Wednesday 30 November 2016

My Back Pages: Simon's T-Shirt Archive (9)

November 1990, and the man many considered the creme de la creme of guitarists had just released his most successful album for years. The renaissance had started at Live Aid in 1985, when people thought "oh - he's still alive!", and from there he was a new man.

Has anyone seen his E?

I was lucky enough to see the Journeyman tour in Brisbane in November 1990, and the man himself was in fine form. Support was by Tommy Emmanuel, an Australian guitar legend I had known for about 10 years. Some readers may remember him as the drummer in the band "Goldrush" in the late 70s/early 80s, but the star of that band was the guitarist - his brother Phil.

In February 1991 I saw Eric Clapton in concert again, this time with a 4 piece band at the Royal Albert Hall in London, on the second leg of my round the world trip that had started in South America (see last week). That concert was filmed, and released as part of "24 Nights".

This t-shirt saw plenty of action over the next 5 years or so, but I don't have a photo of me wearing it. I tended to be the one taking photos, even back then.

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Stained Glass in the Church, Mezieres-en-Brenne

14th century window above the altar.
 Left, Jean III d'Harcourt, spouse of the founder, probably holding the Eglise des Cordeliers de Bourges. Right, the three sons of Alix de Brabant and Jean III, shown as knights in their colours, red and yellow.

14th century window above the altar.
 Right, Alix de Brabant, the founder of the chapter and collegiate church with its bells, with Saint Solange, patron saint of Berry. Below is a coat of arms, half Harcourt, half Brabant.

The border of alternating yellow and white owls on these windows is striking. When you look at them closely they don't really look like owls, yet as soon as you see them you know they are owls. Intriguing. These windows were clearly very old, and appear to be quite badly scratched.

16th century window in the Chapelle d'Anjou.
 Top left, René d'Anjou and his two sons Nicolas and Louis. Middle left, Antoinette de Chabannes, wife of René d'Anjou, and their daughters. Bottom left, coat of arms of René d'Anjou. Top right, Saint René, Bishop. Middle right, Saint Anthony and his pig. Bottom right, coat of arms of Antoinette de Chabannes.

16th century window in the Chapelle d'Anjou.
 Top left, Nicolas d'Anjou and his son, Nicolas II. Middle left, Gabrielle de Mareuil, Nicolas d'Anjou's wife and their daughters, including Renée, who married François de Bourbon de Montpensier. Bottom left, the coat of arms of Nicolas d'Anjou. Top right, Saint Nicholas and three children. Middle right, Saint Gabriel. Bottom right, the coat of arms of Gabrielle de Mareuil.

16th century window in the Chapelle d'Anjou.
Top left, Louis d'Anjou and his two sons, Louis and René. Middle left, Anne de la Tremouille, wife of Louis d'Anjou, and their daughters Anne and Renée. Bottom left, coat of arms of Louis d'Anjou. Top right, Saint Louis, with crown, sceptre and main de justice (a sceptre known as the 'Hand of Justice). Middle right, Saint Anne with the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus. Bottom right, coat of arms of Anne de la Tremouille.

To see some details of the stained glass, go to Niall and Antoinette's blog, Chez Charnizay. They visited the church in 2011.


Recommended Television: Les Carnets de Julie was in the Pays Saumurois last year. Here is the link to the programme. She visits a mushroom grower, then Alain Bonnot at Montsoreau, who makes stuffed horse mushrooms (Fr. galipettes) three ways, a fly fisherman who is after pike (Fr. brochet) and chef Gaëtan Leveugle from les Canons in Saumur, who makes the fish into boudins (sausages, similar to quenelles), rose growers Monsieur et Madame Loubert, a couple in Puy de Notre-Dame who make vin d'épine (a liqueur flavoured with blackthorn shoots) and Sophie Reynouad, who makes her Angevin in-laws family slow cooked veal rump dish. Alain Bonnot has featured on Days on the Claise before, when I met him wearing his other hat, as manager of the Domaine de Paleine cellar shop.

Le Village Préféré des Français, which is an annual competition hosted by France 2 to find the favourite French village by means of a viewer poll. This year Candes-Saint-Martin came third, and here is the link to Stéphane Bern waxing lyrical about the place. He also features galipettes.

Both videos are in French, but well worth watching if you want to practice your French, or just want to look at picturesque villages and lovely scenery.


