Summer has arrived at the Chateau de Jalesnes and it is very early morning as I sit at my desk writing my first ever blog. Although there is a suggestion of a cool breeze wafting though my window, I know that by mid morning the sun will have the intensity of midday. Wood pigeons call to one another from the woodland and hedgerows surrounding the château and I know that in the distance, the fields are already dotted with the evidence of rural life in the form of huge round hay bales waiting to be collected and drying in the sun. There is no hint of rain. The bales will sit in the fields for some weeks yet, to fully dry out. The sounds of a tractor stirring remind me that I am not the only one for whom the day starts early. I check my agenda for the day and know that it is going to be a busy one. There are weddings to prepare for and guests to accommodate. It is an exciting time.
Along with summer comes the need for constant work on the grounds surrounding the château. Luckily for us, we have a very competent and committed team who tend to the lawns and gardens. Sam, our young Scottish greenskeeper, keeps the lawns immaculately trimmed and Octavio, an American who is here for the summer, is wonderful with the swimming pool and other general tasks. The garden beds of the parterre to the rear of the building need constant weeding and attention, and the gravel pathways need to be kept swept and inviting. Taya, a Canadian, is our intern who sees to the guest welcome baskets and helps with guest check in and Amélie is our office manager, helping me out during the week. We also have cleaning and maintenance staff sourced from the nearby village of Vernantes who see to the internal cleanliness of the château. Ensuring good working relationships with our farming neighbours, local people and businesses is vital to the success of the chateau and we are proud to be establishing a business that will continue to offer employment as time goes on.
It is hard to imagine that only three short years ago, this chateau looked quite different. The garden, what there was of it, had fallen into disrepair and the chateau itself was in need of some serious tender loving care. At times it feels as if it has all been a dream and yet the reality of the years of hard work is right there outside my window in the form of the formal herb gardens, the roses in full bloom, the sparkling swimming pool and the serenity of the woodland, which has been tidied up so that the pathways, so dark and mysterious, are now accessible for guests to use. The story of the current restoration and repurposing of the Chateau de Jalesnes will be the subject of future blogs. The history of the chateau is a rich tapestry with many complicated strands making up the whole.
One of the joys of summertime France is a visit to the local market – le marché. All the villages in the surrounding area, and France at large, have their own weekly markets, bursting at the seams with interesting local produce.
The list of local markets is easy to find on the internet. In Saumur, our nearest large town, the markets are a regular feature, occurring on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays AND Sunday.
Last weekend, in the little town of Langeais, I was lucky enough to find two barquettes of delicious gooseberries which I made into the most mouth-watering Gooseberry Crumble. I paired it with a generous dollop of local crème fraîche – a treat for the senses – and the simple recipe is here for you to enjoy. The sour berries (known in France as groseille à maquereau) make a wonderful contrast to the sweet and crumbly topping.
Gooseberry Crumble (Groseille à maquereau à la Chateau de Jalesnes)
Two small baskets of gooseberries, washed and trimmed (snip off the ends with scissors).
I small cup of soft brown sugar
1 small cup of all purpose flour
1 small cup of desiccated coconut
half a cup of softened French unsalted butter
Place all dry ingredients into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. It shouldn’t be too wet or too dry. You may need to adjust some of the ingredients to achieve this.
Place the rinsed gooseberries in the bottom of an oven proof dish and sprinkle them with some extra sugar.
Spread the breadcrumb mixture over the gooseberries and place into an oven set at 180 degrees celsius for thirty minutes or until the top is crisp and golden.
I look forward to keeping you up to date with information and events at the Chateau de Jalesnes. It is an honour to be a part of the Château de Jalesnes family and a privilege to welcome guests into our home, your château!
In the meantime, we have a wedding to look forward to.
La Chatelaine de Jalesnes xx”