Frosted Vines

Frosted Vines

Year 2009 dawned bright and clear in the lovely Quercy and we’re all set for a good year.
Out in the chilly vineyards half-frozen paysans bend over the wiry winter vines pruning and tidying, they’ve been out there for weeks and it’s a relentless task. I watched them on Boxing Day (the 26th December isn’t a holiday in France) full of Buche de Noel and litres of good wine, doggedly ploughing on despite the sudden fall of snow. The hunters were out in force too. According to the local rag, and despite the best endeavours of the afore-mentioned, wild boar caused hundreds of thousands of euros worth of damage amongst the precious vines in this tiny area alone. There are thousands of them out there in the rampant oak forests, which is peculiar, because although you see plenty of evidence, where they’ve rooted for truffles at the base of a tree for instance, you hardly ever see them, although when you consider that whenever they tentatively poke their snouts out of the undergrowth they get their whiskers blown off, perhaps it isn’t so peculiar.
The markets have shrunk to true winter size now. The festive season is over and only the stalwarts remain. I wandered through the wonderful old market square in Cahors last Wednesday. On my favourite vegetable stall long fingers of salsify pressed against wooden crates of the freshest spinach, picked that morning and still full of the stony earth of the Quercy. A vast pumpkin, large enough to accommodate Cinderella, was propped against the till. The stallholder grasped a huge curved knife in empurpled fingers and plunged it into the heart. I greedily availed myself of a slice – there is nothing like hot pumpkin soup on a cold day – and that one slice weighed three kilos. My knees buckled and I abandoned the idea of a kilo or two of Jerusalem artichokes Next door the cheese van from Rocamadour was doing a rip-roaring trade as usual, as was the little old lady selling homemade tarts. She’s not often there, but when she is she sells out long before noon. I watched her wrapping four little tartlets in an old copy of La Depeche, her grey print apron swathed around her duffle coat and her woolly ankle slippers reinforced by cut away gumboots. The sun was shining but it’s cold, finger-numbing, toe-freezing work running a market stall in mid-winter. She had only two tiny tartes aux pommes left, crisp and meltingly delicious, a justifiable indulgence after a chill morning’s shopping. I bought them and tucked them away beside the pumpkin. Lastly I staggered over to the little stall selling fabulous free range ducks and geese for couple of magrets de canard, a perennially popular dinner for the coldest days of winter. I would serve them with a rich sauce, a gratin of endives and a few pommes sauté.
On the way home, winding up the narrow twisting roads of the Lot valley, I counted the numerous buzzards perched every five-hundred metres or so on bleak, bare winter branches, as they launched themselves into the air with a great heave, frost fell from the branches. The dense forest canopy has gone now and one can see right into the secret heart. The little creatures must find it hard to hide from eagle eyes, indeed they obviously do since the raptor population here is huge. The deer are better at camouflage, there are thousands of them too and I see them on the roads daily, but as soon as they step into the woods, summer or winter, they disappear, simply melt into the shadows.
Our dusty old car burst out of a black tangle of trees and onto an open hilltop spread with the ancient vineyard of our nearest neighbours. The white stone of the retaining wall glinted in the slanting sunlight and the neatly pruned stumps threw long shadows from the low January sun. Perhaps I would stop at the chateau for a couple of litres of rich, dark wine to complement the duck and enable me to offer one more toast to the New Year.
Sante!
© Amanda Lawrence 2009

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A New Year, A New French Life from French Vie

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  1. […] A good example  would be an article like this one… A Delightful Lunch in Moissac or A New Year – A New French Life. […]