Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bon soir from a mouth full of grape seeds and fingers full of garlic - and KIWI!

Just a quick hi from our new, and hopefully (! - ?) last, European home: a CSA (known in France as AIMAP) in the south of the country, near Toulousse.

Our good friend Chelsea just sent an email asking about where we are, what we have most recently learned, and what this place is like generally. I will use this forum to respond.

The countryside is gorgeous, with highways lined with plain trees with bark that recall sycamores, and our countryside surrounded by fields of corn and newly reaped stubble and rock, yappy dogs, young horses, chickens and, if you are lucky, one lone peacock.

One of the highest truths that I have learned in my time abroad is that nothing in western Europe comes close to a flattering comparison with the conflagration of October's Eastern Woodlands. But autumn is beautiful here, and in other ways surprisingly and strangely similar to those spent in Wisconsin and New England in recent years.

Namely, we spent our first two days here mashing, pressing, siphoning, drinking, pasteurizing and bottling cider made from the 48 different varieties grown in our farmer, Phillipe's, orchard. Oh, the amber mellifluous. Cider for breakfast, lunch and dinner, covering our pants, sticking to hair, and scenting our hands (already apple-colored from handling the hot bottles) sweetly.

And today filled us up with another smell likewise reminiscent of places like Overlook Farm and Potomac Vegetable Farms down in Virginia - garlic! Loads and loads of bulbs, beautifully feathered, splashed in violet, dusted in dirt, which we pried and broke with our hands into what the Spanish call dientes - teeth. (The French word, gousse, translates less attractively into "pod" or "legume.") Each little clove - a clone of its mother - will be planted into the earth, quietly and slowly sending up a sprout which, come spring, will break the surface and meet the sun. It will gain in strength, eating sunlight and sending it underground, eventually growing a new bulb, plump and swollen with moisture and bite, which will be harvested in high summer.

Today also found us in the grove of espaliered kiwi trees! A frost is predicted for this evening, and Matt and I worked with our two fellow WWOOFers (hailing from Wales and England) and two of their friends, picking the last of the hairy fruit. This was incredibly pleasant - beautiful weather and enjoyable company. The kiwi are still very hard and sour - in a word, unripe - but after being in storage with apples (whose natural and constant respiration of ethylene gas aids the maturation of other vegetables and fruits) for a month or so they will be soft and sweet with the kiwiness of the kiwi.

The computer is acting up so I will sign off for now. Love to everyone. As I just wrote in an email to the Warrens - Matt and I definitely have a count-down going to November 11th, and while we are certainly enjoying ourselves this side of the Atlantic, America feels better and dearer all the time.

With love,


  1. Hi!

    My name is Ashley V. Edgette. I'm a student at the University of Utah, planning to Wwoof around France this upcoming summer. I was curious to see if you had any input about really great farms or places to avoid.

    Thanks so much!

  2. Ashley, yes, I would love to offer some thoughts. I am currently traveling, so if you don't mind waiting for a week I can get back to you then. Thanks!

  3. Hi Ashley! Sorry that it took me awhile to get back to you. If you could send me your email that would be great. I have one farm that I would specifically recommend not going to, but would rather not do that in a public forum. Other than that, I have this to offer -

    France is a Huge country, way bigger than I comprehended. It is full of so many exciting climates and amazing landscapes. My partner and I really only scratched the surface. I'd say that we made a pretty good, deep scratch, but a scratch nonetheless. That said, I can indeed tell you about the places that we traveled through and loved. The Mediterranean is Gorgeous. Our first farm (which unfortunately I would not recommend) was located about 5 or 6 kilometers from the sea, which we could see when we went hiking up the nearby mountains. The Mediterranean...there's just no place like it. So, so nice, such a pleasant warmth. And the sea is so great - such a blue that you can't find anywhere else. A bit north of there was where we WWOOF-ed at a farm that I would highly recommend, and that area is really nice, full of the sudtle beauty that makes the French countryside what it is. There's this texture to the landscape there, and the plane trees, that I've never seen anywhere else. The French Alps are really gorgeous too, and that is where we spent two or three walks with a family on our second farm stay. The Alps are divine and the little farms in the rural areas are unbelievably picturesque. It is hard to specifically recommend one region to WWOOF in. There are regions specializing in wines, or olive oil, or apples (Normandy!) - it's really about what you are looking to do!