous friends who share their bounty with us, and their walnuts are always a good size and delicious!

Sunday, September 29, 2019


I call these tall sunflower-like plants Jerusalem artichokes, but in fact I think they are some related variety. They don't produce tubers that are big enough to eat (unfortunately!). But they look so very similar. Early fall is their time for flowering. I got these from a neighbor who was having them dug out of her garden many years ago. They're very invasive plants.

A close-up of a Jerusalem artichoke flower. These, as you may recall, are planted in front of our garden shed.

Ken and I enjoy eating topinambours, as they're called in French, when they're in season, which is fall and winter. I'll be looking for them in the markets now.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Tarte aux courgettes

For Friday's lunch, I made what could be called a zucchini quiche. It's a twist on a quiche I've made many times, the difference being the custard. Instead of a standard quiche custard, I used the thicker cheesy batter that I make for the springtime asparagus and ham tart. It worked out very well.

The quiche is cooled, but still warm, and ready to serve.

The first step, as always, is to blind-bake a pie crust. I use papier cuisson (parchment paper) and pie weights so the crust will hold its shape and I bake it at 180ºC (350ºF) for about twenty minutes. The crust is cold when it goes into the oven because I let it rest in the refrigerator after I roll it out and line the pan. Once it's baked, I let the crust cool before removing the paper and weights.

The torture instrument, er, mandoline, I used to cut thin zucchini slices.

Next, I sliced the zucchini into thin rounds. For this step, I used a mandoline to cut thin slices of 3mm, about 1/8 of an inch. This gives me a uniform thickness (or thinness, if you will) of slices for the tart. I lined the cooled crust with the zucchini slices in a pattern called une rosace, as it resembles a rose window.

The bottom layer of zucchini in a "rosace" pattern.

I made the batter with two eggs, 10cl of milk, 10cl of crème fraiche, and about 50 grams of finely grated cheese. Any grating cheese you like will work. This time I used some sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region. I poured the batter onto the layer of zucchini then added some diced roasted breast of chicken that we had on hand. Lardons (smoked bacon) would also be good, but you can leave the meat out for a more vegetarian-like quiche.

The batter is poured onto the bottom layer of zucchini and diced cooked chicken (don't use raw!) is sprinkled on.

Finally, I covered the batter with another layer of zucchini, sprinkled on some more cheese, then baked it in a 200ºC (about 400ºF) oven for about 30 minutes, turning the oven down toward the end of the cooking. I let the tart cool some before serving to help the custard firm up.

The top layer of zucchini is added in the same "rosace" pattern, then sprinkled with a little salt and some cheese before baking.

You might notice from the photos that the tart pan is sitting inside a larger tart pan. I did this because the pan the quiche cooks in has a removable bottom, and melted butter from the crust can drip out during baking. The big pan catches the butter so it doesn't drip onto the oven bottom and burn.

The quiche was delicious. I'm going to have to remember this recipe and do it again soon (if I get more zukes out of the garden) or definitely next year.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Harvesting continues

The grape harvest is going strong. I think the growers are trying to get the grapes in before things get too wet out there. An infusion of water might change the sugar/acid ratio in the grapes (I'm just guessing here, but it seems logical). I haven't seen any more hand-harvesting, just the big mechanical harvesters.

The growers took advantage of a dry, but breezy, afternoon this week to get more red grapes harvested.

These behemoths straddle the vines, vibrating them and sucking the grapes right off their stems. There are two storage bins on either side of the machine. When they fill up, the harvester dumps the grapes into a waiting trailer. That's what's going on in this shot, taken from our guest room window. Soon it will all be over for another year.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

More tomatoes

I got out and picked another batch of tomatoes on Wednesday. There are still a lot of tomatoes on the plants. With the weather changing, the ripening process has slowed down some. It will be interesting to see how many more we get.

Most of these will probably end up as sauce or tomato paste.

