One of the biggest differences with my ‘New Life in the Sun’ has been noticing the distinct changes in the seasons and the fruitful harvest it can bring. We are now in tune with nature, ready to snaffle up whatever comes our way. Lamentably I only had one utterly stunning peach in the Summer (I hope for significantly better next year) but more than made up for it in copious amounts of sweet chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and plums during the autumn months which helpfully scattered themselves all over our garden, the surrounding fields and even on the local roads.
One of the most important gathering exercises is the plum ramassez. We quickly learned that plums are not only great in desserts but are way better when made into ‘eau de vie’ - the local home brewed schnapps of choice. We started in late-August when the first of the plums dropped and then continued at pace through until the end of September. Initially we collected the best looking ones for eating but when one of our friends rocked up with a 150 litre barrel for our own eau de vie production we soon realised that anything and everything needed picking up. Apparently the most rank looking, maggot-ridden plums are the best so our favourite spot beside the road was perfect. Here they fell from the tree, smashed open a bit, maybe got run over a bit by a tractor, got licked by the local farm dog, were heated to jam state on the hot tarmac by the sun, passed through a cow and then got set upon by all the wasps and flies. If you have seen the film ‘Sausage Party’ you might be feeling a bit sorry for these little fellas but luckily we were on hand to rescue these plucky guys and put an end to their brief, barbaric season by whacking them in a bin bag and then allowing them to get on the full smash up in the fermentation bucket!
A couple of days effort in September meant that hopefully by February/March we could take our increasingly alcoholic ‘mash’ to the distiller who will then sort us out with a good few litres of our own As Plos eau de vie – likely to be of a distinctly punishing strength – apparently the first distillation results in 100% proof business that is then mixed according to your requirements! October brings the walnut harvest, a far more sensible and refined affair. We have one huge tree in our garden and three or four smaller specimens. Mel and I, collected about three wheelbarrows full of whole walnuts including the fleshy black skins which feature a handy clothing ending dye. Next year I will not wear good clothes and white trainers to ramassez the walnut. Once the fleshy bit was peeled off, and your hands looked like you had rolled ten million cigars, we were left with the nut in the shell we are all familiar with at Christmas. Three wheelbarrows worth is a lot of nut cracking and doing it in such a way as to not smash the shell into the nut was a long job but ultimately resulted in over 5 kilos of good quality nuttage. Excellent value. Encouraged by our great walnut haul and a trip to the Chestnut festival at Laguepie, Mel and I set out to get involved in the chestnut ramassez game. Again we found some great trees beside the roads and in the ditches. It was at this point that the local ‘auotats’ really started to bite. These are the nastiest harvest mites ever. All four of us had received a few bites during the plum gather but things started to get out of control with the walnut and chestnut gather. Somehow these proper biters were getting through our wellies and ramassezing our blood at an alarming rate and in worryingly uncomfortable places. Apparently they burrow into your skin and stuff which is really nice. Charl and Marcus didn’t partake in the walnut and chestnut situation but were still unable to ‘de-mite’ themselves weeks after plum time.
Consequently we started off with four 'ramassezers' but after the plum, chestnut and the walnut game it was left to me on my own to tap up our hazelnut tree. The solitary tree in our garden produced close to 6 kilos of nuts so I didn’t need to go far or more importantly do much rooting around in any ditches. I’m not sure I will get much assistance on the full 2017 ramassez, a lot depends on the quality of our eau de vie and an impenetrable auotat defense strategy!