Autumn Presses On


Autumn is gathering pace at Au Coin Des Arbres and we have had our first morning frosts. The skies are still clear and blue with the afternoons giving us gloriously warm sunshine. It’s almost like having four seasons in a day with the early afternoon being alive with birds, butterflies and flying insects making the most of the sun. Our three walnut trees are now delivering about a hundred walnuts a day and we are running out of space to dry them. 


I was chatting with a neighbour earlier in the week and we noticed that the field adjacent to ours had been rucked up which is a sure sign that the wild boar have been looking for something to eat. I was a little disappointed to have not seen any boar in the woods yet but I had my first sighting last night as I drove home from Monpazier at dusk and one ran across the road immediately in front of the car. Good brakes and quick wits saved his bacon but I can now say I’ve seen one.


Last Sunday I wrote about the simple pleasure of harvesting chestnuts from our woods and commented on how uplifting it was to bring back such a haul of foraged food. You’ll have to bear with me as I get a bit more philosophical as I bring you part 2 of the experience.


A 5kg bowl of shiny chestnuts looks completely gorgeous but the experience of scoring, boiling and skinning them was not an immediately rewarding activity. Breaking their skins with a knife allows the soft interior to burst out a little when they boil and it makes is easier to extract the flesh in one piece. The task of removing the skin is not at all easy though and it has worn the tip and nails of my index fingers. After an hour or so I found myself wishing I hadn’t picked quite so many and after two hours I regretted even stepping into the woods at all.


Frankly, if I hadn’t written about how wonderful the experience had been I may have been tempted to quietly throw them all in the compost bin and forget all about it. But my blog sat there making me feel duty bound to press on. I was thinking that the cost of buying a few kilogrammes of processed chestnuts made my hourly rate about 10% of the minimum wage. But then I thought that there would have been a time in France when the autumn fruits of nuts, berries and mushrooms made a real difference to people. Country folk the world over depended on gathering the free harvest for their livelihoods. The fact that we can be so easy-come-easy-go is a sign that we really have very blessed lives in the modern developed world.


Feeling a little chastised I pressed on. I started to enjoy the time spent doing something mindless to allow myself to think about the idea that food is precious and we should be thankful for it. I also reflected that these chestnuts were, in essence, like all gifts; we receive them gratefully but then we have to actually do something with them before they have any value. This is true of all the gifts in our lives; our talents, health, friends, family. They all need active cultivation and this is sometimes inconvenient, requires effort and sometimes a little pain.


Yes, my fingers are a little sore and I have probably spent too much time processing these chestnuts but they have taught me another lesson to take into the week. The photos below are a selection from the week just gone including my pot of boiled chestnuts.

Long shadows cast by the low sun and valleys filled with mist and wood smoke characterise the mornings here in the autumn

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