I also picked another small batch of yellow flat beans. They're not producing as much as they should. I believe the heat waves and dry conditions slowed them down. Beans have always grown well in the garden otherwise. I also picked a few peppers. Ken used them along with some tomatoes in yesterday's lunch.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A blustery day

With rain. That's what Tuesday was. The rain gauge read nine millimeters (about a third of an inch) when the sun came out late in the afternoon. It's not a lot, but it helps. Much of the rain was more like drizzle, called bruine in French, than hard rain.

A vineyard parcel out by the end of our walking route. It's already been harvested.

We're expecting some more rain this afternoon. Before that comes, I want to get out and pick the tomatoes that have ripened since the last time I picked. I see some more sauce in our future!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The fall vineyard

The vineyard in the first days of fall looks pretty much like the vineyard in the last days of summer. With one difference: there are many fewer grapes. Much of the sauvignon crop has been harvested. Yesterday I noticed that red grapes (cabernet, côt, and gamay) were being harvested. I think the pace has accelerated because a rain system is moving in.

These red wine grapes hadn't been picked when I took this picture, but the leaves were already starting to turn.

In fact, it's raining again this morning as I type this (about 07h00) and the rain is expected to last most of the day. More is on the way. We really need the rain, of course, but it complicates the harvesting schedule. And it makes walking the dog a pain.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Amandine aux figues

We are so lucky to have nearby friends with a surplus of figs. They have one tree that produces abundantly, so they often have more than they can use. And they graciously offer some of their surplus to us.

Fresh figs from the tree.

On Sunday, I made what's called une amandine (a pie made with ground almonds) with figs. It was, and still is, delicious. We also ate some plain figs with our cheese course after lunch. Fresh figs and sheep's cheese go very well together.

Amandine aux figues. It was pretty and delicious, if I do say so myself.

The rest of the figs went into the freezer for use during the months to come. They freeze well and are useful for making a compote or a tart. Yum.

We ate some of these with cheese and red wine. Tasty!

You might remember that I planted a fig tree many years ago. It's never given us much, just a few figs here and there. And one year it froze completely to the ground, only to come back from the roots the next spring. We're still waiting for it to take hold and produce. Hope springs eternal.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


This is one of the culprits in the pending demise of our apple trees. It's gui (mistletoe), a parasitic plant, and it's common in France. We see it all around us not only in apple trees, but in poplars and hawthorn, too. In the fall, the berries ripen and turn white. Certain birds love to eat them, but I read that they're poisonous to humans.

A rather large mistletoe plant in our biggest apple tree.

After birds eat the berries, they spread the seeds in their droppings to other trees. The seeds have a sticky coating that helps them to adhere to tree branches where they take root. According to my extensive quick and superficial research, mistletoe is nearly impossible to remove once it's established.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The leaning apple tree

This is the biggest apple in our yard. You can see how it leans toward the west. You can also see that several of the big, lower branches are gone, and how the upper branches are infested with mistletoe. What you can't see is that the main trunk is almost hollow (I'm sure there are critters living inside). If it wasn't for the fact that it's leaning into the prevailing wind, it might have come down by now.

Future firewood. There's more mistletoe than leaves on this apple tree. Again, notice how brown the "grass" is.

But this is not the tree I was talking about in yesterday's post. The one I want to have taken down is a tall cedar that's very close to the house and it, too, is dying. Most of the branches on the lower third of the tree are dead already. I've never really liked that tree, mostly because it's too close to the house and it's too close to its neighboring trees, a tall fir and a linden. Taking it out will help with light and will give the two healthy trees some breathing room.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The garden shed

I showed a close-up of the shed last weekend, so here's a wider view. We had a new locking door installed soon after we moved in because the original door had rotted away. The tree is the smallest of our four apples, and it's in bad shape due to mistletoe. I've hacked a lot of it out, but it always comes back. The tree produces a couple dozen small unappetizing apples each season that aren't very useful, except to feed the compost pile.

