December Decorations

Celebrating the winter solstice is an ancient tradition that is pre-Christian and associated with Pagan rites. The shortest day of the year on 21st December was marked by Celtic priests, known as Druids, who gathered mistletoe to then bestow a blessing – the berries symbolising the seeds of life in the year ahead. The present-day…

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Sweet Chestnuts

While Perigord is recognised for its superior walnuts the Ardeche is world-renowned for sweet chestnuts. Towering chestnut trees, ​Castanea sativa,​ grow wild in the Haute Ardèche, where the hillsides are clothed with these majestic trees bearing handsome deckle-edged leaves. Growing wheat or other grains is not feasible in much of this mountainous region so for…

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The Virtues of Ivy

I gave up growing box, Buxus, following the devastation caused by the Asian box tree caterpillar, Diaphania perspectalis, when it arrived in Saint Montan. The sight of both cultivated box, clipped into attractive shapes, and wild box bushes that were growing freely on the hillside, reduced to dry, shrivelled skeletons was sad and ugly. So…

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The Timeless Appeal of Ardèchois Crique and Swiss Rösti

Why do we shred potatoes, I ask myself. After all there are so many other excellent ways of preparing, cooking and serving this popular tuber. Yet, throughout Europe, potatoes are grated, either raw when making an Ardèchois-style crique or half-cooked for a Swiss rösti. Both these types of potato pancake are fried, so perhaps it’s…

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Garlic in the Garden

The Capital of Garlic say the road signs as you approach the town of Piolenc in Provençale Vaucluse, where 2000 tons of Allium sativum are grown each year. On the feast of St John, close to mid-summer day, the town celebrates the ‘Stinking Rose’ with music, a parade, and countless stalls selling garlic in many…

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Vine Leaves

Last year my 25 year-old grape vine decided to leave home. After forming a close relationship with a telephone wire it soon reached half-way across the road and even produced a few bunches of black grapes dangling provocatively above the traffic. In March, it was time to curb its enthusiasm and major surgery was called…

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The Origin of Recipes

Two questions are often addressed to food and cookery writers by readers: ‘Where do your recipes come from? And do you cook them all?’ For almost a decade Felicity Cloake has been answering both these enquiries in impressive style in the Guardian newspaper. She tests, cooks and tastes, then adopts the best workable ideas from…

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Purslane

Every spring, in two large flower pots in my Saint Montan garden, I grow the attractive climbing plant dipladenia, bearing red, pink, or white, trumpet-shaped flowers. Dipladenia grows quickly in the south of France and each plant soon twists its stems around the 2 metre-high tripod in its pot to make an attractive display. By…

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Summer Holiday Dishes

The 14th July, Bastille Day, until the final day of August is the official summer holiday in France. Many enterprises, large and small, close their doors or operate with a skeleton staff for this six week period. Try tracking down a builder, plumber or electrician, and you’re likely to hear a recorded message confirming this…

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Dealing with Drought

When I began to restore the overgrown Jardin du Curé, some years ago,  the fast-flowing ruisseau du Val Chaud provided music while I worked. The cold spring water tumbled noisily over stones and boulders until it reached the larger river in the middle of the village. When it rained, natural springs provided the irrigation for…

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