The Chateau grounds are rather large – with a 500 tree apple orchard and quite a few empty fields; some flat, some gently sloping, some quite steep and covered in gorze and blackberries and these ones are a lovely haven for deer and hare.
I had been trawling the internet as usual in search of Aromatherapy oils and more info on acupressure and the Beloved was mulling over ideas to make the chateau grounds a little more profitable. He thought of hops and I thought of hops essential oils and so the idea was born. Around March April, the three different varieties of hops rhizomes had arrived (three of each as a ‘try out’ experiment), the flowers of which were reputed to be high in oil content and the Beloved was constructing a new method of hops trellising which resulted in two huge crosses in the field. Now bear in mind, March/April is around Easter so I think the neighbours and passersby must have thought we had gone a little crazy. Eventually the Gardener couldn’t contain himself.
And the response from the Dear One? ‘Careful! Just don’t irritate me today!’ Samuel went off chuckling but continued to look at my husband in a mixture of worry, awe and disbelief for the next few days until the whole idea was explained to him. Poor man.
I couldn’t believe how fast the hops grew and by August, we had big plump healthy flowers ripening in the Summer sun. The smell was wonderful, citrus-ey fresh and spicy.And then came the thought… how do we extract the oil. More internet searching and before long, a small pot still arrived in the post for us to ‘practise’ with. Well, we couldn’t wait for the hops flowers, they still had a few weeks of ripening so we pounced on the lavender which was flowering in profusion outside our cottage and in the chateau grounds. The pot still was set up in our tiny cottage kitchen, with a pipe here, a peg there, balancing on a glass tilted there and attached to a tap. All very precarious but all good. Before long, the smell of lavender filled the cottage and voila – pure essential oil separated on top of the hydrosol. I was SO excited. It was beautiful, clear, strong smelling and just perfect. We waited in great anticipation for the ripening hops flowers but tried other plant extractions in the meantime. It was such an amazing process.
But we didn’t quite think it through and it wasn’t long before the hops vines had to be harvested, cut at the bottom near the ground and then five or six meters of vine, laden with flowers was then loaded into the tractor trailer….and yes….times that by 10 plants and you ended up with A LOT of vine meterage! We started off by putting it onto a tarpaulin and, with the three of us sitting in the warm sun with radio and birds for entertainment, we began to pick flowers. In true Normandy style within a few hours the heaven opened and the rain came pelting down. Fine! Load everything onto the tractor. Run like crazy to the pool house hoping that someone had the savvy to not run but drive the tractor. Unload everything into the pool room. Dry off slightly. Start again, this time with just the radio for entertainment and instead of warm sun, slightly damp clothing. Samuel’s wife popped in and shame, poor thing, was immediately given a bucket, a vine and told to pick…fast…..
It took us the entire day to get all the flowers off and loaded into big plastic bins labelled with the names of the different varieties. The following day the Beloved set up the pot still again….with a pipe here, a peg there, balancing on a glass tilted there and attached to a tap….but this time was not nearly as easy. Lavender is filled with oil, distills quickly and the results are fast. We waited and waited and waited…and eventually…..EVENTUALLY we saw some dark yellow oil. Rich, thick, deep gold, beautiful. It’s amazing what nature contains right underneath our nose.
On a different note but still on the subject of nature…we had to take our first lot of honey from the hive this year. Well! Neither of us had ever done this before and there is a limit as to what YouTube can tell you in the ‘real life scenario’ goes. YouTube made it look so easy and honey just flowed into the jar. Ha! Dressed up to the nines and covered from head to toe we raided the hive of just three frames. The hive is not huge so we didn’t want to leave the bees with no winter store. We had bought a manual extractor and a little wheel thing that you roll up and down the sealed comb to break open the cells rather than cut it with a knife. We started on the first one….rolled up and down carefully, honey oozed out…..we hurried….honey poured out onto the table…I scooped it up with my fingers and put it into my mouth (to clean up as one does you understand)..I was now sticky…I stuck to the wheeley thing….I tried to get the frame into the extractor which was being help by the Dear One. I stuck to it. He grabbed it, honey oozed all over the side of the extractor and dripped onto the floor. Ted came to see what it was and licked it up, honey dripped onto his head, he became sticky… the Beloved patted him, he became sticky….
You can see where this is leading to can’t you?
Finally the three frames were in the extractor and the Dear One turned the handle to spin them and get the honey out. The extractor did a little dance. I tried to hold it down. The Beloved turned the handle faster and the extractor began some sort of wild break dancing across the floor with me half lying on it trying to hold it still. Bits of linoleum started to fly off the floor, Ted started to bark. It was a total fiasco but after a while, we got the hang of it all and honey filled the bottom of the extractor and out into the sieve covered bucket – pure and gold. I, armed with a rubber spatula, went into the extractor to scrape out the walls and bottom while the Dear One tilted it. unknown to me, I got honey in my hair. After we had filled twelve little jars, I took the frames and some of the left over comb back to the bees so that they could clean it up and use whatever they could.
‘mmmm’ said one bee, ‘I can smell honey. Where is it? Oh there it is – in this strange stuff on top of this dancing thing. I’ll just dive right in to lick it up.’
I ran, I swatted, I danced, I did the highland fling but I couldn’t shift the bee who was not stuck in the sticky honey in my hair. It stung me on the top of my head. They say the sting keeps pumping poison so it’s best to get it out as soon as possible so the least amount of venom goes into your system. Well, I got the entire does as it was evening before I found it. I’m not allergic to bee stings but I must say, being stung on your head is not a good place to be stung. I had the mother of a headache, swollen glands and a swollen ear for three days. Four months later and the area still throbs and is tender to touch. How weird is that? But the honey is delicious.
And then, out on a misty rainy afternoon with the dogs, I discovered Ceps growing near the main gates to the Chateau. My husband’s favourite saying when it comes to mushrooms is ‘There are old mushroom pickers, and there are bold mushroom pickers. But there are no old, bold mushroom pickers.’ I picked them anyway and put some in the dinner and the rest went into the dehydrator to be eaten at a later date. Such trust he has in me. He ate his dinner, saying it was delicious…but I think he was relieved when he woke up the next morning!
Thumper the Hare is doing well. I’ve discovered he has an addiction, one I thought he never would have….but more about that another time…Oh and I we have a new addition to the family by the name of ‘Charlie’….but more about that next time…
A la prochain