Thursday, 4 March 2021

A Belgian Surprise

Anyone who has driven in the area around Azay le Rideau will have, at some time, encountered the army training area Camp Ruchard.

In 1871 the French army rented the moors of Le Ruchard and set up a military camp. From what we have observed it now appears to be mainly a tank training area, much like Salisbury Plain in England. During the First World War it was at first an internment camp for German prisoners before becoming a convalescent center for Belgian soldiers, 63 of whom are buried in the communal cemetery of Avon les Roches.


We didn't know any of this before we arrived in Avon les Roches on Sunday afternoon on one of our magical mystery tours.  You can imagine our surprise, then, when we discovered this magnificent memorial and rows of headstones.



Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Mushrooms at the Markets

Good markets in the Loire Valley have mushrooms for sale. They fall into two categories -- cultivated (truffles, buttons and chestnuts in various sizes, several species of oysters, shiitake and wood blewits) or wild foraged (ceps and boletes, chanterelles and girolles, morels, trompettes de la mort and hedgehog). Expect to pay between €800 and €1200/kg for truffles (a ping pong ball sized truffle costs about €30), €10 - €15/kg for cave grown and €25 - €30/kg for wild foraged. Supermarket button mushrooms (champignons de Paris) are about €2.50/kg.

Black Truffles at the specialist market that is held once a month over winter.

The truffles come from inoculated oak plantations and are only available at specialist markets over the winter. There are no longer commercial species of wild truffle in the Loire Valley due to decades of using fungicides on cereal crops. The other cultivated ones are grown in troglodyte caves. From a few established producers they are a high end quality product much loved by chefs all over the world, and far superior to other commercially produced mushrooms of the sort that are pumped full of water to accelerate their growth and sold cheaply in large quantities in supermarkets. Loire Valley cave grown mushrooms are slow growing, resulting in a meaty mushroom that does not shrink with cooking and keeps for several days in the fridge without going slimy (keeping times vary between species, with oysters being the most delicate and blewits being the most robust). Cave grown mushrooms are available all year round. Experienced producers also supply the pharmaceutical industry, where mushrooms like shiitakes or certain oysters are used in supplements and skin care products.

Wild foraged Chanterelles at a greengrocers in rue Daguerre, Paris.

The wild mushrooms can only be gathered commercially by someone with a licence (and it is illegal to even give away wild mushrooms for human consumption if you are not licenced). Professional mushroom foragers usually do not sell direct to the public, but to a market stallholder who retails them. They are also strictly seasonal, with the peak being October, and come from the many forests in the Loire Valley, both broadleaf deciduous and softwood conifers. Weather conditions mean supply is very variable. Many people where we live (including us) also go out into the woods and forage for their own.

A truffle orchard. 
The reality of market shopping in the autumn in the Loire Valley :-).

Mushrooms being cultivated in a troglodyte cave.

Shiitakes growing in a troglodyte cave.

Chestnut mushrooms (champignons rose in French).

A selection of ceps and boletes gathered by us in our local forest.

Susan's friend Dominique teaching members of the public how not to die by accidentally picking and eating a Deathcap.

Hendrick the mushroom man with his cave grown mushrooms at the market in Loches. Sadly, he  retired in January, but this was where we usually bought our mushrooms.

Homemade mushroom ragout with polenta, made using a mixture of mushrooms bought at the market -- button, blewits, oysters, shiitake, porcini, girolles.

Homemade sautéed cave grown button mushrooms, onions and lardons.

Homemade cultivated White Ferula Mushrooms (a highly sought after and rarely grown type of oyster mushroom) in cream and garlic sauce.

A wild foraged Bay Bolete (closely related to ceps/porcini) prepared for cooking at home.

Yellow Oyster Mushrooms being cultivated in a troglodyte cave.

 

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The Grain Silos at La Celle Saint Avant and the Railway Station at Port de Piles

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Grain silos, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The grain silos at La Celle Saint Avant.