The garden shed, where the rakes and shovels (and a few hundred spiders) live. You can see how brown the "grass" is.

I've contacted the guy who trims our hedge every year and he will schedule us soon. I also told him I have a big tree (not this one) that I want taken down and asked if he did that kind of work. He said yes, so maybe that will happen soon, too. I'll talk more about that tree in a separate post.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Manual harvesting

I've seen a couple of crews in the vineyards out back working to harvest grapes by hand over the past few days. It feels like they're doing more manual harvesting than in years past, but I can't be certain. Each coupeur (picker, or literally, cutter) in the crew uses a sécateur (pruning shears) to cut the bunches of grapes from the vine. He or she also has a bucket to hold the bunches temporarily.

A picker empties his bucket into the larger "hotte." You can see the pruning shears in his right hand.

Another member (or members) of the crew, le porteur (the carrier), carries a large basket called une hotte on his shoulders and walks up and down the rows where the pickers are working. The pickers empty their buckets into the hotte. When that's full, the carrier empties it into a waiting trailer for transport to the winery.

The "porteur" empties his basket into the trailer by climbing up a ladder and leaning in until the grapes slide out.

I got a couple of shots of the process on Wednesday. These are smaller portions of larger photos taken from a distance. I'm not really comfortable asking strangers if I can take their picture, so I just snapped a few when they weren't looking as I walked by.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A closer look

I still have no information on what these five piles of rocks are doing out in a field among the vineyard parcels. They haven't been moved. I haven't seen anyone who might know, although eventually we'll see somebody and ask. So there they sit.

Nobody can see the rock piles from their house, you have to walk or drive by to notice they're there.

You can see that it's not gravel, so I don't think it's for filling potholes in the dirt road. Besides, that's a spring job after the rains have made more potholes. So the mystery remains intact. Are they there for a purpose, did whoever owns the land put them there, or did somebody dump them illegally? Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Now you sedum, now you don't

Speaking of neglected plants... We put these sedum in an old planter box many years ago. The box sits on the ground out by the garden shed and only gets water when it rains. Which hasn't been much at all this summer. But they survive, even thrive, and this time of year they flower.

Kind of a wild, shabby chic look. OK, maybe just shabby.

One year, after digging up some iris bulbs to divide them, we "temporarily" piled them on the gravel next to this planter box. And there they have stayed. They sprout, grow, and flower every year. So there's color in the spring (iris) and color in the fall (sedum), and there's no maintenance. If only the tall grass would pull itself out...

Monday, September 16, 2019

How 'bout them apples

The apples from these two trees won't win any prizes. One variety is deep red and has a very mealy texture. Probably a cooking apple, but you have to hurry because they don't last very long and when they cook they turn into applesauce. The other variety is better, but not by much. Also best cooked, it will hold its shape in a tart. It also makes decent applesauce (I have some in the freezer from last year). Neither apple is very good for eating raw.

These two apple trees are relatively healthy and seem to be resistant to mistletoe, at least for now.

We had three other apple trees in the yard when we got here. One was pretty much dead and we took it out. The remaining two, one small and the other quite big, are dying. Age and mistletoe have taken their toll. The big tree has dropped large limbs over the years (firewood!), and the main trunk is splitting. The tree bore no fruit this year and many of its upper limbs are dead. We'll probably lose the tree altogether within five years (more firewood!). It's too bad, because those apples were the best of the five trees.

So now we're thinking we should find a nice cherry or other fruit tree to plant before the apple goes away.

Sunday, September 15, 2019


These are the Jerusalem artichokes that I planted in front of the garden shed a few years ago. Apparently they don't fear neglect. I think I watered them once this summer. It's been so hot and very dry, as you know, and yet they hang in there. They're not as lush as they have been, but there they are.

The shed has seen better days. The dry ground shrinks beneath the building and cracks form in the facade. The same thing is happening to our house, and to a good number of houses across the country.