Responses to Red Helleborine Questions: Tim F wanted to know if it was possible that the Red Helleborine population in England is a remnant of an earlier woodland mix of species. I put the question to David Armstrong, the National Trust warden for the sites where the orchid still grows in England. His response was as follows: 

It is good to hear from you and thank you again for all your ongoing help. Funny enough I spent a good time this summer visiting sites (mainly in the Cotswolds) where red helleborine has been reported from in the past. My research is still ongoing but most, if not all of these sites appear to be ancient woodland sites with beech having been one of the main tree species for many centuries. Our area is within the native range for beech in Britain, as are all the reliable records for red helleborine.  Historically the woodlands were probably managed as coppice, possibly with a greater diversity of tree species, but just what the composition was is hard to prove. Today many are almost pure beech woodlands, with high forest management, probably less suitable for the plants. I am putting together a report on the history of red Helleborine in Britain, and when I finish this you will of course be welcome to a copy.

Sheila wanted to know if the mycorrhizal fungi grown from the root samples collected in France had been used to germinate the seeds I collected and sent to Kew. She also wanted to know if anything special had to be done to maintain the fungi in good health and growth. Jon Kendon responded as follows:

I should qualify that the 10% figure was for viability – tested using a chemical stain – rather than germination! This is really important! We have not yet sown the seeds you sent as we need to plan how best to deploy them. The staining information tells us what level of germination to anticipate in a ‘best case’ scenario.

Regarding the answer to your question, we will use the fungi from France to inoculate a sample of the seeds you sent, on an in vitro medium containing a complex carbohydrate source which the fungi breaks down and makes available to the orchid seed embryos.


A la cuisine hier: Chicken, beans, carrots and tomato stew seasoned with cumin, garlic, onion, chili, paprika and herbes de provence, served with cornbread from the freezer.

Chard and faisselle canneloni (ie substituing local ingredients for the more traditional spinach and ricotta) baked in tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella. The canneloni stuffing also included parmesan and an egg. Rather than buy canneloni tubes I used some of Colin's extensive collection of lasagne that we inherited, cooked it, laid out the sheets on a towel, spread them with the stuffing then rolled them up. It worked well. Followed by stewed apple.

Monday 28 November 2016

Prosper Merimee Was Wrong!

16th century busts (looking rather Roman to my eye) and a statue niche above the entrance to the Chapelle d'Anjou, the south funerary chapel.

The church in Mézières-en-Brenne is stonkingly good. Everywhere you look -- up, down, left, right, straight ahead --  there is something amazing to see. The thing that struck me was how many different images of the human form there were -- in stone, wood, glass, paint and ceramics -- and in just as many styles as materials.

 The entrance to the 16th century Chapelle d'Anjou.

Saint Mary Magdalen's dates from the 14th to 16th centuries and has a vaulted wooden ceiling over the nave, painted decoration and stained glass windows dating from the 14th century. The choir stalls are 15th century and came from the nearby Abbey of Saint Cyran, which was suppressed and destroyed in 1712 due to its association with Jansenism. Built on to the south side of the church in the 16th century is a funerary chapel for the Lords of Anjou, with very fine decoration on the vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows.

The stations of the cross were these rather folky ceramic (or maybe painted plaster) groups.
Mid-twentieth century I would guess.

Construction of the church began in 1333 and finished in 1339, commissioned by Alix de Brabant, the widow of Jean III d'Harcourt. She was the Lady of Mézières-en-Brenne, the sole heir of her parents and having inherited Mézières-en-Brenne from her mother, she built the church to house her parents tomb. She was also the granddaughter of the Duke of Brabant and niece of the queen of France. Alix herself died in 1341 and in 1445 her descendents ceded the Lordship to Charles of Anjou, prince of the blood and son of Yolande of Aragon, Duchess of Anjou, brother-in-law of Charles VII and uncle of the queen of England. Charles' son Louis, known as the Bastard of Maine, built a funerary chapel on the north side of the church, then Louis' grandson Nicolas built the bigger, grander chapel known as the Chapelle d'Anjou to the south in 1543.

 I nearly missed the heads leering out from the base of each of the rafters. 
They are all different and I am fairly sure are carved wood.