The grain silos at La Celle Saint Avant are run by Agrial, the largest agricultural co-operative in France. We have a sort of connection to them because our place was a grain merchant's in the early and mid-twentieth century, and one of the people who grew up here, who has become a friend, was the manager of the silo complex at La Celle Saint Avant.

Grain silos, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The old silos.

So much grain is produced in this area that it takes a full cycle of the seasons to empty the silos in preparation for the new harvest. They are located right next to the railway station of Port de Piles, and rail transport is crucial for distributing the grain. Port de Piles and La Celle Saint Avant are twin towns, one each side of the Creuse, close to its confluence with the Vienne. In the Touraine Loire Valley there are six such big silo complexes directly networked to the railway, at Reignac sur Indre, Villeperdue, Descartes, Neuillé Pont Pierre and Ville aux Dames, as well as La Celle Saint Avant. Two or three trains a week head out from these stations, transporting grain to the Port of La Rochelle. It takes 45 semi-trailers to carry the same as one grain train. Just three of the silo complexes, those owned by Agrial, store 180 000 tonnes of grain. The other big co-operative in the area is Axéréal, who own four of the silo complexes. If there is a rail strike the impact on the grain transport is in tens of thousands of euros, sometimes into the millions.

Grain silos, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The silos viewed from the station.

The town is located on the old Highway 10 (now the Route Départementale 910), between Chatellerault to the south and Tours to the north. The railway likewise follows this route, while the new Autoroute 10 sweeps round further to the west. The countryside around the town is open and slightly undulating, as you can imagine, typical of grain producing areas.

Grain silos, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The old silos.

Agrial was created in 2000, when three agricultural co-operatives in Normandy came together. Ever since it has steadily developed by absorbing other co-operatives and acquiring private businesses, not just dealing with grains, but now also dairy, drinks and ready to use vegetables. They are active not just in France but in other European countries, Africa, the USA and the UK, and own the brands Florette,  Maitre Jacques, Elle & Vire, Ecusson and Loic Raison, amongst many others. They took over the silos at La Celle Saint Avant in 2009, as part of an acquisition of a failing co-operative. The move meant that they also acquired pork and beef holdings, stock feed and nearly 40 Gamm Vert concessions.

Grain silos and railway station, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The silos at La Celle Saint Avant and the shed at Port de Piles railway station.

Today Agrial has a total turnover of 5.84 billion euros and they are the European leaders in ready to eat salad leaf. Dairy is more than 40% of their activities, and grain is less than a quarter. They have 9100 members of the agricultural (grain) side of the co-operative and deal with between 1.3 and 1.8 million tonnes of grain annually, of which 60% is wheat.

Port de Piles railway station, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Port de Piles railway station.

Port de Piles railway station is on the Paris Austerlitz to Bordeaux Saint Jean line. Curiously, the station is called Port de Piles, but is actually in La Celle Saint Avant, across the river. It was put into service in 1851. There are three platforms and a passenger service every day except Sundays and public holidays to Poitiers in one direction and Tours the other, with the journey taking about half an hour either way.

Port de Piles railway station, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The station building.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Monday, 1 March 2021

Tarte vigneronne

A slice of homemade tarte au vigneronne (winemaker tart). Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A slice of tarte vigneronne.

Tarte vigneronne ('winemaker tart') is a simple thin apple tart [link], with a twist made popular in the Chinon wine region. The apple tart glazed with red wine jelly was invented by Patisserie Ayrole in Chinon and the name tarte du vigneron registered in 1994.

Homemade tarte au vigneronne (winemaker tart) ready for the oven. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Ready for the oven.

The apple variety used is often Reinette grise du Canada or Golden Delicious. Sometimes there is a thin layer of apple sauce spread on the pastry before the slices of apple go on. The wine jelly can also be used with foie gras or poached pears. 

Homemade tarte au vigneronne just out of the oven. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Just out of the oven.

