Sep 01 2004

Letter from Brittany. August 2004


Dear Sally,

I left you without news for a long time! Sorry, we have been very busy with the house, but now we are in and I have more time to think about what I am going to cook from the garden.

Following your article on the fish market, I wanted to give you some of our ways to cook the fishes in Brittany. Unfortunately we have had such a bad weather till these last days over here that there were nearly no fishes on the market.! And it is impossible to go to the sea at low tide to catch some shellfishes!

In the garden the tempests have just been a disaster, the hollyhocks are all down, the trees are broken, half of the apples fall of the trees, the vegetables are rotting. I am just seeing some courgettes coming out and some very timid green haricots, but you see nature is like that. I hope the second part of the summer will be better fruitful!


On another hand, after two days of downpour and the sun, suddenly, with nearly two month early, mushrooms appeared. In a field next to the house, I found some very good ones. It is the “Coulmelle” or “Lepiota” in Latin, it is not very often that we find so many of them. I cooked them with a rabbit from Marcel prepared with cumin and balsamic vinegar. I will give you the recipe at the end of my letter. Michael said he jump the all night in the bed and thinks they are hallucinogenic, I did not feel anything but he ate so many of them………….

I have a wonderful story to tell you about two superb pigeons who finished on our plates.

pigeons flambes aux raisins

Marcel has some wild pigeons coming back to their pigeonholes regularly. The other day I asked them if I could have two, he said “no problems, you will have them for tomorrow, I have to catch them.” The day after I saw Marcel arriving with the pigeons, he was exhausted; I asked him if he had a problem? He said no, but it is the last time I chase them like that, next time I will tie them with a rope and kill them when you will ask! I was a little bit surprised and asked for more details. All the family, including the grand children run after them for hours, at the end they caught two but one he wanted was impossible to catch. It is a white one he knows very well and weird thing happened, the morning after the hunt he was in the kitchen watching “Le tour de France” and suddenly the white pigeon arrive and took a rest on his shoulder! Isn’t a beautiful tale!

But in the meantime I cooked them with grapes and “Flambé au cognac” delicious, the contrast between the wild fowl and the grapes.

wild strawberries

Last time I went to Switzerland to see my son Marc, I brought back some wild strawberries from the alpine forest and put them in the garden. They love Brittany and are like weeds climbing in the old walls of the house and going everywhere, I put them in red wine it is delicious.

Next month I will write you only after the 25 of August because we are going to have for the first time a big event, we are killing and butchering Marcels’ lambs in our house. It is a ceremony, the butcher kills them and hangs them for the night in our barn and the day after he is coming to cut them in pieces exactly as I want them. You see the European rules are still very far from us!!!!!!!!!

Hope to have news from you and Devon very soon.




The Pigeon Flambes sounds delicious but I cannot help thinking the little white bird was rather foolish to return to Marcel’s shoulder after such a chase. I’m also amazed he can run so fast, Marcel I mean! But please don’t tell him I said so! We were so pleased to receive your pictures of the house and to hear you have finally moved in. You must both be glowing with a fantastic sense of achievement. It won’t be long before we cross the channel again!

We’re having the wildest weather here too. At the beginning of the month when all the family came to stay the sun blazed down on us. Noriko now thinks English summers are always like that, just as hot as Tokyo! Children played on the beach, crabbed on the jetty and went boating on the river. Not a cloud dusted the sky. The day they left the rain started. Apparently it is the wettest August since records began. Floods have torn apart the little fishing village of Boscastle in north Cornwall. Water raged through the village hurling the cars into the sea. They demolished all in their path driven on by the ferocious wind. Houses collapsed, people were rescued from rooftops and trees. Amazingly no one lost their life. The pictures reminded me of the terrible floods here on Christmas Eve several years ago when a flash flood roared through this valley in the middle of the night taking all before it. It took two hours to rescue my old parents from their cottage in our garden, and months and months to restore our farmyard and their ruined home. Is this the reality of global warming, I wonder?

making slivovic

The garden has that end of summer windswept look about it. But it’s heaving with produce. My deep freeze is filling up fast. Despite the Draconian pruning of the plumb trees last year, in an effort to get rid of the dreaded “silver leaf“, we had a wonderful crop. I’ve put some straight into the deep freeze for winter pies and crumbles. Others I’ve placed in a giant jar with sugar syrup and vodka! Some have been pureed into a thick, rich sauce and poured into jam jars. Then of course I spoke to my dear Czech friend up the valley and made a sort of slivovic to share at Christmas! We even had John Burton Race here, of “French Leave” fame, picking plumbs and collecting eggs for his great new restaurant. I look forward to tasting his plum ice cream.

seven varieties!

The tomatoes are the very best I have ever grown! I have seven varieties this year. They look so pretty on a dish and all have a distinctly different flavour and use. Sun Gold is the star, a tiny orangy cherry tom, so sweet the children ate them like sweets when they were here! Sun Bell, a little yellow bell shape, is very sweet too. Tigerella is a real good “doer” but also nice looking with its green stripes. Big orange Auriga is better cooked, as is the funny pointed Red Pear and the oblong Costaluta Fiorentino. San Marzano is a good old beef variety. All are quite delicious in their own way. I’ve put bags and bags in the freezer, made tomato sauce and cooked some with French and Runner beans, also in abundance, adding much shallot, garlic and herbs, So good!

a surprise crop

Potatoes are ready now too. I dug a whole bucket of little Pink Fir Apples the other day then found a wonderful surprise crop of, I’m not sure what, under the dead pea plants. I love it when I find a sudden hidden cornucopia! The nasturtiums have run amok and much to every ones’ relief I have almost managed to declare them a weed at last. But they are so pretty………..

waiting for tea

Donkeys are back in their winter routine now, coming into their stables as the light fades. Much as they relish the freedom of high summer in the field at night, as soon as the evenings begin to draw in, they’re waiting at the gate, jostling each other and demanding tea! Autumn seems to have come early this year.

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