Today will be the hottest of our current warm spell before the temperatures drop to more seasonal levels, according to one of the weather sites I look at daily. Météo France, the national weather agency, predicts that the warm spell will continue for the next ten days. Who to believe?

Saturday, September 14, 2019


I'm assuming these are were sauvignon blanc grapes. This is what's left after the mechanical harvester passes. It strips the grapes right off their bunches, so there's supposedly not a lot of excess material that needs to be separated out at the winery.

Some grapes are left behind.

I read that in some wine making regions, like Sauternes and Champagne, the grapes are picked by hand to ensure that the wineries get whole bunches intact (in fact, some properties in Sauternes pick individual grapes and make several passes through their vineyards during the harvest, a practice that contributes to the high price of Sauternes). When whole bunches are picked by hand, the grapes stay on the stem right up to the crushing process and very little precious juice is prematurely released or lost. I have seen the mechanical harvesters emptying their bins and there is quite a lot of juice being poured into the trailer along with the grapes.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Les vendanges

That's the French word for the grape harvest, which got under way in our area on Wednesday. I saw two harvesters out on Thursday, two different growers picking white grapes in their respective parcels. It's interesting how small some of the parcels can be and how they make up a patchwork of different varietals and different owners.

A harvester and trailer, both pulled by tractors, get into position for the morning's work.

It's also interesting to look at the different styles of harvesting. A few parcels are picked by hand. In some grape-growing regions of France, like Champagne and Beaujolais, hand-picking is required by law. In other areas, vineyards may be too steep or otherwise not able to accommodate harvesting machines. I read somewhere that hand-harvesting is done in much of Burgundy because pinot noir grapes are too fragile for the machines. There is a little pinot noir grown in our region, but not much. Hand-picking is not required by law in our area, so I wonder if it's a marketing thing for the high-end wines.

Tractor-pulled harvester on the left, newer driven harvesting machine on the right.

In the photo above, there are two types of harvesters. On the left is an older model that is pulled by a tractor. On the right, a more modern model that is driven, no tractor necessary. In each case, the machines vibrate and suck the grapes off the vines (I'm sure there's a more elegant way to say that). When the harvester's storage bins are full, the operator will empty them into a larger trailer (below). When that's full, another driver takes it to the winery for processing while the harvester continues to pick.

A special trailer for transporting grapes to the winery a few kilometers away.

As I wrote this, just after seven a.m., a harvester and a trailer drove past the house and out into the vineyard to begin the day's work. The sun's not up yet, but the weather is supposed to be hot today and I'm guessing the growers want to pick their grapes in the cool of the morning when they might be less susceptible to damage.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Harvest moon

This year's harvest moon rises tomorrow, on Friday the 13th (technically, the moon hit's "full" early Saturday morning, just before it sets). I understand it's called a "harvest" moon because it's the full moon closest to the equinox, which happens on the 23rd of September this year, and the start of the harvest. And, true to the moon's reputation, the harvests have begun. We're picking tomatoes, and the growers are picking grapes.

There's a sprinkling of fallen leaves in our yard. More have fallen since I took this picture.

I don't have any photos of this year's grape harvest, yet. The first mechanical harvester worked the vineyard parcels most of Wednesday morning, picking first a plot of chardonnay then moving on to the sauvignon blanc parcels. The reds will be picked later, I assume. On my walk with Tasha last evening, I sampled a grape here and there. They're sweet and tasty.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Getting saucy

Our first big tomato harvest of the year happened over the weekend. So, on Monday I made sauce for the freezer. I trimmed and cooked the toms with some salt and a few bay leaves. I didn't flavor the sauce any more than that since it will be used in different ways over the months to come. We will flavor it depending on how we eat it when the time comes.

Except for one, each of these containers holds about three cups. The taller one holds five.

