|5W LED lights|
|Serge and Noëlle's house|
|Our home-made Christmas crackers|
|5W LED lights|
|Serge and Noëlle's house|
|Our home-made Christmas crackers|
|Evelyn drawing a chicken|
|Chris, Bruin, Hubert and me|
|Day One – logging with fearsome circular saw|
|4 o'clock cuppa|
|Work in progress|
|Rosehips and rosemary in snow|
|Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger|
By way of introduction, here is a guest blog, written by Russell and Laura, who visited us last February, deciding to do a hybrid week as volunteers/paying guests to give them more time to explore beautiful Brittany.
Over to Russell …
As we only had a week’s break and wanted to explore the region, we decided to volunteer for just three days. On the first day, we visited Erquy and Cap Ferrel to discover the spectacular rocky coastline and bays, take a walk around Sable d’Or and eat a variety of cheeses, coming back to a cosy evening in front of the woodstove.
Next morning we were up bright and early to harvest woodfuel from Gabrielle's and Stuart's 11 acre woodland. Laura and I collected the logs from where they had been felled, taking them to the track, where Paul, a neighbouring farmer could reverse in his tractor and trailer. With Laura and I working in the wood and Paul and Stuart transporting and off loading at the other end we soon had it all shifted; Gabrielle and Stuart will certainly be warm enough next winter. Our reward that evening was delicious home-reared roast lamb.
The following day we stayed closer to their permaculture smallholding and Stuart and I went off to slash and burn some bramble around the site of their proposed new house. With Stuart using a traditional scythe and me raking it clear we soon amassed a sizable amount for a good bonfire. After half an hour blowing my guts out and Stuart telling me I need more fuel I managed a modest fire that sparked and crackled away. It was only then when I looked over my shoulder to see that I wasn’t the only firestarter in the village. Plumes of smoke rose behind the chicken shed. I ran over only to see my sweet girlfriend standing over a blazing strawberry bed with matches in hand and pyromania in her eyes; I’d been out done. The short of it was that Laura and Gabrielle were burning the leaves off the plants which removes any diseased leaves and kills pests, all without harming the plant itself. I went back to my smouldering pile of embarrassment, dumped all the brambles on and finally got a blaze to be proud of.
Stuart wanted to superimpose a CAD image of their future hemp and lime house over a photo of the site for the planning application. To do this we had to mark a level height on the 4 canes that stuck in the ground, marking the 4 corners of the house. The technique used was rather intriguing and a very exciting opportunity for Laura and I to learn about using a bunyip level, a long piece of transparent tubing filled with water which is a very easy method of finding similar levels over ground. We were amazed how simple and effective it was [see here and here for the what, how and why of bunyip levels].
Our final day volunteering was a bit wetter than most, but Stuart must have realised the affect of the weather on a man’s soul and spent no time at all getting me to erect some stock fencing, getting me warm and spirited. Anyone who tells me that permaculture with animals is low labour needs to come and try putting a hundred odd posts into the ground to keep their livestock in! Stuart has done for all three of his sheep fields. It was quite a work out knocking just 10 in, but it was a great thing to do; I’ll never look at stock fencing again without feeling some of the pain. Later that day we finished constructing a sheep shelter made from reclaimed materials for the sheep to gather in during harsher weather.
The experience was uplifting and we want to thank Gabrielle and Stuart again for a wonderful time. It has inspired us to consider further volunteering and to start to think seriously about the way we want to live in the future.
Photos show Russell banging in a fencepost; creating a datum point to superimpose an image of our house on this plot; Stuart and Russell standing proudly by a finished sheep shelter and Laura serving up a rice timballo (cooked for us following several phone calls to "Mama" in Italy to get the recipe right).
Follow this link if you fancy volunteering yourself.
Little by little though, we are reclaiming the bits we couldn’t cope with (I’m talking metaphorically, don’t think I’m knocking on her door asking for our scraps back!) and learning what to do with trotters, heads and the fat.
The lard has been a revelation. It seems that this rendered pig fat is having a renaissance. Try Googling “is lard good for you?” or, for the glass-half-empty pessimists amongst you, “is lard bad for you?”, to find out the new truth. From a sustainability point of view—both ecologic and economic—why buy vegetable oil produced far away, when we can use our very own pig fat, especially now that it’s not so very bad for you? And there is nothing better for flaky, tasty piecrusts!
The head has always been problematic; we tried making brawn one time and didn’t like the result. French, English and American butchers have different ways of dividing the carcass and the French cut off the gorge, everything below the jaw. Bernard, our boucher de campagne told us that we shouldn’t add it to the sausage meat because of all the (lymph) glands but didn’t explain why, nor suggest what we could do with it otherwise. Rather than go in the bucket for Annick’s cats and dog, Gabrielle patiently got to work with a sharp butcher’s knife and removed the glands and a lot of fat to leave an impressive amount of still quite fatty pork. A slow cook would render more of the fat off.
We’ve found Anjum Anand cookbooks to be very reliable, i.e., you follow her recipes and end up with something that you’d be pleased to be served in a restaurant. Her Pork Vindaloo (from Anjum’s New Indian) is a world away from the macho too-hot curries served up in British restaurants. Apparently, the colonising Portuguese introduced their Goan subjects to Carne de Vinha d’Alhos, a dish of meat with wine and garlic. The Goans adapted this, adding loads of spices and using vinegar instead of wine to create vindaloo. For the Portuguese and then the Goans, pork would be traditional and it was the perfect way to use our reclaimed meat. The vinegar and spice mix gives a distinctive flavour and, if you fancy making one, don’t feel at all obliged to go too hot with the chillies.
