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Market Flowers

Market Flowers

Welcome to lovely May in the Quercy, perhaps the most beautiful month of the year. It’s the month of flowers – and indeed fabulous flower festivals are being held in tiny stone villages all over the country. In my hillside garden the oleanders are in bud, the olives are putting out their new silvery leaves and chilly lizards are sunning themselves on numerous crumbling walls. The vigorous old Gallica rose by the stone steps leading to my kitchen door has burst into a thousand fragrant blooms and the many cistus’, not to be outdone, unfold their delicate, papery petals each morning, only to drop them all again each evening.
In the markets the produce has changed completely, winter stalwarts have been banished and the frivolous stars of summer are beginning to creep to the front of the stage. Vast pots of tender, fragrant basil, heaps of early tomatoes from the Lot et Garonne, watercress and spring onions, aillet and tiny, young courgettes, no bigger than your thumb. I spent a happy hour among the stalls of Prayssac market last Friday. In the shade of the church apse an elderly gentleman, with legs like bent copper pipes and a constant grin, sat behind a heap of vast prickly artichokes, the size of a baby’s head.
‘Two for a euro’ he croaked, swiping me with a pair of them as I attempted to squeeze by. I succumbed immediately and bought four, I’m a bit partial to artichoke bottoms. He tied a bit of old string round their hairy stalks and handed them to me with an even wider grin. ‘Eh voila Madame!’

Wild Orchid

Wild Orchid

A little further along the numerous cheese vans were advertising their very best produce. Milk is perfect for cheese at this time of year and the resulting cheeses are richer, creamier and even more delicious – the queues are longer too, but when you’re standing in the sun, watching the antics of the prune man as he attempts to snare a tourist, who cares? I bought creamy little discs of goats’ cheese and a delectable wedge of Bleu des Causses, then, when my basket was full to bursting with fresh, damp lettuces, tomatoes, herbs and a fresh gurnard, I wandered over to the plane-shaded square for a coffee. Tables and chairs spilled out over the pavements from the three cafés around the perimeter, the maison de la presse was displaying racks of postcards, the boulangerie had sprouted an ice cream hoarding and the little pizzeria was laying tables for lunch outside. I ordered my coffee, shook out La Depeche, sat back and absorbed the atmosphere. Beside me two middle-aged ladies in white linen and sunglasses sipped their orange juice and giggled. They were holidaymakers, transcendent with the happiness that a sunny morning in France brings.
On my way home, in the hills high above the ancient village of Albas, I admired the burgeoning green vines and tried to count the number and variety of wild orchids that star the waving blond verges at this time of year. In that five-kilometre stretch there are hundreds – thousands of individual blooms and I counted seven different varieties. There are many more, but my limited knowledge and the two dusty tomes I use for identification make an accurate count difficult. Suffice to say the Quercy is the orchid capital of Europe and a botanist’s dream.
Back on my terrace, hung high over the Lot valley, I placed a few of these precious blooms in a terracotta jug and laid out the warm bread, wine and olives. Beside them I placed the pungent fresh goats’ cheese and a vast tomato salad, drenched in olive oil and vinegar and spattered with new basil. Then I sat back and revelled in the great wheel of the Mediterranean sun, warm and caressing on my bare shoulders.
May – loveliest month of the year.

© Amanda Lawrence 2008

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May – Loveliest Month of the Year from French Vie

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