I let the sauce cool overnight, then on Tuesday I ran it all through the food mill to remove the skins and most of the seeds. I ended up with five quarts of sauce. We'll eat some of it in the next days, but most of it went into the freezer. There are still a few quarts of frozen sauce from last year to use up. I think we're up to the challenge.

The food mill before I rinsed it off. Luckily, it cleans up pretty easily.

But the freezer is getting full. So when the next harvest comes in, I plan to make sauce again, but reduce it to tomato paste and can it. We do some every year and it works very nicely. The paste is a great addition to so many recipes.

Speaking of harvests, the parcel of chardonnay on the north side of our house was harvested on Tuesday. For whatever reason, the chardonnay grapes are always among the first to be picked. So the 2019 harvest is on!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Yes, but is it art?

I noticed this the other day. Its a section of one of those plastic sleeves the grape growers use to protect newly planted vines from the elements. And it's stuck on top of a end-of-row post. Why? To get it out of the way? To mark a certain row? Or just for fun? We may never know.

It will probably fall off once the harvesting starts.

The mornings are chilly again, which seems normal for this time of year. The indoor temperature is getting low enough that the central heating could kick on. I keep dialing it down to keep that from happening. I don't think we need heat yet. But the thermostat resets itself each evening (it's a setting I've chosen and I don't feel like messing with it), so one of these mornings we may hear the boiler fire up. Of course, warmer days are predicted this week and the morning temperatures may rise again.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Sleepy hamlet

Now that summer vacations have ended, our little hamlet is quiet. Not that it was a rockin' hub of activity before last week, but things seem a little calmer now that fall is approaching. Our Parisian neighbors have gone back home, and our neighbors from Blois haven't been down much in recent weeks. The mayor and her husband were out of town over the weekend, and there are still two houses unoccupied, although we understand they've both been sold, or at least the sales are pending.

Our hamlet among the vines above the Cher Valley on a late summer afternoon.

The grass isn't growing much, so there's not much mower noise in the neighborhood. Someone did cut the grass at one of the unoccupied houses during the week. I suppose that once it sold, the previous owner stopped cutting and the weeds started to take over. The same happened at our house sixteen years ago. When we moved in, the grass and weeds were nearly waist-high.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Saturday afternoon walk

Tasha and I walked out into the vineyard on Saturday afternoon as the weather system that came through mid-day was breaking up. We had a brief rain shower just after lunch that didn't amount to much. The vineyard was still as dry as a bone when we walked.

Looking west at about 18h00 on Saturday afternoon.

I looked at the long-range forecast for our area this morning. There's no rain predicted for the next ten days, and the high temperatures are expected to be in the mid 20sC (mid 70sF). Of course, the weather people don't always have a lot of luck with the long-range forecasts, so anything can happen. But their weather models are saying we'll stay warm and dry for a while yet.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Still hanging in there

We're both wondering when the grape harvest will begin. The grapes are looking pretty ripe, but looks, of course, don't count. What counts is the amount of sugar in the grapes vs. acid, something the growers test with a tool called a refractometer. I've seen the growers out back testing the grapes this way over the years, but not yet this year. Other factors come into play as well, but I'm not an expert.

Ripening grapes getting close to harvest time.

I have seen some of the vineyard workers out there doing something. I guess that they're preparing the rows for the mechanical harvesters, cutting back overgrown vines and clearing away anything (like weeds or damaged grape bunches) that shouldn't be sucked into them. Before long we'll be hearing the hum of the harvesting machines, but not before a few of the parcels get harvested by hand.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Dry, dry, dry

It's hard to imagine all the rain that southeast US coast is getting right now. It hasn't rained much here all summer. Grass and shallow-rooted plants are suffering. Even some of the trees look a little less lively than normal. If a tree can look lively.

The artichokes in our garden are as dry as the Atacama Desert. I'm surprised that they're still standing.

Ken's keeping close track of the hurricane news since much of his family is in coastal North Carolina. He's in touch with his sister by email, but is not sure how long that will last if (when) the power goes out.