After this, the story of the church is one of abandonment and deterioration. In 1840 a tradesman's quote for its repair shows that it was in a deplorable state. In the end nothing was done except to put grills over the stained glass windows to protect them. In 1850 Prosper Mérimée visited as part of his travels around the country to assess buildings to create a list of officially protected historic monuments. His report says (my translation): 'The church of Mézières offers, in my opinion, very little of interest. It belongs to a period of very advanced decadence, and except for a chapel remarkable for the skill with which a very tortuous and deeply cut ornamentation has been executed, I see nothing that distinguishes it from a multitude of churches of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries which no one cares about'.

 This looks like a man with his wife and daughter, at the front door. They are charming, but I'm not convinced that they are medieval. I suspect they are part of the 1920s restorations.

The church wasn't classified as a historic monument until 1862. Nothing was done until 1880, when some of the masonry and roof was repaired. In 1909 a bit more work was undertaken. And again in the 1920s. Then in 1937 the stained glass windows were restored.

 A Green (Wo)man in the porch.

The tympanum over the main door depicts the life of Mary Magdelen. 
There is a double row of carvings around the arch, depicting saints and angels.

The beams across the nave are decorated with heraldic devices or other colourful subjects.

The southern 16th century chapel is separated from the nave by an Italianate balustraded stone screen.

Ken and chm visited the church in 2011 and Ken blogged about it here.

The vaulted ceiling of the Chapelle d'Anjou.

A misericorde from one of the Saint Cyran choir stalls.

And I haven't even shown you the stained glass yet!

Sunday 27 November 2016

Ring-tailed Possum

This cute critter is a Ring-tailed Possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus, one of Australia's famous marsupials. We were careful not to take too many photos or shine the spotlight directly on it for too long. It takes thirty minutes to an hour for a nocturnal animal to regain full vision after being flashed, during which time they are very vulnerable to predation by introduced foxes, dogs or cats. In addition, being flashed may mean they not be able to see to feed effectively for a while.

The scientific name means 'false hand pilgrim'. Weighing as much as a kilo, they are vegetarian, eating the leaves, fruit and flowers of plants in the Myrtle family (which includes eucalypts and tea-tree). Like rabbits, they maximise their nutritional intake by reingesting their own fecal matter. They are not uncommonly encountered anywhere up the east coast of Australia, in dense temperate or tropical forest, and are the Australian equivalent of lemurs, monkeys or squirrels. The white patches near the eyes, white belly and tail tip are typical of the species.

Ring-tailed Possums are social arboreal animals and build dreys in the trees to spend the day asleep in family groups. Young possums travel around with their mother, either in her pouch or clinging to her back.

Our posts on Sundays have an Australian theme. To see more of them click here.


A la cuisine hier: I cooked up a batch of blackberries (wild, from the freezer) and apples and left them in the jelly bag to drain overnight. I've run the pulp through the food mill to yield a puree that can be used in sauce and on muesli, etc. The juice has been combined with white currant juice (from Colin and Elizabeth's frozen stash) and sugar to steep before making jelly.

Simon's spicy dhal from the freezer and plain boiled rice. We didn't have any chutney to serve with it, which was a shame.

Spicy ginger biscuits from the freezer.

Chicken stock, with chicken carcasses from the freezer, celery stalks and leaves, carrots, leeks, bay leaves and peppercorns, simmered for four hours on the wood stove. Now I have to strain it, pick all the meat off the carcasses and make chicken noodle soup.

Hazelnut cracking has started. Boy is that a tedious job, but I wanted to make some muesli, so I needed hazelnuts. Also mixed rolled cereals, sultanas, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and dried apricots. All mixed together and put in a large jar.

An orientalish pork and rice noodle soup. I marinated a piece of rolled pork loin in pineapple juice with soy sauce, a bit of fish sauce, wedges of baby cabbage, slices of carrot, wedges of onion, some five spice and some salt and Asian spices mix. Then I added some light stock and simmered for two hours on the wood stove. To serve I put some soaked rice noodles in the base of a bowl, then thick slices of pork then ladled over the vegetables and liquid. It turned out very well and was rated pretty good by Simon (he was unimpressed to discover that what he thought was a third piece of meat was actually a wedge of cabbage). Soy sauce has a tendency to make everything look the same.

Leftover pineapple custard.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Les Chantiers de la Jeunesse

This memorial to 'Groupement 34 des Chantiers de la Jeunesse' (Group 34 of the Youth Public Works) members who died in the Second World War is fixed to a building in the market place in Mezières-en-Brenne.

