Welcome to lovely May in southern France, it must be the prettiest time of year. Café tables spread optimistically across cobbled pavements; oleanders, palms and potted olive trees screen clients from the traffic. They sit there with their ice-cold beer or delicately tinted kirs, pale arms tentatively exposed to the caressing warmth of the Mediterranean sun, shorts and sandals or white linen dresses, sunglasses of course and a bottle of Ambre Solaire. Summer has arrived.

In the markets the beautiful Marmande tomatoes have made their debut, bulging on all sides, bursting with flavour and polished to crimson perfection.

‘Surely it’s a bit early, they must be grown under glass?’ I enquired of my regular stallholder in Cahors. He shrugged – as if he hadn’t actually noticed his greenhouses – offered me a slice of glowing fruit on the blade of a knife, passed me a pinch of salt and grinned as I tasted it. It is the quintessential flavour of summer. I bought seven kilos, they weigh about half a kilo each anyway, and from now on we will easily consume two a day.

Albas Wine Festival

Albas Wine Festival

From there it was just a step to the plant lady, who was doing a runaway trade in tender herbs. Five pots of basil would create the scented mini-jungle that would accompany the tomatoes through the season. Some creamy discs of goat’s cheese from Rocamadour were next on the list, then a couple of crusty baguettes and lunch could be served. My tummy reminded me that it had better be served soon.

In the car on the way home, as the tomatoes rubbed gently against the pots of basil, creating the most appetizing aromas, I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel and listened to the theme from Jean de Florette. Outside in the vineyards hot and thirsty workers were parking tractors at the edge of the fields and unloading themselves thankfully. A battered white van sat with its bonnet in a shallow ditch, while its sun-wizened occupant tacked up posters for the forthcoming Fete du Vin in my local village. What a famous and fabulous affair that is, six thousand guests, nine vineyards and an optional five-course lunch. Food stalls selling Rocamadour cheese or foie gras sandwiches do a roaring trade, brass bands and ancient jazz quartets vibrate through the ancient streets and this year onion soup is to be dispensed from eleven pm onwards – accompanied by plenty of bread! This vast party is all squeezed into our ancient little village, clinging precariously to the cliffs above the twisting river Lot.

The man in the van caught sight of my dusty grey car and raised his walnut stained hand to me, then shooting his van backwards out of its nose-dive, followed me back to the Albas road. It was twelve o’ clock.

Back on my terrace the table had been set beneath the lemon trees, in full delicious bloom at the moment. All that remained was to concoct a simple tomato and black olive salad, drenched with olive oil and scattered with fragrant basil, then open the tall frosted bottle of chilled pink.


© Amanda Lawrence 2007

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Flavours of Summer Living from French Vie

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