Meanwhile, I've hidden away the Sharpies.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

A treat from the market

Last Friday, Ken and I went over to the nearby town of Montrichard and to their weekly market. We wanted to get another bunch of shellfish to finish off the paella. We also found some nice ripe melons, which of course means that we needed some jambon cru (cured ham) to serve with them. So we stood in line at a charcutier (like a deli) stand to get some. In the deli case were these tasty-looking savory pastries made with scallops called croustade de Saint-Jacques. Scallops are called coquilles Saint-Jacques in French, which refers to the shape of the shell being the symbol of Saint James. We got two.

Croustade de Saint-Jacques. Ken added the parsley.

We heated them up in the toaster oven and served them as an appetizer. They were a tasty treat and we decided they'd be worth getting again. It turns out that the people that run the charcuterie have their base in the town next to ours. They don't do the Saint-Aignan market on Saturdays, but they are in Blois twice a week, in Selles on Thursdays, Amboise on Sundays, and of course Montrichard on Fridays.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

A little mystery

About a week ago, I noticed that someone had dumped five piles of dirt in a field out at the end of the vineyard road. It's limestone "dirt" with very large limestone rocks mixed in. Each pile is almost as tall as me. At first I thought the dirt would be used to resurface the vineyard road, but on closer inspection I saw that the big rocks haven't been crushed into a usable gravel, at least not yet.

Five mysterious piles of dirt at the end of the road. Aliens?

The field is agricultural, so no buildings can be built there. There are no electrical, telephone, or sewer lines available out there, nothing but vineyards and woods. I'm assuming that the town put the dirt there, but I don't know. So, for now, the mystery remains. Who put those piles out there and why?

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha continues to help me in the garden. She's there when I water, when I weed, and when I harvest. Her duties are limited to barking and running around. I'm grateful because my barking and running around skills are not what they used to be.

More and more tomatoes are ripening. Tasha barks to remind me.

I can feel the summer slipping away. The days are noticeably shorter; we lose a few minutes of light every day now. Apples are falling from the trees (just the apple trees). The morning lows are dipping lower and the afternoon highs are not as high as they were. The equinox is less than three weeks away.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Before and after

There has been so little rain that I haven't had to cut the grass much this year. It had been fifty-eight days, nearly two months, since the last cut when I got the new mower out there on Saturday. I would have cut a week earlier if the old mower hadn't broken down.

Before: a bright sunny and hot day in the west 40 before I cut the weeds.

As you can see in the "before" photo above, there's not much in the way of grass. The lawn is mostly weeds and wildflowers kept in check by mowing. When it's dry, certain of the weeds send up their flower stalks, especially the wild carrot (Queen Anne's lace). It doesn't really look like it needs mowing until, at a certain point, it does.

After: almost the same shot, overcast and wet on Sunday, the day after I ran the new mower. Neat and tidy! Well, almost.

I was surprised at how much dust flew when I cut this time. The grass is burned to a crisp and there are many dead leaves and pine needles on the ground. The mower is a mulcher that pulverizes what it cuts; a cloud of dust followed me as I mowed. That wasn't too good for breathing, but I got through it. Now that it's rained again, I wonder how long it will be until the next cut?

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The new mower

I'm saying good-bye to our eight-year old lawnmower. Some metal part that held one of the front wheels on sheared off and is beyond my ability to repair. Getting it repaired professionally is probably not worth the expense, given that other things will start going wrong anyway. Our first mower lasted eight years, and now the second has given us eight years.

I didn't think to take a picture before I used the mower, so it's a little dusty.

So we went shopping, first on line and then to a local hardware chain, and found this. It's the same brand as the other two. I put it together last week, but yesterday was the first time I used it to get a large section of the yard cleaned up. The mower works great. There are two things that are different from the previous models. There's one lever to change the cutting height so I don't have to adjust each wheel independently. The second difference is that it has rear-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive. I have to get used to that.