Les Chantiers de la Jeunesse Française (CJF) was a paramilitary organisation which existed between 1940 and 1944. It was intended as a means of training and moulding young French men. The armistice between France and Germany in 1940 ended compulsory French military service and the CJF was quickly set up as a sort of subsitute for those in the Zone Libre and North Africa. The young men joined initially for a voluntary 6 month stint (later for a compulsory 8 months) and lived in camps under quasi-military rules. The officers were serving military or demobilised reserves. They performed community service work, especially forestry.

It is an organisation regarded with some ambivalence. On the one hand, they espoused Revolutionary values. On the other hand, the organisation was complicit in the Service de Travail Obligatoire, which saw thousands of young French men sent to Germany as forced labour, never to return, and the officers did not encourage members to join the Resistance, even in the final stages of the war. Another problematic aspect of the organisation was that it actively promoted a cult of veneration of Marechal Pétain.

After the Armistice came to an end and Germany occupied the whole of France the French armed forces were disbanded, but the Germans chose to keep the CJF going. They did take the precaution of relocating the groups along the borders to other areas however, in case they were in league with the Resistance and the escape route helpers. In fact, several groups did independently 'defect' to the Resistance and got themselves and their gear to North Africa. The Resistance in France prior to the D-Day landings lacked everything and regularly helped themselves to CJF uniforms, tools and stores.

In 1943 the CJF General La Porte du Thiel refused categorically to allow the CJF to assist the Germans in anything that might be of benefit to the occupying nation. The CJF was restricted to performing tasks that were of benefit to the French population. At the same time the General refused the advances of the Resistance to bring the CJF to North Africa. Ultimately he was arrested and put under house arrest in Germany.

When Service de Travail Obligatoire (Compulsory Work Service) was introduced 32 000 young French men born in 1920, 1921 and 1922 were called up. Half of them were sent to the forced labour camps in Germany, often in their CJF groups, and their CJF officers went with them. The officers, who very often were only a couple of years older than their men, tried as far as possible to protect their young charges, and were staunchly anti-Nazi. 

The most famous of these brave young officers is Georges Toupet, who found himself in charge of 2500 young men at the age of 25. His camp was next door to the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau. As well as fighting against the system of leave passes, the filthy unhygenic conditions, alcoholism and prostitution, he established a rich cultural, sporting and educational life for his men, and maintained a remarkable degree of discipline and order, certainly contributing to the survival of the group. He also established an escape route for prisonners of war and communicated information about the neighbouring death camp. He died in 2007, an honoured hero in France and virtually unknown outside French borders.

A 'Groupement' in the CJF was like a regiment, made up of 6 - 12 groups of 150 - 200 men. Number 34 had its headquarters in Mezières-en-Brenne initially, then later at La Rochelle. They were disbanded in June 1944 and assigned to chantiers bleus de la production industrielle (blue collar industrial production). 


A la cuisine hier: Simon's macaroni cheese from the freezer, served with a green salad. The BioBoys had nice celery at the market on Thursday, which they sell by the leafy stalk. I was very happy to buy some and add to the salad yesterday. I don't very often see nice celery here and it suits me to buy a few stalks rather than a whole bunch.

We've eaten and enjoyed the last of the Italian carrot cake. Yum.

Simon's sausage and bean casserole from the freezer, with couscous.

Pineapple custard meringue, a dish from my childhood that Tim F reminded me of the day before. It was like this recipe, except that I had a leftover egg white and some leftover supermarket custard to use up. I used pineapple chunks too, because I prefer them, and anyway, crushed pineapple doesn't exist in France as far as I know.

Friday 25 November 2016


Mezières-en-Brenne is one of those places that it is very easy to drive through and think it is a fairly dull place. What you don't really realise is that the road through town skirts around the old centre and market place. Once you stop and walk around a bit you realise what a quirky and attractive place it is. Here are some highlights.

Looking down the millstream.

A renaissance doorway into what was part of the chateau.

A piece of modern art, which I think must have been done in the fresco technique, 
on the exterior wall of the contemporary art centre, Espace Mario Alvarado.

Another part of the dismembered chateau.

What the building above looks like without its cloak of Virginia Creeper.

Composite millstones, outside the Tourist Office.
The watermill itself houses the Tourist Office and a gîte d'étape (kind of like a youth hostel). It is built onto part of the remains of the chateau.

