Getting in touch with my inner French paysanne

Beatswell Wood.

I was walking back from my friend Claire’s through Beatswell Wood the other day when I noticed it.  A fallen branch.  A nicely rotting fallen branch.  Then smaller branches, conveniently broken into wood-burning-stove like lengths.  My inner French peasant knocked urgently at my brain. ‘You can’t leave those!’ she said, in perfect English. ‘Fuel for free!  Whaddya mean you’ve got no bag?  What are arms for?  Get on with it!’

And it’s true.  No self-respecting French country person – man or woman – would think of leaving for a walk without a just-in-case (‘au cas où’) bag.  Here’s an account of what we used to do in France, especially in autumn.

Yesterday we were better prepared.  We both set forth, equipped with large strong bags, just big enough to collect stove-length pieces of wood, or ones dried out enough to break in two.  A stout thick branch each – to be sawn up later – completed our haul.  Kindling sorted.  A day or two’s heat sorted.  Well, you know what they say about wood, and about how it heats you several times?  We aren’t woodcutters.  But we do gather it, then stack it, then burn it.  That’s three times.  That’s good value.

The path to the woods.

Click on any image to see it full size.

‘Au cas où’ you need some wood, or a bag of fruit.

We’ve been getting in touch with our inner Ariègeois(e) today.

Our foraging country in the Ariège

We spent six years in France, living in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the Ariège, a département where almost everybody still had firm roots in the simple self-sufficient lifestyle of their forbears.  Nobody that we knew would have considered installing, as David Cameron recently has, a faux shepherd’s hut in the back garden.  Instead, most people had a serviceable shed, built of bits of this and that and adapted to personal requirements.

Nobody that we knew ever bought firelighters for their wood burning stove.  Instead, we’d all hang around as the weekly market packed up, rescuing the wooden fruit boxes, now empty of peaches and pears, which when broken up provide perfect kindling material.

Everyone we knew never left home without an ‘au cas où‘ (‘just in case’) bag, to fill with wild mushrooms, or walnuts, or sloes, or chestnuts, or apples, or any free food that came their way.

Foraging in the Ariège…..

That’s been us this week.  We don’t need a garden hut.  But we have got a wood-burning stove.  And today we’ve been re-purposing the wooden casing that our delivery of logs came in.  It’s soft wood, so we know we can only use it sparingly on our stove.  But it’s there – and we will use it.  So here we were, sawing it into manageable lengths, sorting and storing it.

We’re the odd-bods who gather the discarded fruit boxes at Ripon market. We’ve been breaking those up today too, for kindling.

 

Malcolm does a fine job of sawing up some wooden pallets.

And yesterday, our friend Gillian had us over to raid her plum trees.  We came back with a pail full of greengages, and a pail full of czars. Today was the day when we started to convert this ripe fruit into chutneys and cakes and hooch and crumbles.  Our French friends would definitely approve.