Writings from Normandy, France
June – July 2017
I was hoping that by now I would have some things to write about my garden in Normandy. However, since arriving five weeks ago there have been two heat waves, and in between having visitors and settling in here to daily life, there hasn’t been a lot happening in the garden. The soil, as I have known from the previous two years, is depleted of any goodness, which means that the weeds are poorly, and it won’t take very much time to disperse of them. As we are leaving at the beginning of September, I have decided that it is better to prepare the soil for next year as soon as I arrive; in this way the weeds won’t flourish.
A visit to Monet’s garden was a must recently when friends were staying , and for those readers who have been, you will know that it took us the good part of a day for the visit even though we are only 40 minutes’ drive away and the garden is small. There is so much to see along the pedestrian street at the back of the house and garden where you exit. Little art galleries, attractive private gardens, cafes and plantings abound along the street’s edge. The general atmosphere of the very beautiful valley in which the garden is set is breathtakingly quiet and attractive. The gardeners were about a third of the way through doing the mid-summer cut back when we visited the gardens which, again were giving a true impressionist representation.
Our local market which we have been going to on Sundays since we came here is at Ivry-la-Bataille, about 15 minutes’ drive from here. There is a wide range of all types of food and a good selection of clothing. We have been told that the best farmers market, with a much wider range of goods, is at Le Neubourg on a Wednesday, about 50 minutes’ drive, so that is on the plan for a future visit.
We are getting to know some of the people in our village, who are all very friendly and helpful. There is an American lady who lives around the corner who has lived here for 27 years; we are going to have an expats’ aperitif session soon with another couple from England.
On a recent sultry evening after a temperature of 29 degrees in the afternoon, friends came for dinner. We started with an aperitif; cashew nuts or blini topped with Tarama. Blini are very small pikelets and tarama is a pink spreading mixture made of cod eggs.
The main was ham with a mixed salad of lettuce, grated courgette, finely sliced peppers and slices of cooked potato (more a New Zealand version). This was followed by a cheese plate consisting of Comte from the Rhône Alps region, Neufchâtel from here in Normandy, and some Boursin, also from Normandy. Dessert was the most exquisite ice cream made with pieces of nougat, pistachios and caramelised almonds, along with stewed apricots from Provence (they are the best apricots available here), and tiny meringues with almonds in the meringue mixture. Of course there was fresh baguette on the table.
Last year I learnt to use the GPS in the car, and whilst I have driven thousands of kilometres in Europe with a map only, the GPS has become invaluable for driving in the cities but I still prefer mapping for the rest of the driving.
I went with a niece to a garden art exhibition at Le Grand Palais which is on the Champs Elysees in Paris. It featured garden paintings by prominent artists over the years, collections of gardening tools over the past few centuries, botanical prints, photographic displays of prominent gardens in France which can be visited, artistic displays with gardening themes, and much more. The exhibition, which had been running for four months, aimed to promote the garden as an art form, and concentrated mainly on French gardens, though some of the historical information featured work references to people from other countries.
We visited a nearby garden and nursery last week. Despite my intentions to start buying plants next year, I did buy some Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’, Sanguisorba ‘Korean Snow’ and Deschampsia ‘Tardiflora’, also known as ‘Tufted Hair Grass’. Is that grass available in New Zealand I wonder? I know that there are many more grasses available in Europe. It can be seen from this small collection that I am aiming for hardy plants which will flourish when I’m not here. Until now we have spent three or four months over the summer in Normandy, but in future years I want to include spring or autumn.
The garden – that is a working thought in progress…
Photos 1 – 5, taken by me, show different views of the garden as it was when we arrived. As I have said, much of it has gone now apart from two trees, and a new garden will gradually emerge.
I have particularly enjoyed Marilyn’s recipe for the Baked Chocolate Pudding, using some of the old fashioned methods. I have asked Marilyn to include a few more recipes along these lines. It is important to keep traditions alive I think!
Baked Chocolate Pudding: Marilyn McRae
When I was selecting a recipe for Margaret’s newsletter, I decided to look in one of my mother’s original recipe books from the time of her marriage. I remember eating this dessert as a child and liking it (with our Jersey cow’s thick cream), but whether it’s a dessert that transfers happily to the 21st century I’m not sure! I’ve chosen it because of its old fashioned wording and method. For those of my generation, enjoy the trip down memory lane! For those who are younger, yes, food was cooked over the fire box of the coal range and sugar came in a block to be broken off, crushed and then sieved!
- Boil 1/2 lb of stale bread in a pint of milk. Stir continually until it becomes a thick paste.
- Add 1 oz butter, 1/4 lb sifted sugar and 2 large teaspoons of cocoa with a little essence of vanilla.
- Take the pudding off the fire and mix in the yolks of 2 eggs and then stir in the stiffly beaten whites.
- Put in a buttered pie dish and bake in a moderate oven for 3/4 of an hour.
And here’s a more likely-to-be-useful recipe of my mother’s dating from the same period that uses some of those lovely fresh walnuts that are around just now.
Ginger Walnut Scones
- Sift into a basin 2 cups flour,
- 2 teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt.
- Add 3 ozs of shredded ginger (preserved ginger), some chopped walnuts and rub in 2 oz of butter.
- Mix with 1 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of warm golden syrup and 1 beaten egg.
- Roll out and cut into shapes. Bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes.
(I like to brush the scones with milk and sprinkle with some demerara sugar before baking.) Serve warm with good butter (or some blue cheese).
Our relaxed country garden started twenty nine years ago. In the early days I had very little gardening experience and no vision for the site, but an interest in plants was quickly developing. Over the years, with much trial and error, a garden has emerged which we and our visitors do enjoy.
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139 Old Tai Tapu Rd, Christchurch 8025, New Zealand
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