Yet another part of the medieval chateau. 

An attractive roofscape.

A beautifully restored entry to an old home.

An old window in the end of a barn.


A la cuisine hier: Nothing to report except leftovers -- cake, soup, chicken and mashed root vegetables. Leftovers are les restes in French.


Au marché hier: The weather yesterday morning was extraordinary. Depending on which way you looked, over the market the sun was shining brightly, the sky was caerulean blue and it was warm enough to go out to the market without your coat; or -- if you looked down the valley, the sky was battleship grey and heavy with moisture. The sunshine brought out a crowd and I had to stand around waiting my turn to get certain things. 

At the BioBoys stall the person in front of me snaffled all the chard. 'Zut !' I said. He laughed and offered me half a dozen leaves. 'Nous pouvons le partager' (we can share it). He offered me another couple of leaves, but I said 'Non, merci, ça me suffit'. 'Ah', he said, 'C'est ton dose, hein ?' (that's your dose, eh?). Then we discussed which bits of the plant one eats (seeds, leaves, stems, roots, depending on your culture and background).

At the chicken and rabbit stall there was a line of half a dozen elderly men and women, all chatting to one another and taking ages to do their business with the stall holder, who was joining in the chat. I was the youngest person in the queue by a good 15 years, and by a good deal more than than that compared to a couple of people. Naturally the talk was of the weather, how extraordinary it was, how unseasonal and how bizarre the weather has become in general. One of the men said he feared that the seasons were all out of whack because the Earth's axis was tipping. 'Personne parle de ça' (nobody talks about that), he said. Then there was a lot of joshing about the bouchées de lapin (rabbit vol au vents), which I didn't quite follow, but seemed to be about the quantity one old woman was buying and her excuses as to why she needed so many. The man next to me was carrying two market baskets and he remarked to me that he was just un cheval de trait (a cart horse), there to carry the goods. He kindly thwarted a queue jumping attempt by another woman. Her technique was to come up to the queue and engage several people in conversation, slowly infiltrating her way into the line in a way she no doubt imagined would go unchallenged. However, my defender pointed out that I was before her, which meant that she then had to make a big song and dance of excessive politeness about how I must go first and what was one place in the queue after all, etc.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Fungi in the Forest of Preuilly

The Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine held an outing to the Forest of Preuilly on 13 November. Very few of the club were able to come and we found very few fungi because of the continuing relatively dry weather (it's been raining, but not enough and not long enough to encourage many fungi species). I had a good time nonetheless and took lots of photos. Here are some highlights:

Jean Pelle, Jean Bouton and Paul Leroy.
These men are some of my local nature gurus. They are all in their eighties (in fact, it was Paul's 84th birthday on the day).

Orange Peel Fungus Aleuria aurantia (Fr. Pézize orangé).
This is the biggest Orange Peel Fungus I've ever seen, and it was busily puffing away, dispersing its spores by ejecting them in clouds.

Stocking Webcap Cortinarius torvus (Fr. Cortinaire farouche).
The spores of this species are ochre coloured and you can see that they have coloured the wispy web like remnants of the veil under the cap.

Identifying the species collected.
You can see how few fungi we collected. Normally this table would be packed with specimens at the end of an outing. 

The carpark at Ribaloche on 13 November.
A generous sprinkling of leaves. Compare with ten days earlier when the leaf blowers had been through.

This oak tree obviously had quite a population of some large insect.
I don't know what made these large exit holes in this oak tree. Goat moth? One of the big longhorn beetles? Or are these not really exit holes but evidence of woodpeckers hunting for larvae in the wood? The loss of the bark plate surrounding the holes suggests it might be the latter.

False Chanterelle Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca (Fr. Fausse chanterelle).
This species was one of the few which was abundant. Despite the prefix 'false' this is an edible species, just not related to true chanterelles.

A milkcap species Lactarius sp (Fr. un Lactaire).


A la cuisine hier: I made two sorts of cheesy crispy things yesterday.

The first was Arizona Cheese Crisps,which are just about the most delicious things on Earth and we eat them at least once a fortnight. I use the big Turkish flatbreads rather than tortillas proper, and some dabs of piri piri rather than slices of chilli.

The second was sebaclas (Sardinian Cheese Biscuits), made with semolina and parmesan (because I didn't have any pecorino), from Ursula Ferrigno's Bringing Italy Home. These are traditionally served with honey but I served them with homemade apple syrup (ahem...aka apple jelly that failed to gel). Simon wasn't convinced by the apple syrup (but he wouldn't have liked honey either).