 

Ingredients

A bottle of light fruity red wine

650 g jam sugar

A packet of ready made puff pastry (which in France comes ready rolled into a 25 cm diameter circle)

About 50 g butter, melted

About 2-3 tbsp raw sugar (called cassonade or sucre roux in France)

1/2 cup apple sauce (optional)

A pinch of ground cinnamon

3-4 apples

Method

  1. Sterilise 3-4 jam jars (run them through the dishwasher or heat them up on low heat in the oven for half an hour).
  2. Put the wine and jam sugar into a boiler, stir and bring to the boil. Make sure the sugar is dissolved in the wine. Follow the instructions on the jam sugar packet for how long to boil.  Don't be tempted to boil as long and hard as you would for fruit jam made with regular sugar -- you will end up with wine rubber.
  3. Ladle the hot jelly into the prepared jars and put the lids on (use a cloth to handle the hot jars).
  4. Leave the jelly to cool.
  5. Heat the oven to 180C.
  6. Roll the pastry out to a 25 cm circle if necessary (or just unwrap and unroll if French).
  7. Lay it out on a silicone mat or sheet of baking paper and brush with some melted butter, then sprinkle with raw sugar.
  8. Turn the pastry over and brush the other side with melted butter, then sprinkle with raw sugar.
  9. Spread the pastry with apple sauce if using, leaving a margin of a couple of centimetres around the edge.
  10. Peel, core and slice the apples into thin wedges.
  11. Arrange the apple slices attractively on the apple sauce, leaving a margin around the edge of the pastry.
  12. Mix a pinch of ground cinnamon into a tablespoon of raw sugar and sprinkle over the apples.
  13. Bake for 40 minutes.
  14. Melt 2-3 tablespoons of the red wine jelly and brush it all over the top of the tart.
  15. Serves 8.
Homemade tarte au vigneronne (winemaker tart). Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Glazed and finished.

Homemade tarte au vigneronne (winemaker tart). Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Blue Eyes Lacewing

 

Blue Eyes Lacewing Nymphes myrmeleonides, New South Wales, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Blue Eyes Lacewing Nymphes myrmeleonides are more closely related to antlions than lacewings. They are found in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. Their white tipped wings have a span of about 11 cm.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Arc de Triomphe

 

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Photo taken in September 2002.

 

The Arc de Triomphe, like all other heritage attractions in France is currently closed to visitors. It is managed by the Centre des monuments nationaux (the Centre for National Monuments). 

It sits in the centre of Place de l'Etoile and a notorious multi-lane roundabout at the top of the Champs Elysées. Under normal circumstances you can access it via a pedestrian subway and climb the internal stairs to the top to see the panoramic view over Paris. 

The arch was designed to reference and outdo the Roman Emperor Titus' triumphal arch by being a single span that was higher and wider. Although Napoleon Bonaparte had wanted to have it built in 1806, history intervened and it wasn't until 1836 that King Louis-Philippe, a constitutional monarch, was able to have it unveiled. He dedicated the arch to the Revolutionary Armies and the French Empire. In 1921 France's Unknown Soldier was buried under the arch, and remembrance ceremonies are held there several times a year.

Later this year, in the autumn, there will be a project to wrap the Arch in silvery blue fabric and red rope. This installation was conceived by the artist Christo, who has since died, but the authorities have announced their intention to go ahead with the work. There was to have been a simultaneous Christo and Jeanne-Claude retrospective at the Pompidou Centre, but with the dates being all messed up due to Covid19, and the Pompidou Centre about to undergo a massive restoration, I assume that is all off.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Friday, 26 February 2021

Vale Pierre

Recently I learnt that a fellow member of the botanical and mycology club died of Covid19 in December, aged 90. He was a quiet, modest, kind man, who never pushed himself forward into the limelight. I liked him but had no idea what an amazing person he was until I read his obituary. He'd had a stroke and was in an aged care home in Saint Branch, so I hadn't seen him for a while, quite apart from Covid19.

 

Inside the City of Tours greenhouses, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Pierre in 2013, at the City of Tours greenhouses, where he had organised an outing for the Association de Botanique et Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine.

