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Autumn in Brittany

The nights have been a lot colder this Autumn than in previous years. We’ve even had a couple of light frosts which is very unusual. September and October are lovely months to take a holiday in Brittany – the weather is usually quite good, not too much rain, the colours of the trees fantastic, and of course there are fewer other tourists around so that you can enjoy the attractions without having to endure the crowds. All the guests who are staying at the moment have even gone to the beach today! On all my local footpaths, the chestnuts are falling in enormous quantities everywhere.

Sweet chestnuts … Everywhere!

Not the horse chestnuts that are good for conker playing, but the sweet ones which are lovely to eat roasted on an open fire or cooked in the oven.

The maize harvest (encilage) is in full swing at the moment – tractors are everywhere  on the roads transporting the cut maize, stem, corn, everything to the various small farms everywhere. It is wise to add on a few minutes to all journeys at the moment as the chance of getting stuck behind one or several tractors is even higher than normal. The maize itself is grown widely here – not for Brittany the elegant refined vineyards! The maize is all used for cattle fodder in the winter. It’s amaizing (ha ha) that there is any nutritional value left in it at all, as by the time it is harvested, it is dead and brown and the corn itself has started to go black. Still, what do I know? This year’s harvest is quite good, I think, although the early frosts have meant that it is ready later than usual. There was an incident a few years ago following the heatwave (canicule) in 2003 – the harvested maize was so dry that a local farmer who fed it to his cows had the unfortunate experience of two of his cows exploding as soon as the maize reached their stomachs. Not a good year.

The maize is just about ready for harvesting


It’s cider time!

Cider is the local drink of Brittany. Many people who live in the countryside have apple trees and every year they pick their apples for the purpose of making their own cider. The apple trees are stripped in October and the apples laid out on black plastic sheets for 3 weeks or so in the open air to rot. The ‘pressoir’ is then booked for November/December – this is the mobile cider press on the back of a tractor, which presses the apples and the juice is then fed into large ‘barriques’  cider barrels, where the cider ferments. The cider is ready to drink in about 6 months time, and very good it is too! For breakfast, lunch, dinner – there is never a wrong time for the Bretons to drink cider.

 

Of course a beret and Breton moustache are essential for cider making;)

The older generation still have the right to produce ‘eau de vie’ – distilled cider, usually about 70% volume and a real throat burner. Traditionally added to a morning coffee (pre Sarkozy and his traffic contrôles, bien sûr!!). This right to distill used to be passed on to the children, but it is now illegal. Each cider producer had the right to produce up to 1000% per year, so around 13 litres. Another tradition that has now disappeared, although I’m sure there will be more healthy livers in Brittany as a result.