Picture Window

Picture Window

High summer in the Quercy and the skies are as blue as the wild cornflowers that line every field. Scarlet and pink geraniums foam from every windowsill, whilst on the limestone cliffs helichrysum and santolina bloom riotously on bone-dry outcrops of rock. Out in the immaculately groomed vineyards grapes are beginning to swell. Dogs lie panting in the shade; cats lie dozing in the sun and lizards scuttle hither and thither with newly minted energy.
I haul myself lethargically round the throbbing markets. Courgettes are proliferating faster than the Quercynoise can eat them; the stalls are overflowing with slender green and yellow fruits, jostling for position with the ubiquitous heap of haricots verts and napped by a sturdy column of tomato crates.
I visited Prayssac last Friday to fill my baskets for the first big summer party of the year.
There were to be twenty-two for dinner, and of course it would be held in the village place. In our little summer cottage we’re right on the scene and the selected site for the table was about fifteen feet from the front door. I staggered home laden with enormous tomatoes and sweet, damp lettuces, tiny new potatoes, four juicy melons and a whole box of fragrant peaches. The engineering department had been in action during my absence. Our two wooden tables were now parked end to end outside the strip of blond grass I like to call a lawn, another was mysteriously emerging inch by inch round the corner of the old convent. A roll of paper tablecloth, a vase of wild flowers, a bottle of pastis and the table was set, twenty feet long, three feet wide and as wobbly as a man with a wooden leg. In the bay tree by the old village wall a cicada began to scream encouragement as a heated discussion began about whether or not said table should really be in the sun – it cools down a bit by eight o’clock – and whether the aperitif table, our classic French café job, would receive sufficient shade on the grass. I retired to orchestrate the food and left the table juggling to the boys.
By seven-thirty all was ready. The café table groaned with smoked trout pate, pistachios, olives, sliced local sausage and a bowl of ice for the pastis and whisky. There was a gallon of Orangina for the children, plenty of Perrier and multiple bottles of chilled white wine. The essential Cahors had arrived earlier, in a twenty-litre container, with a tap, and was now parked on the old wall next to a bowl of warm peaches. In the centre of the long table a platter of Provencal brochettes nudged a bowl of ultra-fresh sardines, both waiting for the barbecue. A gigantic platter of tomatoes, basil, slick black olives and tiny cornichons dominated the centre and was flanked by a huge bowl of salade verte, a potato, spring onion and haricot vert salad and a large bowl of sliced melon. Right on the end lay half a dozen fresh baguettes from the afternoon baking in the old village boulangerie. The cheeses skulked in the cool and dark of the old stone cottage – I didn’t trust them in the sun – along with the shamefully wicked tarte chocolat et poires. As I dragged a chair into the violet shade of the old convent wall an aroma of rosemary-scented charcoal drifted my way, I poured myself an enormous pastis and sat back to enjoy the delectable prospect of a summer barbecue in the south of France. There’s nothing in the world like it.

© Amanda Lawrence 2008

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Summer Entertaining from French Vie

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