Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Label Rouge Wheat

A new bakery has opened up in Fougères sur Bievre. For two years this small village has been without one. They have had to manage with a dépôt de pain, which is to say, another shop in the town has bread delivered from a nearby village's baker and sells it on their behalf. This situation was deemed unacceptable by the local authorities, and so they purchased the former bakery in the main street of Fougères for €73 000, taking advantage of a state grant of €40 000 from a fund allocated to equiping rural areas. The cost of refurbishing the building to modern standards was €213 000, offset somewhat by making €16 000 from the sale of the old fittings and a grant of 50% of the funds needed. The rest was raised by taking out a loan. The mayor says the interest rate is low, so they can afford it. Most of the refurbishment work was done by local firms.

We've not been in to sample their products, but the new baker-pastry chef, Aurélien Chevolleau, is now installed and the shop looks very smart. Their window proclaims that everything is made in house, in the French tradition and with 100% Label Rouge French wheat. Tradition française is a set of rules for making the bread which means that the baker cannot use premixed dry goods or frozen dough, must allow the bread to prove naturally, must be baking it on the floor of a traditional style oven and must adhere to a strict traditional ingredient list.

We were interested by the Label Rouge wheat. We'd not heard of that before, although Label Rouge is a much trusted food quality certification system in France. So I looked it up to see what the Label Rouge requirements are for wheat.

The two main criteria are that the stored wheat is not treated with an insecticide after harvest, and that only certain varieties of wheat may be used. These wheats are tried and tested varieties chosen for their suitability for bread and baking. The farmer must fertilize his soil, but not too much, so he is producing a wheat that is 'soft' ie low in protein, but not too low. The farmer is required to use agriculture raisonnée ('intelligent agriculture') so pesticides are used when necessary but not prophylactically and not according to a rigid manufacturer recommended calendar schedule. There are no additives (bread improvers, fungus inhibitors, bleaching agents, etc) added to the flour. At every stage -- on the farm, in storage, at the mill -- the wheat is tested and certified as meeting the Label Rouge criteria. One of the things they are testing for is certain fungi, which cause wheat to be dangerous for human consumption.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Botany (and other activities) on the Loire Sands

On Saturday 10 September the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine met at Berthenay for an outing on the Loire sands. Berthenay bills itself as 'the end of the world', being as it is in the triangle formed by the confluence of the Cher to the south and the Loire to the north.

The outing was on the Ile du Passeur, a large gravel and sand bank close to the southern bank of the Loire that has formed an island. It is accessible by foot in the summer when the water levels are at their lowest. What we hadn't realised about the island though, until Jeannine was asked what she was doing peering into the bushes, was that it is a popular dogging spot. Apparently this year, with the seemingly endless good weather of late summer it's been even more popular than usually for this particular outdoor activity. However, French botanists are made of stern stuff, and we continued regardless.

Paul demonstrating how to use an acorn cup as a whistle.

The island is directly opposite the 2000 year old Roman tower called the Pile Cinq Mars (pronounced locally as though the name was Pile Saint Mar).

La Pile Cinq Mars.

Inevitably, as all the rivers here are, the island is invaded by Water Primrose Ludwigia spp (Fr. jussie). Dominique found a patch which had two different species growing together -- L. grandiflora (Fr. jussie à grandes fleurs, the most abundant)  and L. peploides (Fr. jussie peploïde).

The two Water Primrose species --
 L. grandiflora with narrow pointed leaves (left) and L. peploides with spoon shaped leaves (right).

Water Primrose L. grandiflora in full lush growth, despite the drought.

Corn Mint Mentha arvensis (below) can be distinguished from Water Mint M. aquatica because it does not have a terminal head of flowers. They are otherwise very similar and you can't just assume that it must be Water Mint if it is growing near water. Annoyingly, for those of us who like our botany to be clear cut, they hybridise too.

A view across the Ile du Passeur -- lots of sand and poplar saplings.

An oxbow lake A summer river pond in the middle of the island.

Thorn-apple Datura stramonium usually has white flowers, but on the island it has pale purple flowers. This now global weed was once cultivated to extract alkaloids to treat asthma. This year being hot and dry it is abundant. It must like sand because I have noticed it a lot this year amongst the asparagus rows near Descartes.

A strange caterpillar dropped on to the hat of one of our group and was surrounded by camera lenses. None of us had ever seen anything like it. Then someone accidentally prodded it in a way it objected to. It instantly went into a pose that we recognised. No one could remember the name but we knew we'd seen it in Chinery. For those of you unfortunate enough not to have immediate and 24 hour access to the best general insect guide for Western Europe that there is (in English and translated into French), I will relieve your suspense and name the beast. It is the caterpillar of a Poplar Kitten moth Furcula bifida. Those of you who do own Chinery will realise that the illustration we all recalled so clearly is actually of a closely related species, but we all know that Chinery often just gets you to the right family and if you want the right species you need to look a bit further. In the case of moths, UK Moths is my go-to resource.

On the other side of the island, the main channel of the Loire.

An indication of how high the floods in June were. This Common Ash tree Fraxinus excelsior has a tide mark, with dead brown silt covered leaves below and healthy green leaves above.

Further Reading: On this 2016 visit I was lucky enough to see a rare dragonfly, the Green Snaketail Ophiogomphus cecilia, which I wrote about here. The botany club I belong to has visited the Loire sands at Berthenay before. I wrote about it here and here.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Continuing the Reptilian Theme

This is a magnificent Lace Monitor Varanus varius (Fr. Varan bigarré) about a metre and a half long and not very impressed to find itself surrounded by my family all clicking away. In Australia there are 25 species of monitor lizards, all of which are colloquially known as "goannas". Big goannas like this are the quintessential reptilians. I love them.

This species is endemic to Australia and can be found throughout the east and south-east of the country. They can grow to more than two metres long and their skin is covered with white spots and stripes. The tail is long and thin (like a lace, hence their English name) and is generally one and a half times the length of their body. It is the second largest lizard in Australia, and one of the largest lizards in the world.

Occasionally climbing trees, they are usually found in bushy or forested areas and can travel around three kilometres a day. They spend winter in a cool sheltered spot like a hollow tree, and are mostly seen out and about on goanna business between September and May.

Their diet consists of insects, invertebrates, other reptiles, small mammals, birds and birds' eggs. It was not until about ten years ago that scientists discovered that they are venomous - previously it was thought that any reaction to a goanna bite was due to microbial infection. They are a favourite traditional tucker for Aboriginal people and their fat is used medicinally and in certain ceremonies. The species was first scientifically described in 1790.

Our blog posts on Sundays have an Australian theme. To read more of them, click on the Australia label in the index on the right side bar.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

New For Montresor

This rather charming and well carved lizard has appeared on a gatepost in Montrésor in the last few weeks. It is only a couple of doors down from this one, which continues to fool every passerby, at least the first time...

Friday, 23 September 2016

Eightieth Birthday

My father turns 80 today. Earlier this year he sent me this photo of our family, commenting that I was now as old as my mother is in this photo. It was taken in 1986. I'm the one on the left.

Thursday, 22 September 2016


In May 2012 we posted a photo of the street trees in Montrésor after their recent pruning. The good news is that the trees no longer resemble telegraph poles and are looking arborial again, although one tree appears to be struggling slightly and has mushroomoids.