Saturday, 5 September 2015

Berry'd Treasure.

At this time of year, bright red berries are the stars of the hedgerow show.  Wild Honeysuckle, like a bejewelled necklace, is snaking, alluringly through the forest, (poisonous to us but the birdies can eat them).
Wild Honeysuckle Berries

We can use the bright and beady Hawthorn berries to make jellies and jams and can also be used to flavour brandy.  Folklore suggests they can cure a broken heart, but can also kill vampires, so just beware all you lovelorn vampires out there!  
Hawthorn Berries

Then, curiouser and curiouser, are these hairy balls growing on the dog-rose.  I must have been walking past these year in, year out never knowing what they are, but further investigation reveals them to be gall wasp nests!!  They are commonly known as 'Robin's Pincushions' after the woodland sprite 'Robin Goodfellow' (a.k.a 'Puck)' who may come and do a bit of sewing for you in the night if he feels like it, although he might just sour your milk instead. One just never knows with Robin, pesky sprite!  
Robin's Pincushions

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Les herbes de la Saint Jean

Today, a friend and I set off on a 'Sortie Botanique' which was led by a M. Everard, who is an ethnobotaniste. The purpose of the excursion was to discover 'Les herbes de la Saint Jean'.  These are seven or so herbs which are traditionally gathered on the morning of the Summer Solstice, before the dew has dried upon them, when they are supposedly at their most powerful. They are then made into poultices & potions etc; that are used to ward off illness in the year to come.  More plant-power is awarded if the gatherer is barefoot which presumably would leaves one's feet in need of at least one of the said potions to treat the inevitable bites/stings and prickles.  What's more, for optimum power, the gatherer is to approach the plants backwards and preferably use a golden knife which will undoubtedly result in a fall of some kind, and quite possibly a mugging, thus requiring more treatments.  There's a strange symbiosis in it all! Anyway, in spite of the mystical mumbo jumbo, we all know that a great many of our modern medicines are derived from plants and M. Everard said that 80% of the world's population rely on herbal medicines...

The weather has been really dry so we didn't find the full set but we come across St John's Wort (a natural 'prozac'), Wild Lettuce (said to have opiate-like properties) Yarrow, (antiseptic and good for intestinal parasite removal) Artemesia or Wormwood (for 'wimmen's disorders'?), Marguerite (for wound healing), as well as mint, verbena and plantains.  We talked of trees and this being France, we, of course, also discussed mushrooms and their role in maintaining a healthy humus in the forest.

A very pleasant way to spend the morning.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Flag Brag

I came across this website page all about old flags and suddenly became bewitched with the idea of making some covertcabin flags...I just could not understand why it hadn't occured to me before and immediately set about rectifying our flaglessness.

Stage 1:  I rummaged through my vast collection of fabric remnants and was suprised to find myself stocking almost no plain material.  Beggars can't be choosers though so I was forced to scrub whatever jolly colour combo's that had been forming in my mind and grabbed some old curtain lining and some scraps for the pennants and whizzed up the shapes in no time...

Stage 2:  The emblem for the main flag was to be our logo (brilliantly designed by The pennants were more tricky, we squabbled over different ideas for a bit until I caved in and left Bob to get on with them. It's for the best, he's good at stuff like that.  He printed his designs onto acetate and cut them out to make stencils, then I splodged on some fabric paint and we put in the eyelets.

Stage 3:  Bob was dispatched to the forest to get poles.  I went to get string and cleats etc;

Stage 4: We strung 'em up. Almost immediately, the breeze that had been blowing died and we were becalmed for days, waiting for our limp flags to flutter and spring to life...finally a little wind picked up and we were able to snap these pics...

Friday, 1 May 2015

Nuts in May?

The children's rhyme or song "Here We Go Gathering Nuts In May" has always slightly confused me as generally nuts are to be gathered later in the year.  That was until I realised that the nuts referred to in the song were (most probably) pignuts! These beauties pop up at this time of year, their delicate white flower is finer than that of their cowparsley cousins, and the root ball, or 'nut', is edible. They often team up with bluebells, which are poisonous, but it'll take more than that to deter me from trying free food.  I read up about how to harvest them and discovered that it's a tricky and time-consuming business, requiring some dexterity to tease a long stick down the stem until the 'nut' is located.  Thus, it was deemed suitable work, (along with chimney-sweeping and darting about under fast-moving textile machinery), for those 19th century urchins singing the song.

Even though I'd read that pignuts grow sparsely, there seems to be an abundance at Woodsman's Cabin and so off we went with our puggling sticks.  It wasn't easy though, and progress was slow until Bob tired of the foraging malarky and weighed in with his trusty spade, which brought faster results.  (WARNING! this method of harvesting is strictly not recommended).  They are quite tasty, a bit like a raw hazelnut but with slight celeryish undertones.  By this stage though, we were still quite hungry so abandoned further foraging in favour of bacon sandwiches, (feeling lucky to live in a land of choice and plenty).

Further research reveals that the nuts in the song may be a corruption of 'knots' referring to hawthorn (or 'May') blossom, I'm sticking with the pignut version though.
Pignuts at Woodsman's cabin.

Proper instructions on how to forage for pignuts can be found here

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Fishy Business...

CAUTION! Today is All Fools' Day... here in France, as well as the usual pranks that we associate with 1st April, kids cut out paper fish and try to stick them on unsuspecting people's backs.  If anyone is caught out they are called a 'poisson d'avril'!  Hilarity ensues...

So how did this fishy tradition come about?  Well, according to my non-extensive research, way back in the sixteenth century the new year was celebrated on April first, based on the Julian calendar. Then mad, bad, King Charles IX came along and decided that everybody should be following the Gregorian calendar, which starts the new year on January 1st. Not everyone welcomed this crazy, new-fangled system and some continued to celebrate April 1st as the first day of the year. Allegedly, those people were mocked and referred to as 'April fools'.  Quite how this then became a tradition of pasting a fish on unsuspecting people's backs and calling them April fish is unclear. Theories abound about the fishy origins, from new little fishes that appear in the rivers at this time that are witless and easily caught, to some Christian/ Easterish symbolism. Then there are these strange cards which were sent to nearest and dearest, often anonymously...  

And best of all, somewhere along the line, chocolate and pastry fish turned up too! 

Hurrah! A lovely shoal of chocolate poissons.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Iced Fancies

Here's fun to brighten up a dull February day.  Take some shallow containers of varying sizes and shapes and pour in about 1cm of water, leave outside overnight to freeze (or pop in the freezer if you are impatient, like me).  Gather up some pretty stuff, I used gorse flowers, some sort of dried seed heads, ivy, a pretty pink camellia...anything interesting-looking that takes your fancy.  When the water is frozen, tip it out, make your design in the bottom of the container, add some string for a handle, then replace your ice block and add a little more water.  Re-freeze and then, hey presto! You can hang your frozen pictures in the trees or on fences to enhance that elusive Winter sunshine.