Atout Fruit

Ariège, Food & Cooking, Patrimoine

I love Atout Fruit. It’s a relatively small, but very effective local organisation that exists to protect and promote our heritage of local and ancient varieties of fruit trees.  By being a member, I’ve learned such a lot at some of their monthly workshops.  I’ve for instance practised grafting (as in:

a. To unite (a shoot or bud) with a growing plant by insertion or by placing in close contact.

b. To join (a plant or plants) by such union.’,

rather than ‘hard work’ as described so effectively by Kalba in her blog Slow Living in the French Pyrénées

The intricacies of grafting

Actually, what I learned about grafting, when I did it last year, was that it wasn’t my thing.  It’s very steady meticulous work, demanding razor sharp knives and attention to detail, deeply unsuited to a slap-dash like me.  My painstakingly grafted specimen died within weeks.

But there have been sessions on pruning, on traditional methods of gathering and preserving fruits, using those fruits in cooking….and so on.  Later this month, the session on growing biodynamically will be held in our garden, and I just can’t wait.

I’m different from most other members.  I don’t just mean that I’m English, though there’s that too.  Most ‘adherents’ were born with more know-how than I will ever have about trees and crops, and practice their skills every day.  Nearly all the rest have this background to their lives, even if they have themselves moved away from their ‘paysan’ origins.  I hesitate to use the word ‘peasant’ in English, because of the somewhat negative picture it paints.  Not here.  Even University graduates who have returned to the land are proud to describe themselves as ‘paysan’.  It’s been great for me that everyone is keen to help me and seems pleased that I want to learn: nobody patronises my amateurishness.

Sorting those saplings

Once a year, Atout Fruit is given a range of tree seedlings to hand out free to members – mainly fruiting trees, but other indigenous and introduced species too.  Members pore over the spread sheets of offerings and make their choices, and wait for the day when we can all go and collect.  I felt greedy: I’d chosen 10, but later found that others, with larger pieces of land, had chosen 20, 40, even 100 saplings.  This year I volunteered to help sort and distribute the trees, and drove to Claude’s place (which includes a wonderfully eco-efficient house of straw), high above lake Montbel, where it was all happening.  My job was to help replace the battered identification labels with rather more legible ones, and make up orders with members as they arrived. Have you ever tried to distinguish an 18-inch high mulberry whip from a crabapple or a wild cherry?  Best leave it to the experts…..  Later, warmed by glasses of hot coffee, 4 of us made up the bundles of trees for the people who hadn’t been able to come to collect.  Here’s a picture of some hard work in a chilly barn: merci, Claude!

Later that day, I planted my seedlings in pots, or direct in the garden.  I had quite a time of it.  But that’s another story….

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