For weeks I have been searching for “Gelée au Pomme” (apple jelly) in my local shops. And although I know that I really should try to make my own, there is something far more satisfying about making apple jelly, which is delicious eaten all by itself, but also for infusing into sauces and casseroles, when the apples come off a little wizened tree in an old apple orchard, rather than the counter of a supermarket. Sadly I don’t have an apple tree in my own garden, much as want one so it was a real pleasure to come home today with a jar of some after a particularly pleasant long afternoon in the countryside.
The spring sunshine was blazing through my windows when I woke this morning and it promised to be a great day for a visit to Neufchatel country, in the heart of the Pays de Bray. Today I was researching a new tour destination thanks to the organisation of one of the Seine cruise boats, une visite rurale; and a little farm deep in the Normandy countryside was todays destination. The farm is small by modern standards and dedicates its land to apple orchards and sheep. You might think that there is little to connect the two, but the owners are heavily committed to sustainable, anti-pollution and chemical free farming. The sheep are the lawn-mowers and the sheep-dogs are the drivers.
Pulling into the pretty farm, it is not hard to see why it was the setting for the filming of “Une Vie”(a life), an adaption one of Maupassant’s novels.
The cluster of buildings, so typical of the rural Normandy countryside are built with timber frame, twisted with age, and the daub, local clay dug from the local area, with little hairline cracks that formed as it shrunk and dried in situ.
The owners demonstrated the amazing capabilities of their sheep-dogs, who believe it or not are bilingual. When two dogs herd the sheep at the same time, the first is communicated to in french whilst the second responds to english in order that their commands are not confused. Today mother dog acted swiftly to “gauche, gauche, gauche, avance, se couche, à pied “(left left left, advance, lie down, heel), while daughter dog watched on with obvious envy, having firmly been told this time to “sit”.
The dogs manoevered the sheep easily despite the presence of their lambs, born only a week and a half previously.
Later we wandered through the orchards which were not yet in leaf. I’ll enjoy revisiting in a couple of weeks when I hope they will be fully in blossom and later in the year when heavy with fruit and fully in leaf. Two rows at a time of different varieties of apples to allow for the blending of juices, sweet, sweet/sour, sour and bitter for their cider and Calvados production.
Deep down in the orchard were bee-hives for the pollination of the fruit.
Since there was a chill to the late afternoon air, we were glad to head to the area of production; to see the cider press, the vats, and the still.
Even more keenly we breathed in the heavenly “angel’s share” in the cave.
But if we were worried about not absorbing enough of the spirit of the place, the afternoon finished in a subliminal paradise of perfectly ripe cheese, sparklingly delicious cider, velvety pommeau, and heady Calvados with its deep oak barrelled flavour, followed by the sweetest of little “tartes aux pommes” – all “fait maison” (home-made) by this exceptional husband/wife team.
I confess that it was more than impossible not to invest in several bottles to take home, and I left delighted by the prospect that I would soon be returning.
Imagine my suprise when I discovered two extra bottles as a gift from the owners sitting side by side with my purchases, and a pot of “Gelée de Pomme” when I returned home.
A truly memorable day!