Tuesday's carrot cake is holding up well and was just as delicious yesterday.

Leftover chicken in bhuna sauce from a jar with added vegetables, served with plain rice. Not very inspiring. Followed by homegrown apples made into crumble and served with supermarket custard.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

My Back Pages: Simon's T-Shirt Archive (8)

This is a t-shirt which these days isn't quite big enough for me - but unlike most of the others I have shown this one never really fitted. It was the biggest size available, however, and I really needed to have one.

In January 1991 I was in Rio de Janeiro, arriving just at the end of Rock in Rio, and leaving a few days before Carnival (as usual, timing impeccable). I had spent the previous 4 weeks in Argentina and Chile, and Rio was supposed to be a chance to relax in luxury after staying with various of my travelling companion's relatives, and a couple of once elegant but very run down hotels in southern Chile.

When I need a reminder of what a blessed relief it is when you realise that Montezuma's revenge is now being wreaked on someone besides oneself, I look at the t-shirt. When I want a reminder of just how hairy I have been in the past, I look at this photo. What you're seeing is a soft perm, super high humidity, and what looks like 4 weeks without a comb, scissors or razor.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been made for the rare but distinctive Sand Lucerne Medicago sativa ssp varia.


A la cuisine hier: Supermarket tomato soup, souped up with a can of crushed tomatoes, some salt and Asian spices and a good splodge of full cream milk.

Steak Diane, because I had some cream to use up. Served with fried potatoes and peas. Rated 'excellent' by Simon.

Torta di carote (Italian Carrot Cake) from Ursula Ferrigno's Bringing Italy Home. Like a lot of Italian cakes it is flour free (using almond meal instead) and has no added fat. Rated 'exceptional' by Simon, who commented that it was nice and moist, and more interesting than carrot cake usually is.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Red Helleborine Restoration Group Send Thanks

This is a kind of guest post, in the form of an email that I received recently from Peter Chapman, who is the chairman of the Red Helleborine Restoration Group. I've been working with the group the last couple of years to facilitate their research in France, with the aim of saving the critically endangered Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra in Britain. I was chuffed to bits to get this email, and I reproduce it here with Peter's permission.

Hi Susan,

For my sins, I am the chairman of the above group which was created just over 10 years ago. Since that time we have seen highs and lows in our efforts to persuade the U.K. sites to provide more plants - and flowers! Although we have learnt much during that time, we are still 'nursing' the sites along to retain as many plants as possible, for as long as possible.

It has now become clear that if we are to make any significant progress we must rely on our colleagues at Kew Gardens to find out more about this species. As our own plants are very reluctant to produce any seed at all, we must now rely on material that we can obtain in Europe - hence our contact with you by David Armstrong and his team last year, and, of course, Jon Kendon and his colleagues this year.

We have 2 meetings a year and have just had our 'autumn' meeting for 2016 last week (later than usual because I went out to Australia - Melbourne - to see my daughter who lives and works there). During last week's meeting, Jon told us all about his visit to you in June, and the progress that he is making with the material he collected at the time as well as the seed that you were able to get sent to him since his visit. I must say that he is delighted with the progress being made, although he has a lot of work still to do, of course. The seeds have proved to be 10% viable, which may sound pretty low, but in fact is fairly typical for this species, I understand.

My purpose for writing to you is to send you a big 'Thank You' for all your hard work on our behalf to enable the material to be obtained, and thereby enabling us to, hopefully, make considerable progress in our efforts this side of the Channel. It is so good to know that we have such a good and helpful contact just in the right spot in France. I hope that our efforts will do justice to all your hard work over this last year or so. I am sure that Jon will keep you in touch with his progress.

My visit to Australia was to see my daughter, but I did manage to visit two orchid areas out there. Unfortunately their spring has been cold and wet, and all orchids were about a month late in flowering - Sun Orchids, for instance, were just in bud by Mid-October! C'est la vie!

I have been able to read your blog report about Jon's visit, and am so pleased that all your hard work was so successful in the end. Please accept the sincere thanks of all the members of the group.

