Summertime – and the living is easy… Okay so it’s not very original, but in countries where summers are hot, harvests are lavish and lazy rivers run full of fish, it’s so very true – nowhere more so than here in the Quercy. The fields are dominated by harvesters, crawling across the landscape like vast locusts; the markets are full of eye-popping colour and equally full of misty-eyed tourists.
My son has spent much of his summer fishing. The river Lot winds its serpentine course through some of the most spectacular and historic landscape in southern France and eventually passes conveniently at the feet of our own hills. Strolling along its enticing banks in the warm, balmy evenings I glance out over the shimmering, rippling stretches. Willows dip and bow, groves of walnuts march right down to the thirsty shore and there are so many fish dancing just below the surface, I feel I can almost reach down and scoop them out.
Up in the hill-top villages strings of flags fly, confetti fights leave the roads strewn with a tapestry of colour and local ladies compete for honours over sumptuously prepared dishes. It’s the season of the fetes. These are relatively exclusive affairs, of course the tourists are welcome, they are even invited, but in the smaller places they rarely appear. It’s all a little too local, a little too like a private party. Every village has its own – carefully timed so as not to coincide with its immediate neighbour. The larger communities have elaborately prepared set meals, sometimes they can even afford caterers to do all the work for them. Here we are small and poor, so the fete is a combined effort. We all supply a savoury and a sweet dish and contribute our nominal entrance fee – not that there’s anybody to check – which pays for the bread, olives, water and wine, the biblical essentials. And it is wonderful, truly wonderful. Everybody is pretty intimately acquainted with everybody else of course, so a few new friendships are forged and many old bonds strengthened. The young of the villages who spend most of their time in the cities, come back for the fetes. These beautiful, ancient bastides may seem devoid of youth, but it’s an illusion. The work may be in the cities, but their loyalties are with the villages of their birth and they neither forget nor abandon them, eventually, one by one, they all return.
As I write I am minding the hazelnut pastry shell in the oven. This crumbly, buttery concoction pairs perfectly with the exquisite white peaches that are at their delectable best at this time of year. They fit in snug, concentric rings on a smooth base of sweetened mascarpone and crème fraiche. Mmmm, try it, it’s once-a-year-wicked!
© Amanda Lawrence 2010