Abandoned at birth he became a ward of the State and was placed with two successive foster families in Pont de Ruan. He left school at thirteen and a half, like most of the children in State care at the time. His first job was on a farm, then he went to work on a market garden. After that he landed a job at the famous Chateau of Villandry where he spent several years maintaining their magnificent gardens. This on the job training meant that he was recruted in 1953 by the City of Tours to work in the Botanical Gardens, which were part of the Tours School of Medicine and Pharmacy. When the School became a national university in 1963 he stayed in the post.

Tours Botanical Gardens and General Hospital, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Tours Botanical Gardens with the General Hospital beyond.

Working in all parts of the Botanical Gardens he acquired a solid knowledge of the flora, which allowed him to guide pharmacy students in their botanising, at first in the Touraine, and later in the Alpes grenobloises. He developed a similar passion for mycology and took an active part in the preparations for fungi displays. Working in close collaboration with the successive Medicine and Pharmacy Faculty professors he participated in a number of important projects: re-labelling the species in the Botanical Gardens; editing a catalogue of seed exchanges; creation of a medicinal plants garden; remodelling the Evolution Gardens systematic collections.

Pharmacy Faculty, University of Tours, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Pharmacy faculty at Tours University.

In his daily work, with kindness and competence, he commented on this or that plant species, passing on information to scholars, students and ordinary members of the public who were lucky enough to be walking through the garden.

Apprentice gardener, Villandry, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A young gardener at Villandry, like Pierre would have been.

 

Self-taught, having climbed the ladder, he ended his career with the title of Assistant Engineer and received a nomination for an Order of National Merit. When he retired the pharmacy professor at the time said 'Always very helpful, much appreciated by his colleagues, he contributed to the training of hundreds of students and pharmacists who will never forget him'.

He is survived by his son and daughter. His wife died in 2003.

[I've based this post on an obituary written by Marcel Bailly.]


Thursday, 25 February 2021

Protesting Against A Class Closure

Demonstration against a village school class closure, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Villagers gathering at the meeting point before setting off on a march.

Preuilly sur Claise and Yzeures sur Creuse, who together operate our local kindergarten and primary schools, have been threatened by the National Education Service with a class closure and the loss of a teacher at the beginning of the next school year (in September). Every thinking person in town finds this unacceptable and a protest movement is being energetically co-ordinated by the Headmistress and a couple of Mums. But, as the Mayor had to glumly admit, it's probably a done deal, although there is still some negotiations to be conducted as a formality.

Banner protesting class closure in a village school, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The kids had made banners which were hung up on the school railings.

The Mayors of the five villages that form the catchment area for these two schools have done their best to put up strong arguments and they've met with everyone they can think of who could influence the decision. Our local representative in the Legislative Assembly, Sophie Auconie, has been great. She came down and visited the school and allowed herself to be subjected to hard questioning from the kids about what was going on. Naturally she has been very supportive of the Mayors as they take the fight higher up the decision making chain. Sadly though, this will be one of her last activities as our Parliamentary Deputy. She has announced her resignation, due to ongoing health concerns after having treatment for breast cancer.

Mayor of Preuilly sur Claise being interviewed by TVTours, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
TVTours interviewing our Mayor.

On Saturday I attended a march to demonstrate to the authorities how opposed the community is to the class closure, and I'm taking the opportunity to show some of my photos here. The main concern is that it will result in class sizes that are too large, and nobody benefits from that.

Demonstrating against a village school class closure, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Christian counting marchers. I was number 53 or thereabouts, and I was about in the middle of the march, so a good hundred turned up (in a village of 1025 people, most of whom are distinctly elderly).

It is strongly felt that this move is all about providing extra teachers in the Priority Urban Zones, which was a government promise, but at the expense of rural schools, which the government claimed it would not do. It is also felt that a class closure is the thin edge of the wedge and once a school suffers the loss of a class it is likely to be at risk of closure altogether. (And we in Preuilly should know, as we've seen it happen in the villages around us.)

Demonstration against a village school class closure, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Marching up the Grand Rue.

People are worried that young families won't move into the area if the schools aren't good, and that those who have recently moved here will feel let down. There are concerns about auxiliary services being lost in a knock on effect, such transportation, daycare, the school canteen or the library. It is felt that geographically we are actually in a great position to have fully functioning schools and municipal plans for the future have been based on that.

