When I am in my den at the right season (I manage to be there at the right season, usually) I practice a local custom with very great pleasure: making jam and jelly with wild fruits of the woods and hedges!
A must is wild raspberry jelly, the ones from the supermarket compared are like ass *** compared to Pilsen beer! In fact it cannot be compared, and it is not my skills in jelly making, it is the quality and taste of the wild fruits which make the difference.
The same applies to blackberries, of course.
The first you need to make jams or jellies are . . . kids, the more hands you have for picking, the best. . . . An afternoon, chatting, joking, telling stories, the promise of a nice picnic give the kids mood for picking fruits, and the smaller the fruits, the longer the picking time. . . .
In the evening, make space in the kitchen and be prepared for one hour of work. . . . Put the fruits (don’t wash!) in a wide big copper pan, and heat them shortly, until their juice flows, but DO NOT BOIL the juice, stir from time to time. (Blackberries on picture 2).
Then, extract the juice, with a widely woven cloth (I use a swaddling cloth) or a vegetable mill; weight the juice, put it back in the (clean) copper pan, add 75-80% weight of granulated sugar, stir, bring to boiling, and stir from time to time. It is important to have utensils for weight and measure quantities if you want to succed in jam or jelly making (picture 3). Now comes the delicate part of jelly-making: you have to determine when the juice boiled enough; each variety of fruit has different boiling times, for the same type of fruits, the time can vary, according to ripeness, weather when you picked, “efficiency” of the pan (a copper pan transmits quickly the heat and distributes it homogeneously) and other things you added to the juice; many recipes recommend to use special sugar, “enriched” with pectin (I NEVER use!), which shortens the cooking time, and makes “firm” jellies; other use apple skin, lemon juice, spices, who knows what. . . . Best is only juice and raw or granulated sugar! To determine the juice boiled enough; I use a silver plated ladle, dip it very shortly in the boiling juice and look if the juice gets “fixed” on the backside (it must be stiff within 5 seconds); when it “fixes” it is time to stop boiling. On the first picture, you see boiling blackberry juice. Note that some fruits, when boiling, produce some foam; you have to skim from time to time (“Fixed” raspberry juice on picture 4).
Immediately use the ladle to fill the pots (very usual pots (gherkins, tomato sauce. . . ) you bought time ago in the supermarket) you washed before with hot water; screw firmly the lids soon afterward (the temperature lowering will get the few air on top of the pot at lower pressure, that will close even more tightly and is a sterilizing helper).
Wash the utensils and wait till next morning. . . . Now, the pots are cold, and there should be jelly: turn one upside down and check; if nothing moves inside, your jelly is all right. . . otherwise, you have to boil again (to concentrate more the juice by evaporation).
The jelly is ready, do not forget to write the name of fruit and the date; the pots can now be stored. . . Keep one for the breakfast, when the kids will wake up, they will know they worked the previous day for something wonderful. . . . . .And their bright smiles when tasting the jelly will be your greatest reward. . . . . . .
Jellies can be done with a wide range of fruit varieties, not only the little red, blue, black fruits from the forest, but also fruits from the hedges, like from elder trees, medlar trees, strawberry trees, rowan trees. . . . . In my den’s garden (quite a “wild” one) I also have a few redcurrant and blackcurrant shrubs, and jellies are just. . . mmmmm!
Many locals produce "home made jams and jellies: check out on the markets.
Walking in the woods is a very common, not at all original activity. . . but, observing the nature and the light, just looking makes discover a lot, and if the kids are a bit bored, show a bit reluctance, show them the little marvels in the woods, they may get interested, and you can also invent some games to keep them in walking mood!
I am sure, even kids would be moved when you show them a tiny, very tiny beech plantlet (picture 1), and then tell them to look up and look at the big trees they can become, and how beautiful the light in the forest can be (picture 2) . . . .In spring, the beech forests are so green (picture 3), almost like immersed in Aurora Borealis light; at end of summer, the mushrooms or fungi spot the moss with bright colours and strange shapes, like here an orange coral ( Stag horn fungus, Calocera viscosa) next to a baby fir (picture 4). Kids are very good at spotting mushrooms, organise competitions, but check if their finds are edible! And if you are tired from walking under the trees, take one of the numerous tracks forestry people cut in the forests (picture 5); it’s easy walking there, and many locals walk in the woods too!
Ah, yes, one subject of this page are the “Forez Balconies”, and I explained these were look outs; this in fact is a modern acceptation of this expression, but here, on the main picture, you see a real Forez balcony; this here (picture 1) is typical, a wooden balcony, quite sober, with wide wooden boards, running all along the façade of the farm house. The farm houses which have a first level, have a balcony you access with an outside staircase, there are no staircases inside the house (and in winter it is cold in the area!); the balcony is in fact the corridor which gives access to the bedrooms at the first level. The house here is a friend’s house, under renovation, and there was a lot of work to be done before it gats “neat” again. But I like too much the other sort of balconies, and, if my den has no balcony, the view from my window is quite nice (picture 2).
Like in Auvergne (and probably other places I do not know), people of Forez grow some of their trees on the sunny sides of their houses; pear trees particularly seem well suited for that sort of cultivation, and they give very sweet and juicy fruits; in the past, these fruits were providing sugar; people made raw sugar from the fruits juices, as is done nowadays in some parts of Normandy with the apples (they do not make Calvados only with apple juice!), and in parts of Rhône Alpes, the pears are still used to make sugar.
Today, the trees still give wonderful fruits and they decorate so nicely the house façades (first picture); they are grown in the best possible shape (aesthetically, and also in order the branches get the most light and warmth from the sun), and the trees of my den will do well soon, here it is only July (picture 2), and the fruits are still green; harvest will be in October.
Spring makes the trees wonderful, and the light (very light!) fragrance of the flowering trees is a marvel, when passing by on a morning hike in the valley(picture 3) .
Apple trees are beautiful, too, and this local variety of rennet apple tree (picture 4) grows sometimes in beautiful trees, much more beautiful than the modern varieties cultivated in orchards, and I do not tell about the taste! Forget the supermarket apples for a while and buy apples on the local markets for a snack during your hike! Here (picture 5), they are already red, but still far from ripe. . .
When you walk or drive in the High Forez, you may have a little insight into rural life, see how people on the mountains live; they are far from the cities, their houses and little villages are isolated in the mountains, and it is a place here where you see the postman drive as close as possible to the peoples places, where everybody knows everybody, where some activities are like 50-150 years ago. . . .
Neighbours are sometimes 1 km apart, and when they meet, they have a chat (picture 1), other drivers on the road just have to be patient, and that is right and good!
People take their cattle to the field (picture 2), there are shepherdesses, like in the last century, sitting near their flock and knitting (picture 3). . .All these animals provide the base material for the wonderful cheeses of the area, the Fourme (Fourme d’Ambert, Fourme de Montbrison, Rigotte, St Felicien, Brique, etc. . . . )
Well, many of the old tools or vehicles are not anymore used, and I wonder how long this hay cart (picture 4) will be standing, before it will collapse, rotting in front of a farm, or may be some one from the city may want to put it in his garden. . . I prefer these old things just where they are, they had their life and will disappear. . . .
In the past the postmen walked to the villages, or biked. . . . Now they have cars and reach every isolated house (picture 5). . . That sort of service helps to keep people on their land in their country, otherwise, too difficult life would drive them into the cities and collective buildings. . .
Just a bit a look at local life.