(Almost) all is safely gathered in…

Regular readers will know I’ve got into the habit, once a month or so, of revisiting an old post. And I’m reminded of what October used to mean in France. Blackberrying’s over now in England (the devil spits on the fruit as soon as October kicks in, didn’t you know?), but my inner-Frenchwoman has been squirreling away scavenged apples, pears, mushrooms – even a few unimpressive walnuts. It all reminds me of France, where foraging is a way of life…

October 25th, 2012

‘All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin’ *

Autumn colours mean it’s harvest time for foragers.

I’ve written before about the ‘au cas où’ bag: the carrier you always have with you on a walk, ‘just in case’ something tasty turns up and demands to be taken home and eaten.

Well, at this time of year, it isn’t really a case of ‘au cas où’ .  You’re bound to find something.  A fortnight ago, for instance, Mal and I went on a country stroll from Lieurac to Neylis.  We had with us a rucksack and two large bags, and we came home with just under 5 kilos of walnuts, scavenged from beneath the walnut trees along the path.  A walk through the hamlet of Bourlat just above Laroque produced a tidy haul of chestnuts too.

Yesterday, we Laroque walkers were among the vineyards of Belvèze-du-Razès.  The grapes had all been harvested in the weeks before, but luckily for us, some bunches remained on the endless rows of vines which lined the paths we walked along.  We felt no guilt as we gorged on this fruit all through the morning.  The grapes had either been missed at harvest-time, or hadn’t been sufficiently ripe.  They were unwanted – but not by us.

The walnuts we’re used to in the Ariège are replaced by almonds over in the Aude.  You have to be careful: non-grafted trees produce bitter almonds, not the sweet ones we wanted to find.  But most of us returned with a fine haul to inspect later.  Some of us found field mushrooms too.

Today, the destination of the Thursday walking group was the gently rising forested and pastoral country outside Foix known as la Barguillère.  It’s also known locally as an area richly provided with chestnut trees.  Any wild boar with any sense really ought to arrange to spend the autumn there, snuffling and truffling for the rich pickings.  We walked for 9 km or so, trying to resist the temptation to stop and gather under every tree we saw.  The ground beneath our feet felt nubbly and uneven as we trod our way over thousands of chestnuts, and the trees above threw further fruits down at us, popping and exploding as their prickly casings burst on the downward journey.

As our hike drew to an end, so did our supply of will-power.  We took our bags from our rucksacks and got stuck in.  So plentiful are the chestnuts here that you can be as picky as you like.  Only the very largest and choicest specimens needed to make it through our rigorous quality control.  I was restrained.  I gathered a mere 4 kilos.  Jacqueline and Martine probably each collected 3 times as much.  Some we’ll use, some we’ll give to lucky friends.

Serious business, this scavenging.

Now I’d better settle myself down with a dish of roasted chestnuts at my side, and browse through my collections of recipes to find uses for all this ‘Food for Free’.

Jacqueline, Martine and Maguy’s chestnut haul.

* Two lines from an English hymn sung at Harvest Festival season: Come, ye thankful people, come’

A contribution to Six Word Saturday, and Jo’s Monday Walk: it’s more than one walk Jo.  Extra value?  Or disqualified?

46 thoughts on “(Almost) all is safely gathered in…”

  1. I’m astounded you got any walking done with so much scoffing going on, Margaret 🙂 🙂 The chestnut braziers are on street corners here and I wrinkle my nose in delight every time I pass one. I was just playing with my Monday walk when this came up so… in you pop! Have a nice weekend 🙂

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      1. I think you’re in luck, and Harlow Carr is looking wonderful at the moment, despite improvement works. It’s half term though …. WP is always correcting my spelling … but I know better! 😉

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      2. Really looking forward to it, and yes aware it might be busy with families but we will be with my godson, his sister and his parents – they are both teachers – so we will be prepared!!

        Phew glad it is not just me with the WP autocorrect . . .the times I have argued with it!!

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  2. I’m reading this in the sun with an allongé in the square at Mirepoix. We didn’t march because we were here but thank you. We’ve spent too much time watching politics but managed to drag ourselves out to a favourite walk – the sentier sculptural at Mayronnes. It’s a distance away but worth it if very wet in places after the storms.

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    1. I had to look Mayronnes up – never heard of it. I should have ….. Lucky you, whatever you’re up to over there. The march was fun, but since then … bad, to worse, to – who knows?

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  3. I’m glad you go back and re-post these older posts–I like them and your memories of France. This foraging business is news to me–I will occasionally pick wild berries but we have nothing comparable here, as far as I know.

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  4. I see a few people round here out foraging with carrier bags bulging with goodies. I am surprised they find anything; they must be experts and know where to look. Our squirrels and deer always get to anything worthwhile before we do in our garden let alone along the lane!
    I am enjoying your revisit posts very much, Margaret.

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  5. This looks a lovely walk and I love the idea of foraging too! We don’t live in the country but there is plenty of green space here and we like to collect firewood in the cooler months. We’ve never bought wood for the fire yet – there’s something very satisfying about collecting your own stuff! 🙂

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      1. Yes I should have explained about jarrah! It’s a beautiful rich red wood that is native to south west Australia. It burns slowly and you get a wonderful fire from just one or two logs with some kindling wood under and around it. Unfortunately there has been a problem with jarrah dieback over recent years, which is like a fungus attacking the root system of the trees so they can’t take up nutrients and wilt and die. However there are strategies in place from the parks and wildlife department to halt the spread and regenerate areas. We are so lucky to be able to use jarrah logs in our wood burning stove in the cooler months 🙂

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  6. Beautiful photo of the rows of vines, wistfully evocative. I remember reading in a crime novel that bitter almonds were poisonous (they were used for a murder), but if they are so bitter why would anyone eat them!

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  7. I would really love some roast chestnuts just now – you’ve made me feel peckish. Also I’m wishing (not for the first time) that my pronunciation of French wasn’t so dire – au cas où seems like a phrase I’d like to internalise, just in case…

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