I always find that Autumn is a beautiful time of the year. The trees are just beginning to turn and the bushes are laden with berries and fruit. People with baskets and purple hands are collecting blackberries, walnuts, chestnuts and apples from hedgerows and verges.
We have our own resident botanist, Claire, and she, along with Pascale and Laurent & Annie from Donzy, organised a randonnée with the theme of autumn fruits. We set off with a list of fruits to collect. I soon learned that a cynorrhodon was a rosehip, a cenelle was a haw and an aveline was a hazel nut. I had the idea that a bonnet d’évêque was some sort of mushroom but it turned out to be a cluster of poisonous black berries.
There were pages of questions. One that intrigued me most was the one about the wild clematis. Great skeins of it lace through the hedges. In the autumn the seeds are a mass of white hair so it is often called Old Man’s Beard. Apparently the ados in the country used to lurk about in the woods smoking the tige or stem as a cigarette. Tige is actually the French slang for ‘fag’.
We collected beechnuts (2 to a case!), chestnuts, broom pods, mosses, lichens and toadstools. One toadstool was called cul de chien, obvious when we saw it.
View of Varanges from the woods above
We had been about three hours in the woods and by now had filled our bags with specimens. So back to the hall to compare our answers to the ones Claire had written on the board and to lay out our examples to be examined. As our team was mainly made up of English and Dutch, we really didn’t have much idea of what we were supposed to be doing so we had collected quite a few berries surplus to requirements.
Sorting out our specimens back at the foyer rural
The best ending to the day was finding how Claire, Pascale and Laurent used produce, home grown or collected locally, to make a meal. Starting with roasted Cortambert hazelnuts with apple juice, we went on to have soup made out of 10 vegetables, topinambours with garlic relishes, walnut cake, crêpes with several different jams based on marrows, chestnut cake and lots of wine. I thought I would never eat again!
Today I am still looking at the guide to wild fruit and taking note of the comestibles and how you can make bread out of chestnuts and coffee out of beechnuts. One thing is for sure, from now on I will take more notice while walking past the hedgerows.