Kind regards and best wishes,


For my other posts about the Red Helleborine see here:

A Perfect Day in Panzoult

Saving the Red Helleborine

Red Helleborine Research Report

Kew Comes to the Vallée de la Claise Tourangelle

An Updated From the Lab Bench


Solidarity Matters: Huub sent us a link to Noam Chomsky's Requiem for the American Dream recently and I finally got round to watching it yesterday. I recommend it if you have an hour and a bit to spare for its stance on American politics, business and inequality today and for its insights into the historical background for all of this. My take home quote isn't one of Noam's though. It comes from paraphrasing John Dewey I believe -- 'Policy is the shadow of corporate business over society'.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry for the pretty pea Bitter Vetch Lathyrus linifolius has been added.


Australia on France 2: chm has emailed me to say that France 2 is showing a 5 part series on Australia on their Journal de 13 heures this week. The programme will follow a road train driver as he drives across the country from east to west, across the Nullabor Plain. So if you want to practice your French, see some Australian desert scenes and you can get France 2, go for it. My sister and her husband have just come back from the Nullabor.


A la cuisine hier: Tomato, sweet corn and red kidney bean stew with corn muffins from the freezer.

Chicken breasts rubbed with salt and Asian spices, served with mixed mash from the freezer.

Monday 21 November 2016

Le Jardin de Rabelais

I regularly get to see the steam plumes of the nuclear power plant near Chinon. They are visible from a long way away and from lots of vantage points. Colin and Elizabeth visited the facility itself last year.

 La Centrale d'Avoine, as it tends to be called locally, 
taken through Célestine's window as we drove past.

When you drive past the perimeter of the nuclear facility you can't fail to notice an enormous greenhouse right next door. Aha! I thought, I know how this works -- they'll be growing tomatoes and using the warm water from the power station cooling towers to heat the greenhouses. A bit of research on the internet and I was proved right. Not only that, but I realised that I've regularly eaten the tomatoes from this place -- and they are delicious (but not cheap)! The beautiful cherry tomatoes from these greenhouses sell at the market for around €16 per kilo, and they can't keep up with the demand for them.

The steam from the cooling towers viewed from Chinon.

The Jardin de Rabelais deliberately installed their greenhouses within a couple of hundred metres of the nuclear facility, in order to take advantage of the warm water. According to the greenhouse manager it enables them to save 30% by volume in gas for heating. But they are not relying on the nuclear facility being there forever. They are already experimenting with a methanol plant to produce their own electricity and help heat the greenhouses and ultimately will be self-sufficient. They admit that the situation as it is today though, with their access and proximity to the nuclear plant does give them a competitive edge.

 The Jardin de Rabelais greenhouses.

The company is family run, and they know that if they supply the best product, the average French consumer, knowledgeable and food conscious as they are, will buy it. The family has been market gardening for a hundred years and they expect tomato production at the Jardin de Rabelais to hit 4000 tonnes next year.

Earlier this year the Jardin de Rabelais invested 25 million to enlarge its greenhouses on the site and the extra 20 hectares ajoining that they've recently bought. The water from the cooling towers is piped to them at 40°C. It provides half their heating at very little cost. Their giant new 3.4ha greenhouse has 14000 LED lamps to provide daylight conditions to produce all year, and especially in winter. The greenhouse roof is made of a new type of glass which allows the natural and artificial light to blend and diffuse in a natural way. The tomatoes are grown in a hydroponic medium.

The new greenhouse is a world first, made by Certhon. The Jardin de Rabelais specified a number of criteria and Certhon met the brief, creating a greenhouse in which temperature and humidity can be minutely controlled to give the tomatoes the perfect microclimate. There are air ducts under the gutters and heating blocks and bidirectional fans in the end gable wall which can bring in air from outside or evacuate air from inside (or a combination of the two). The new greenhouse saves 30% of the energy that would be used in a conventional greenhouse of the same size and height.

 The greenhouses closer up.

They are aiming for the export market now, which only represents 15% of sales at the moment. They currently employ 200 people and plan to hire 40 more. This is not an automated business -- tomatoes don't like being bounced around by machines.

They also employ a flock of bumble bees. These bees are breed in captivity to provide ecological services to greenhouses like this. Tomatoes can self-fertilize, but they produce much more fruit if they are pollinated by the bumble bees, who use a technique known as 'buzz pollination' to vibrate the pollen off the flower and on to the bee. Covered in pollen they then transfer some of it to the next flower they visit, thus cross fertilizing the flowers.

