This week saw a Great Event here in my little village. We have come to the middle of November and it is time to distil the fruit liqueur!
Not everyone is allowed to do this, you need a licence, but our neighbour Henri is one of the lucky few.
Early in the morning I noticed the tractor rumbling past our house, drawing a trailer with a mobile distillery on board! Neighbours gathered as there was much discussion, like every year, on which way would be the best to get the tractor into the courtyard, then much shaking of hands and talking about the weather and this year's vegetable and fruit crops.
Once the tractor was in place, Henri and Antoine, the distiller, walked over to the barn door, where there was a very quiet conversation, no doubt optimistically sizing up this year's production.
Making liqueur, or eau de vie, is no small feat. To produce half a dozen bottles of the potent and delicious liquid you need to pick and ferment about 100 kilos of fruit.
The distilling process is not easy and needs an expert and experienced hand and eye. The fermented fruit is heated in a boiler, and the resulting steam collected to form the precious eau de vie (which literally means water of life !)
In Henri's courtyard the huge machine was lit, and slowly heated as barrels of very strong smelling fermented fruit were tipped into the boiler. At this point the admiring crowd discreetly dispersed, not wanting to appear curious about how much liqueur was being produced.
For a good part of the day I could hear the alambic hissing and spitting from the other side of my garden wall. The men chatting all the while and occasionally groaning as something heavy had to be lifted into place.
I didn't take pictures, and would certainly never ask how many bottles were made, but judging from Henri's happy countenance, I'd say that it is a good year for him!
Now all he has to do is label the bottles and store them away in his wine cellar, to keep company with the dozens of others already down there.
And so it will be throughout the villages of France this month. Some bottles are stored and then forgotten. A friend of ours who bought an old farmhouse in the valley, found a dozen such bottles hidden between the stones in the wall of the wine cellar. When she hauled them out and dusted them off, the old and frayed labels read 1895 .... now I wonder if that was a good year too?!