Cherries

Cherries

Our village markets have now spread to their exuberant summer size, a mass of miscellaneous stalls winding their way round ancient churches and through cobbled alleyways. In one of my local haunts the lavender lady has reappeared after her winter hibernation. She sells dried bunches, tiny bottles of essence, fabulous soaps and handmade sachets. Her stall just emanates the fragrant south. Next to her the old man who usually sells walnuts and prunes now has a heap of glistening cherries, for June is the month of this glorious fruit. The season is short lived, an expensive trickle in late May turns into a steady stream in early June. By mid-June we are completely flooded, prices go through the floor and we are eating them every morning for breakfast and every evening after dinner. All the restaurants have a clafoutis – the traditional cherry dessert of the region – on the menu. Children take handfuls of luscious fruit for a goûter after school, and I’m to be found sitting on the terrace in the shade of a lemon tree, typing away, with a plate beside me.
Silk, satin, cotton, ra…’ I hurriedly eat another one.
In just two weeks the wonderful bonanza will be over for another year, and the colour of the fruit on the market stalls will turn from deep cherry to soft apricot.

Geranium

Geranium

Of course the other bonanza at this time of year is the explosion of flowers. Geraniums riot from every windowsill, every stone step and every municipal hanging basket. Communes vie with one another over the beauty and artistry of their summer arrangements; the Quercy is brushing itself up, ready for the mass invasion of summer visitors. Many of these charming displays include herbs and vegetables as well as flowers, there’s even a roundabout in Cahors that has a spiral of watering cans amongst the summer bedding. They take them down every autumn and put them back in spring.
I watched the men in bleu de travail as I queued in the traffic. Time to put my own house in order, I thought, and turned my attention to the herb bed. Herbs flourish in natural abundance here; some of the plants in my bed have been transplanted from other, less easily accessible, areas of the garden. Several different thymes, sage and rosemary, oregano, lavender and santolina. However, the tarragon, mint, chives, parsley and coriander had to be fairly bought and paid for in the market, and the shiveringly tender basil needs replanting every spring. This year I thought I might try some chilli plants, just to add a touch of spice. The lady, who sells the most amazing variety of herbs in Prayssac market, also sells at least a dozen varieties of chilli. I bought six hot ones.
‘Be careful of snails,’ she warned me, ‘they think the leaves of the piment very delicious,’ she paused to place the little pots in my basket. ‘Of course you can always eat them,’ she added. Well that would certainly serve them right! I mused, but resolved to put a handful of gravel and broken eggshell round each little plant instead. All I lacked now were nasturtiums. I like nasturtiums – capucines, they call them here, because their hooded flowers resemble a monk’s cowl – they are edible of course, a cheerful addition to a herb bed and a colourful garnish to a salad. I bought a waterfall of them in every shade from cream to scarlet, proudly bore them home and planted them in a vast terracotta pot at the bottom of the bed amongst the sages. Monks and sages, they should be happy together.
Lunch that day consisted of my favourite salad – see recipe of the month – garnished with a scattering of these peppery little flowers and accompanied by a loaf of warm, nutty pain aux noix. Delicious!
© Amanda Lawrence 2007

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French Life in Glorious June from French Vie

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