 And the greenhouses from another side.

The business has grown from grossing 11.5 million euros in 2011 to 20 million in 2015. The French Ministry for Agriculture figures show that total French tomato production in 2015 was 615 580 tonnes, 98% of which are grown under glass.

And for those of you wondering why the business is called the Jardin de Rabelais it is because the writer and gourmand Rabelais' home is not far away.

I wanted to included a photo of the tomatoes themselves, but I haven't seen them for a couple of weeks.

Update: I now have a photo of some of their cherry tomatoes for sale at the market in Preuilly.



Loire Valley Nature: An entry has been added for the reputedly delicious Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca.


A la cuisine hier: Simon's macaroni cheese from the freezer, with a green salad.

I made lemon and walnut biscotti, from Ursula Ferrigno's 'Bringing Italy Home', given to me by former boss Merlin (yes, that is his real name). I had some lemons that needed using and I've nearly finished last years walnuts. Mind you, I may regret using all last years walnuts, as this years walnuts don't look to be any good. I'm using a very fine stoneground flour from a mill in Berry at the moment and I'm finding that doughs like the biscotti are coming out a bit wet. I'm fairly sure it's the flour and not the recipes.

Bambi burgers (aka venison burgers, supplied by Niall and Antoinette after their October trip to Scotland), creamed chard and mashed potatoes. We really like the venison burgers and will definitely be ordering those again.

Sunday 20 November 2016

A Quiet Beach

At a secluded beach on the New South Wales coast.

Our posts on Sunday have an Australian theme. If you would like to see more, please click here.


A la cuisine hier: We went to Chatellerault for our annual eye checkups and got back home starving at 2pm for lunch. It had to be instantaneous so lunch was smoked fish paste on baguette, a granny smith apple and a macaroon.

Dinner was oven roasted chicken legs rubbed with salt and Asian spices, potato wedges, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and whole onions, followed by warmed up leftover chocolate souffle.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry for the ubiquitous Wild Parsnip Pastinaca sativa has been added.

Saturday 19 November 2016

Operation Save the Chapel

This is my translation of the article in the local paper about the fundraising campaign to save the Chapelle de Tous les Saintes in Preuilly sur Claise.

The chapel of All Saints in Preuilly sur Claise is decorated inside with very rare wall paintings of a danse macabre and a wooden ceiling dating from the 16th century.

The chapel with its new fundraising poster stuck on the gable.

The building is in a very bad state, necessitating significant urgent restoration work.

The local history society (SAP) has worked for some years to save the monument and has opened a subscription.

With this aim an agreement was signed on Saturday 22 October between the Preuilly Town Hall and the Heritage Foundation. Around twenty people attended this event. Gilles Bertucelli, the mayor, thanked the Foundation for its help and the SAP for their work to seek out finance and put together the documentation.

The very rare dance of the women inside the chapel.
He indicated that tenders were about to be called, to begin work in the spring of 2017 (finances permitting).

The signing of the agreement will allow requests for grants to be submitted to different organisations. Jacques Guionnet, Heritage Foundation representative, explained the different types of activities that can be administered by this association to collect funds and organise the subscription.

He also described the tax advantages that are connected to this. The president of the SAP, Bernard de la Motte, urged everyone to become an ambassador for the chapel to encourage all their friends to donate.

The dance of the men.

Jean-Philippe Barthel, the architect in charge of the project, underlined in a powerpoint presentation about the restoration just how interesting the total homogenity of this chapel from the end of the 15th century is.

He envisages making a presentation to the public on the site before and after the start of work to explain the project and convince the people of the merits of such an operation.

Donations can be made via

To see our previous posts on the chapel and its danse macabre, click here. 


Loire Valley Nature: A photo has been added to the entry for the last orchid species to flower, Autumn Lady's Tresses Spiranthes spiralis. 


A la cuisine hier: The other day I served rice with something, and as usual I cooked extra so I could make fried rice for lunch. Followed by a home grown Granny Smith apple and a couple of homemade old fashioned macaroons from the freezer.

Simon's bean and sausage stew from the freezer, with couscous.

Dessert was individual Chocolate Souffles. Bernadette, Monica, Chris and I had made this from Bernadette's recipe at English-French conversation club the day before, so I decided to make it at home for Simon. Note to self: don't make them too big. They are really rich (lots of dark chocolate, cream, eggs and not much sugar).