Another change this year, was the treatment of the leg we’re hoping to turn into Parma-style ham. We’ve tried both dry salt and brine and this year, we used a cleansing brine before immersing the pieces in the curing brine. (Photo shows a floating brine meter indicating the saltiness.) We also tried injecting (a slightly weaker) brine into the femoral artery, to get the cure right into the centre of the leg so making the flavour more even (this is called brine pumping). As usual, the instructions were either vague or ambiguous and I ended up on the phone to our expert physiotherapist friend Alan to get some guidance as to identify the artery from the vein. It seems logical now that he’s explained it: blood is pumped round the body under pressure, so the artery is the more rigid tube of the two. From our animal first aid box I took a new syringe, the end of which was a tight fit into the artery.
After three weeks in the brine, a day drying off in the breeze, then a week in the fridge to equalise and another day drying off in the breeze, it is now hanging up in our neighbours chimney for a smoke, another first for us. It’ll be several months before I can report on the result but hopefully it’ll be an improvement on last year’s attempt.
Soon: a call for winter volunteers and the start of the permaculture design plan for our forest garden.
A lot of this stuff is relatively new to the building industry, thus they’re pioneers, often having to work out how to bolt it all together as they build it. Bruno and I have the same book Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls / Toits et murs végétaux but, in either language, whilst being long on general principles and lovely photos it is frustratingly (and litigation-avoidingly ?) short of accurate construction detail.
From the inside out, their roof has Fermacell boards nailed onto joists deep enough to slot in a straw-bale as insulation, with a breathable sarking board, then an air gap to allow moisture that escapes this breathing roof to exit below the waterproof layer. On top of wooden spacers are nailed sheets of OSB/Stirling board, which provides a structural surface over which is laid a geotextile then the EPDM “pond liner” membrane, then substrate and finally, beautiful, drought-resistant sedum plants.
No sooner had Bruno fixed the Stirling board with a “why-use-only-one-nail-when-it’s-this-easy” nail gun, than a chap who’s built straw houses and green roofs took a look at it, sucked through his teeth and pronounced the air gap insufficient. Bruno had decided to saw through the well-fixed boards, to add some more wooden spacers and refit 950 €uros’ worth of new board. I’m a man that easily panics when faced with this sort of crisis, unless the crisis belongs to somebody else. I can then become usefully calm and supportive. I also think that I project my fears onto such a situation (i.e., imagining how it would be if I woke up to discover that it was actually my problem) which is further incentive to get involved. Don’t worry, I said, between us, and using my British-made nail puller, we can remove the boards, add the spacer and nail them back on again. It took a fair amount of time and a lot of effort but that is what we did. Wouldn’t you think, after such a victory, that they deserved a break?
After an unfeasibly dry summer, autumn weather rained off the first two attempts to fix a date. Having left the tarp off for a day to allow the boards to dry, a heavy dew left them worryingly damp. But then the expert help (Jerome, the supplier of the materials) was late to arrive and it was very blowy, neither good for the nerves but nevertheless helping to dry the roof.
When we rolled the membrane out to cut it to size, we realised that Jerome had only ordered half the EPDM we needed … oops. Then there was an issue with the height of the flue pipe from their woodstove, with more delays, measuring, negotiation and worrying, during which, I drove Jerome to the tractor dealers who were going to rent us a fork-lift to lift the heavy roll of membrane onto the roof.
After finishing a very long phone conversation, Mr Hervé apologised that he had had to lend it out to a farmer whose own had broken down and was sorry that he hadn’t informed Bruno as he didn’t have his phone number. As we returned, the stove guy was leaving. That was before we’d discovered that the junction between two pipes meant that the collar didn’t fit and the stove guy had to be called up again, reluctantly agreeing to reappear after lunch. It was fast becoming one of those days when you want to return to bed, roll up into the foetal position, pull the covers over your head and hope it all goes away.
Perhaps I exaggerate. The day finished late with one (of two) roofs watertight—a significant step forward—but leaving Bruno physically and emotionally exhausted. Where do we find our hero at the end of such a testing day? Howling at the moon? kicking empty boxes around the worksite in frustration? drowning his sorrows with cold bottles of Stella Artois? None of these: I returned having popped home to do the evening rounds of our animals to find him reading a bedtime story to Liam and Jeanne. I think some sort of medal is in order!
What better guide than Jane Grigson’s The Mushroom Feast with over 250 recipes? And what better person to buy me the book than my vegetarian stepdaughter, Christina? all the more fun as she’s not actually that keen on mushrooms. The book was bought as a challenge to see if I could convince her that mushrooms can be palatable, perhaps even tasty.
With cultivated oyster mushrooms and a handful of field mushrooms at my disposal, I poured a glass of vin blanc as aperitif and perused Grigson’s book.
You’ll need some chopped onion, butter and oil, chopped bacon/lardons, chopped tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, a beaten egg, salt and cayenne pepper.
Brown the onion in butter, then add the bacon, toms and mushrooms. Once well cooked, liquidise. Mix in the egg and cook over a low heat until the mixture thickens (don’t let it boil). Season with salt and cayenne, tasting as you go.
Spread generously on a slice of toast, or slice a baguette on the slant and dob a bit on each piece. Somewhat overwhelmed with the amount we produced, Gabrielle has also used it as a layer in the vegetarian lasagne we’re going to eat tonight.
In the hope of encouraging edible mushrooms, I’ve been collecting both field and parasol mushrooms and them chopping up and liquidising them with some water, then pouring this around the smallholding. (Just use one type of mushroom at each attempt). It’ll be a while but I’ll tell you if it works.
Soon … more recipes with a porky vindaloo and the tale of a long day when everything went wrong for poor Bruno and Mélanie when trying to install their green roof.