Demonstration against a village school class closure, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The head of the march sets off.

Demonstration against a village school class closure, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
We occupied the market place.

Demonstration against a village school class closure, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Photo opp in front of the town hall.

Demonstration against a village school class closure, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
About 10 policemen provided security.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Poplar Plantations in the Touraine Loire Valley

As you travel around the Loire Valley you will most probably notice a lot of poplar plantations -- regimented lines of trees on the low lying ground near the many rivers in the area. I've frequently been asked what these trees are used for. People often know that poplars were used for making matches, but who uses matches these days! The answer is much more interesting and unique to France.
 
Poplar plantation. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The wood is used to make crates for taking fruit to market, and especially for making the little round boxes that cheese like camembert comes in. France is proud of its long tradition of making high quality artists paper, so a lot of poplar goes to that. The main part of the trunk might be used as lumber (my back door lintel is poplar) and the brash from the top of the trees munched up and turned into pellets for modern heating systems. Makers of high end furniture use it as a superior alternative to pine for the insides of drawers. 
 
Camembert box, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Well managed plantations are a good way for landowners to make use of otherwise uncommercial land. In the old days the tradition was to plant poplars when your daughter was born and to harvest it when she got married. 
 
Vintage fruit boxes, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Vintage fruit boxes, lovingly preserved by our local organic orchard.



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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

More than a Doer Upper

This house is close to the road to Chateauroux. I fear it may be too late to save it (and doing so would render some goats homeless).


It amazes me that the countryside and villages are littered with so many empty falling down buildings. Some are little (or not so little) half timbered cottages, some were once elegant townhouses.  Sooner or later though, many of them will probably find owners who will love them back into life - if they don't fall down first.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Pot au feu

Homemade pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Pot au feu is an old French classic. Not fine dining by any means, more of a peasant feast. The name simply means 'pot on the fire'. It requires nothing more than cheap bulk ingredients, a knife to chop them up into a big pot and a 'fire'.

Ingredients for pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Ingredients

About 1.5 kg vegetables -- a mixture of onion, leek, celery or celeriac and carrots

About 1.5 kg stewing beef -- a mixture of short rib, shank and chuck steak

A couple of marrow bones

Parsley, thyme and bay leaves tied up in leek greens to form a bouquet garnie

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Salt

4 - 5 l water

3 carrots, cut into chunks

A rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks

4 celery stalks, cut into 5 cm lengths, or a celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks

2 leeks, cleaned and cut into chunks 

500 g potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks

 

Method

  1. Clean, peel and cut the 1.5 kg of vegetables into large chunks.
  2. Put the vegetables into a large pot, put the meat and marrow bones on top.
  3. Add the bouquet garnie, peppercorns and some salt (at least a teaspoon).
  4. Pour the water over and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for two and a half hours.
  5. Pick out the meat and marrow bones with tongs and put aside.
  6. Strain the stock and put the vegetables aside.
  7. Put the stock back in the big pot and add the uncooked celery, leeks, rutabaga and carrot, along with the reserved meat.
  8. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for half an hour.
  9. Add the potatoes and simmer for a further 40 minutes.
  10. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.
  11. To serve, fish out the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in soup bowls. Add a couple of ladles of stock.
  12. Serves 8.

Ingredients for pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
 

It is not traditional to brown the meat before you add it to the pot, which is one of the ways you can tell it is a very old recipe. However, modern palates are used to the caramelisation you get from the searing process, and there is no reason not to do it if you like (or can be bothered...). 

A truly traditional pot au feu would contain generous quantities of turnips. Neither Simon nor I like turnips, so I have deliberately dodged them. I also haven't bothered to peel the potatoes, which a French cook would almost certainly do.

Ingredients for pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

You will be left with lots of beef stock, which you can make onion soup with.

Ingredients for pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

And you will have some very soft cooked vegetables put aside in Step 6. Pick out the peppercorns and puree the vegetables. Add stock until you have a velouté soup consistency. Reheat and serve with croutons.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos.