It is the celebration of Pentecost today and the first day the church bells have rung for a real church service, not just to show solidarity and thanks to all the carers during this strange and awful time.
The extraordinarily, peerless blue weather has continued; linnets have sung from the birch tree; red kites have quatered over the garden and swifts have screamed down the sky for the sheer joy of being alive.
Pentecost or Whitsun has an ancient history and the Christian celebration of the holy spirit descending from God has its roots in the Jewish harvest festival which took place 50 days after Passover.
It is seen as a renewal of life and rose petals are showered from ceilings of some Italian churches and alters decorated with red geraniums, roses or even poinsettias in the Southern Hemisphere as the red is the penetecost colour of the spirit.
Whitsun is the time to start summer outdoor activities. In England Morris dancing should be in pub gardens and village greens. It is the day for Cheese rolling on Cooper’s Hill just outside of Cheltenham in the Cotswolds. This year it was cancelled because of the virus, but I was delighted to hear that a local rolled a proper double Gloucester Cheese down the hill, with no cameras or social media hordes, just to keep the old tradition going.
I didnt use litterpicker tonges to collect the news paper from the box today; my neighbours are sharing Sunday lunch with friends in the garden today and I collected a meal for the first time from my favourite local restaurant, wearing a face mask, but with a huge smile underneath ! This is virtually the first food, for three months, that I havent prepared or cooked myself and every single mouthwatering, three course morsel, was magnificent. I had to load the dishwasher, but hey , the sun is shining, the roses are perfumed and spirit is definitely on us all!
Sorry for the bizarre typo ! Spirit, not spitit!! Still thinking about transmission of the dreaded lurgy, I am afraid!!
Spring knows nothing of fear.
The lane behind our house is awash with foaming white blackthorn blossom. The bushes are like waves breaking static white tops against the bluest sky – a Japanese woodcut of mountainous water frozen into the spray of spring blossom .
The cherry trees are just starting to flower, balancing sunshine and the forecast of snow in their unfurling buds.
On the kitchen window sill the first seedings are germinating for the vegetable garden. I normally get my seeds in the supermarket over the border in Switzerland, as their varieties do well here; but in the scramble to stock up on food, they were forgotten and I am keeping well out of the shops now.
Luckily I have managed to order seeds online and the second lot arrived yesterday, to my great delight! Some postal staff will not deliver in the Haut Rhin, as the infection rate here is so high and the prospect of an empty vegetable plot for the whole year was very dispiriting. However, wonderful Spring Seeds have sent a good fist full of seeds to start things going. I have flat leafed parsley and chilli beginning to grow and their first leaves give great good cheer!
The commercial growers of fruit and veg are asking the French hairdressers and waiters and all the others who have been sent home, to help pick the spring produce which is growing right now in the greenhouses and fields. Most of the workers who normally pick the vegetables are not ill, they are migrants and they cannot enter the country as the borders are all closed and without their work the food will rot.
The world is very interconnected now. The butterfly wing flap of a closed border is felt in unpicked field. An open postal service allows some leaves to unfurl on a window sill hundreds of miles away and spring progresses one leaf at a time.
I am not a vegetarian, but sometimes I think I should be.
I love the taste of meat, but am disturbed by eating fellow sentient mammals. Then I consider the fowl and the fish; decide I shouldn’t eat them either and then I am left with the plants. Plants are alive too and are killed so we can eat them. If we eat neither flesh nor fruit, we are left with nothing at all, except our own extinction .
I grew a magnificent pumpkin from seed. I fed and watered it and then I picked it, sliced it into mighty chunks and made it into soup. The slices wept moisture and were so beautiful I could hardly bring myself to hack it up. But I did: I cooked it with red lentils, cinnamon and spices , pureed it to creamy perfection and ate it with relish while the rain fell outside. Oh to be human!
We have finally lifted all the potatoes; rolled five fat pumpkins onto the back step to finish ripening and picked the apples from our single apple tree: it feels like the harvest is in.
This, however, is very small fry in comparison to the massive harvest of the real countryside and the deeply bizarre manifestation of its bounty in the agricultural extravaganza in local Mulhouse.
In the huge exposition centre thousands upon thousands of people crowd in to look at stands of arranged vegetables. This is not the type of flower show that I knew well from places like Brecon in Wales, where lovingly grown marrows were judged for weight and gloss and three perfect sweetpea blossoms were awarded hotly contested rosettes for perfume and hue. This was the deliberate piling of fruit and vegetables into improbable and inedible unicorns, dragons and cathedrals and it made me long for the simplicity of the single sweetpea.
The picture above is of the more recognisable offerings of landmarks from the Alsace town of Colmar in mosaics of potatoes and pumpkins.
The Statue of Liberty in sprouts was a particular favourite. Bartholdi was a son of Colmar and created the monumental statue in France for the American people. I bet immigrants to The USA never envisaged their welcoming symbol of a new life picked out in green sprouts as they sailed into New York!
The autumn raspberries are always small.
My fingers fumble for them amongst the yellowing leaves.
There has been just enough sun to ripen a few hard green knots into fragrantly
soft fruit, bowed down now in easy reach of the gleaming slugs.
And now the rain.
A benediction of mist in a quiet grey sky
Makes slippery the sticky handle of the little basket.
My fingers close lightly and tug to loosen the wet fruit from the white stipe
But the raspberry crumbles, the droops bleed juice and rain onto my hand.
I should have picked them long ago.
Summer rain, washing away the dust: cleaning and cooling the clouds and leaving grey sheets of warm perfumed air in its wake.
Butterflies shelter in the vine dry against the house wall.
The lavender is curved down by the wet weight of its own heavy loveliness .
Pale hollyhocks cup bees circling the stiff stigmas untroubled by the slanting rain.
The cat leaves off hunting sparrows sheltering on the bird table, in order to cringe from the low thunder.
Now it is glittering sunshine, now black towering clouds, now the suffocating perfume of budliea breathing through the saturated air.
Will there ever be a day like this again?
I was pleased as punch with the first few cherry tomatoes that the garden produced this season and as the dry, hot weather has gone on; with just a little effort, I have filled bowl after bowl with the sweet red jewels. Previous attemps to grow tomatoes have resulted in little to eat and a lot of black blight, but this year has been a fruitful union of the right seeds and the perfect weather.
Much sparcer, and far more difficult to pick have been the first sloes from our garden. Sloe berries come from blackthorn and the bush is well named, as the thorns are hard and very spiney. This blackthorn bush self seeded into a corner of the garden that we didn’t mow, along with birch, willow, larch, budlia, plum, laurel, fir and even an oak sapling.
We let the wild patch alone and the blackthorn has grown big enough in 8 years to be covered in white flowers in the spring time and now thick with black fruit in the autumn. In England you don’t pick sloes until they are crisped by the first frost, but I have learnt from experience that in my corner of France/ Germany/Switzerland, if you wait until the first frost, the berries will have ripened and fallen off by then .
So in the wild corner of the garden I did mighty battle with the thorns and picked enough fruit to turn a couple of bottles of gin into sloe gin for a treat this Christmas. They will do their frosting in the freezer and I will add them to gin and sugar next week.
So you see gardening for wildlife is not entirely altruistic after all!
These bracket fungi remind me of Christmas spice biscuits: white sugar and a dark chocolate top, all dusted with cocoa powder. The honey fungus to the left look like marzipan decorations, but I am not eating any of it. Foraging maybe fashionable these days, but a spectacular number of people die every year from picking and eating the wrong mushrooms. I am fascinated by fungi, but know enough to recognise how different the same species can be, at each stage of its growth. Even the most experienced can make mistakes and while this can just lead to a badly upset stomach, it can also lead to fast, fatal poisoning. So I just admire from a distance and eat real chocolate instead!
On the same walk in the woods, where I spotted these deceptively edible treats, I saw a commotion in a fir tree which took a moment to understand. There was ungainly flapping and an odd hissing/cooing noise. The flapping was a buzzard and the hissing was a very small red squirrel racing along the trunk of the tree to escape. The buzzard chased it up the tree and then down again, flapping its wings against the trunk to dislodge the mammal. The squirrel ran for its life making the strangest soft cooing noises. Eventually it reached the safety of the floor and buried its self in the undergrowth. The buzzard flew heavily away with a disgusted croak.
I have seen a buzzard with a dead red squirrel in its claws, but never watched them hunting like this before. We don’t get Grey squirrels here at all and the red squirrels are much less obvious. I have always thought of buzzards hunting voles and rabbits, but when you see how crafty they are in the depth of the forest, it is no wonder the red squirrels with their soft voices, are so cautious and hard to see.
Eve reached up,
The tree was small and her arms were long and strong.
The dry stem snapped between her fingers
And red fruit fell plump into her outstreched hand.
She inhaled the perfume, felt the cool skin against her warm cheek and
The first bite was deep.
The knowledge bitter,
But the taste was so, so sweet.
This Roman or Burgundy snail still has the doors firmly closed for business. We may be all excited about spring, but this snail is waiting for a good few weeks before pulling up the shutters.
I first found Roman snails as a teenager in the Cotswolds, in rough grass under the limestone wall around an ancient Roman villa , they seemed to be in the perfect place. They were apparently introduced to England by the Romans and are found all across Europe in association with limestone. They are the escargot of French cuisine and I admit to finding them delicious cooked in garlic and butter.
It was a great delight and surprise to find these large pale snails in my own French garden . I read more about them, learnt how they can live for 30 years, what a tiny area of land they may travel slowly in a lifetime and how little they reproduce in that life time and suddenly the desire to eat them was gone.
This solid specimen, has a calcium door closed shut until he/she is absolutely sure that the warm weather has come. I will pop it back where I found it and leave it to enjoy its leisurely life in peace in its own good time, safe from butter and garlic!
Scarlet elf cup is perfectly named. This fungi is pale orange on the outside, vermillion on the inside and as delicately formed as a tiny porcelain bowl. The cups appear at this time of year on fallen twigs, especially hornbeam and it is one of those wonderful species found across continents on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
This group of Sarcoscypha coccinea was found on a wet Sunday walk in the Jura and may well be the varient . When looking this up on the inter web, I found the same story repeated over and over again: children in the Jura were said to eat elf cups on bread and butter and the cups were used to serve schnapps in. Now hipster wild food foragers and over imaginative chefs have found many bizarre and unappealing ways of serving wild food that would have been better left to the creatures of the forest; but I have never yet been served them as a sandwich filling or used as a glass here in the Jura. It does go to show how the same misinformation is recycled even in the quiet world of natural history and it leads you to wonder how much more prevalent this incestuous repetition must be in the wider world where we all get our information from the web. Pass the schnapps filled elf cup!!
This is great post by a blogger with a real appreciation of how trees have shaped the world we live in, the food we eat and the way money makes the world go round. Enjoy !