Jun 10 2004

Letter from Brittany. June 2004

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Dear Sally,

I do not know where to start! You are right, that funny weather makes Dame Nature upside down! Or is it the old time coming back? A lot of cold and snow last winter, and a real wonderful spring going on…The garden in La Ville Doualan is equally wonderful.

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My little cherry tree, it is only one year old, is full of cherries! It is an old English cherry – they are so good for clafoutis and in cognac. I will have to put a net over it very quickly if I do not want to have them stolen by the multitude of different little birds living in our garden!

The medlar tree is showing his happiness too. It is full of those lovely and delicate white flowers. My two old apple trees are, as they have done every year for fifty or sixty years, full of smelling blossom. We will have many fruits in autumn for the cider and the jelly.

Flowers are everywhere at the moment, thyme, sage, rosemary, rhododendrons etc. The hollyhocks and the wild foxgloves (called in Brittany Nunu) are everywhere and are starting to show their flowers.

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The rose trees are out and a great joy for us was when we discovered at the front of the house a little one we did not plant and who has started to climb happily on the façade! I love the story of it. That little rose tree is very old and stayed buried for twenty years under the stones of the fallen front wall of the house, and now we are here and we rebuilt that wall he decided it was his territory and he settled again vigorously! It is a dark pink and beautiful old rose.

I agree with you about the stinging nettles and I have to say I had to exterminate a lot of them in order to leave the other plants room to breathe, but that is life! I learn something very interesting about weeds. I have in the garden some wild blackberry brambles, which are delicious; I made last year wonderful jam with them and so I froze a lot and made for Christmas a wonderful summer pudding by mixing them with elders fruits. The problem is to collect them without being badly scratched! However, you can espalier them in spring when they start to go out like the other “petits fruits” raspberries, red currant etc.

As I told you in my last letter the snails are now ready to be cooked. I found some, but I need a good thunderstorm to find more! It is so dry at the moment but they are there in the holes of old dry stones wall and they will not escape my merciless hunt as soon as some rain appears! I give you recipes at the end of my letter. A good tip if you want to eat them nearly immediately after fetching them instead of the two or three weeks fast, if you give them some uncooked spaghetti you can eat them after three days, they are clean.

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wild fennel

The news from the sea is very few at the moment. We are now in the months without an “R” in them which means it is not really a good period for the oysters which have a lot of white stuff in them, the mussels are meagre. The collection of scallops is not allowed after the first of May in order to leave them time to breed and we will have to wait till September to eat all of them again. But in the cliffs I find interesting things, the Criste Marine are still there, the wild fennel (dill) is starting to come out and it is full of wild chives and wild leaks.

I give you the menu I conceived with all the things I found this month:

Oysters soup
Terrine de courgettes
Ragoût d’escargots
Clafoutis de rhubarbe

I am now going to traipse round with my little basket in the country and I hope I will find interesting things to tell you next month.

Evelyne

SALLY’S REPLY

pinkrose
the little ragged rambler

Dear Evelyne,

So nice to hear from Britanny again! Summer has arrived this side of the channel too. The roses are beginning to flower. I also have a survivor that lay buried beneath a huge laurel hedge for many many years! I recently planted some new varieties so am watching with excitement to see the first flowers. The little ragged rambler whose name I don’t know is already making a huge pink canopy over the pergola and Kiftsgate and Seagull are poised to burst into masses of tiny cream and white flowers that will reflect in the pond. Both are thugs but I love them!

I’ve counted seven different geraniums varieties in flower in the garden so far this year, so I suppose I have to say they are one of my favourites! Tall pink Foxgloves cover the banks growing wild everywhere. I have given up struggling with the magnificent whites and apricots; they simply revert to their pink origins the next year. Goose grass or cleavers and sweet woodruff are everywhere. The former clings to everything, the latter stealthily weaves it‘s way upwards decked in sweet smelling tiny flowers. Both have a wealth of medicinal uses, goose grass, as its’ name indicates, is apparently loved by geese although I must say mine ignored it totally when I gave them some recently! The seeds are an old coffee substitute. Apparently Sweet Woodruff is soaked in white wine in Alsace and made into a tonic called Maitrank?

The first Dahlias, planted as cutting flowers for the house, are opening in the vegetable garden. This year I started the tubers in pots in the polytunnel and planted out big bushy plants once the frosts had ended. They surround the Sweet peas which are starting to flower too. I picked the very first broad beans yesterday and dug the early potatoes. Such a treat! The herbs are in flower here too, drifts of purple chive flowers and blue sage smell delicious in the sun. Shallots are swelling and the new Globe artichokes gathering strength. They always seem to take so long to get going here. I’m not sure why. The cardoon on the other hand is already a handsome six feet tall. Last year it overdid itself and fell over, so very soon I must remember to stake it!

My new asparagus bed is sporting little ferns. I resisted the temptation to pick the first year spears and hope I will be rewarded next year! I’ve covered the strawberries which did not get to the new fruit cage this year. I’m hoping to beat the blackbird to the fruit for once! The pigeons were thrilled with my handsome little Cavolo Negro plants and stripped most of them to tiny stalks almost as soon as I planted them out. I’ve covered the remains with fleece and am hoping they’ll recover.

The little glass house in the garden, only remaining evidence of all the tumbledown ones here when we arrived over twenty years ago, is at last restored. Now that it is glazed and paved the old grape vine is flourishing. My little olive tree is covered in flowers. And the Oleanders are threatening to flower too. Two Plumbagos are growing fast. The one kidnapped in a crispy state from a friends window sill and put at once in intensive care, is in bud. And a sweet scented, tender white passion flower I thought I had lost last winter is shooting all over the place..

The tomatoes are going a pace now in the polytunnel and I’m having a job keeping up with the side shoots. The Yard Long Beans are planted out too and soon they will be joined by the Tomatillos. The seeds were a gift from a friend and it took me a long time to realise I had Phsylis peruviana. Well I think I have. I’m still not sure if they will turn out to be Cape Gooseberries!

The Quince and the Medlar are covered in blossom. Over the years I’ve made loads of rich, ruby red Medlar jelly but the quinces have been very sparse. This year though there is plenty of flower so I hope that will promise a good crop of beautiful golden fruit.

So that is how things are getting on down in my Devon valley. I have always imagined that you have a milder climate in Brittany so it will be interesting to see how our gardens progress through the summer and what vanishes in the winter.

Maybe we can talk about fish next time. I was recently lucky enough to be given an opportunity to visit our local Fish Quay in Brixham.

Oh, and what a delicious June menu from Brittany!!

Sally

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