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High summer has arrived in the Quercy. Little stone villages drowse in the heat, scarlet and pink geraniums foam from every windowsill, dogs pant in the shade and cats prowl through immaculate potagers.
A few days ago several of our local friends were to be seen pillaging the roadside walnut trees, baskets in hand. It was midsummer’s day and midsummer magic was brewing all over Europe. In the Quercy we were collecting green walnuts to indulge in a little brewing of our own. It’s time to concoct this year’s ration of Aperitif de Noix, one of the highly desirable local liqueurs. It’s a devilishly potent brew, consumed with much lip smacking by the older generation and not disdained by the young. There are hundreds of variations on the basic recipe, but all include green walnuts, pricked to make sure there’s no shell, quartered – mind your fingers, they stain – and added to Eau de Vie, sugar and an innumerable selection of spices and other indigenous flavourings. Legend has it that the walnuts must be gathered on this one day and although it may not be true for the many whimsical reasons propounded, it’s certainly true that only a week or so later the shells have started to form and the bitterness that gives the ripe nuts their distinctive flavour has started to strengthen unpalatably. I made my first batch two years ago and find it goes deliciously well with the dried fruits and nuts at Christmas.

Haricots Vert

Haricots Vert

Meanwhile in the villages and towns, markets have swollen rapidly to accommodate random tourists and seasonal traders laden with the characteristic sights of summer. Heaps of luscious tomatoes weighing half a kilo or more each and vast mounds of haricots verts which the ladies of Cahors will sedulously snap between their fingers to ensure absolute tenderness. If they encounter a less than perfect specimen they’ll shake their heads sorrowfully at the apologetic stallholder before taking their custom elsewhere.
I like to begin at a little stall at the back – rather worryingly close to Leonidas, the chocolate geniuses – where I buy the most delectable courgettes, no bigger than my thumb and as fresh as the morning. There are bunches of crimson radishes and vast red peppers, a small box of fiery chillies sits temptingly beside the herbs, and I generally order two enormous Batavia lettuces.



“Three for a euro”, she encourages me, grabbing a handful of parsley for good measure.
Oh, why not then? They won’t fit in the fridge, that’s why not! But I buy them anyway and start to plan seriously salady lunches for the next day or so. I still have enough change from my crumpled five-euro note to buy a bag of huge, perfumed peaches from the stall next door. By the time I’ve added half a dozen sumptuous, ripe tomatoes to accompany the lettuces and joined in the snapping at the bean piles, my marketing basket is beginning to feel a trifle heavy.
I stagger through the throngs towards refreshment at the café and drop into my favourite chair with a thankful sigh. An iced Perrier-menthe restores my equilibrium in less than five minutes. It is mid-morning and already nearly thirty degrees, but the plangent, effervescent sound of the fountains seems to cool the air.
I sit back, sip enjoyably, listen to the cicadas in the tall plane trees and delight in the summery scene.

© Amanda Lawrence 2006

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Living in France in High Summer from French Vie

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