Radishes In The Market

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and as the church bells pealed in solemn remembrance I stood in twenty-two degrees of glorious sunshine in the market square watching the parade on one side and negotiating half a kilo of Bleu des Causses on the other. Even for south-western France, it was incredibly warm. Normally by mid-November the fires are lit, every chimney is smoking, sales of haricots blancs have rocketed and I am holed up in my warm kitchen for the winter. Not so this year.

Down in the markets summer lingers on with delectable consequences. Late tomatoes adorn most country stalls adding a splash of shiny scarlet to the otherwise more earthy autumn hues. Vast piles of damp lettuces stand side by side with pumpkins and squashes, whilst delicate combinations of pink, white and red long-legged radishes dance before the eyes. I can’t resist a bunch of the pink variety; I will serve them for lunch, thinly sliced into a green salad and dressed with lemon and walnut oil with just a sprinkling of the new season’s walnuts. Next door on the organic stall bunches of salsify and scorzonera have appeared and I dither enjoyably between the two, eventually settling in favour of the less common scorzonera. I find these slender, succulent roots are a perfect accompaniment to a bird for Sunday lunch. A guinea fowl maybe? I wander over to the boucherie van to see what he has. Sure enough there are a couple of splendid guinea fowl there, both hens, so I take the larger of the two.

‘Madame we have the tenderest pheasant today,’ the wily old stall holder urges me, recognising an English woman at a glance and hoping for an easy sale. But I’ve been here eight years now and I’m no pushover. Pheasants are delicious and I dearly love them, but coming from an English county where I could pick them up at the side of the road every few hundred metres, I’m not going to pay upwards of fifteen euros for one. I smile sweetly and let him down as gently as possible. I need half a dozen duck eggs and a whole rabbit, jointed. Mollified, he perks up, swings his hachoir around in flamboyant style and presents me with two damp, cold parcels and a home-made egg box, bursting at the seams with delicately tinted pale blue treasures.

To the boulangerie. It’s re-enforced on a market morning by the boulanger himself. He’s an elderly gentleman, more at home kneading his dough than behind that complicated cash register he’s never quite got the hang of, so he tends to limit his activities to retrieving the bread from the shelves and chatting to the more vociferous customers, thus freeing his extremely competent shop assistant for the business end of things. I need a flute de compagne and a boule, tranché. Unfortunately I’m late, so there are no boules left which causes the poor man to turn in slight panic to his smooth assistant. As always (I’m often late) she suggests half a gros pain, which answers perfectly. I ponder and manage to resist a tarte aux pruneaux, and flushed with triumphant virtue wander down to the café for a quick coffee before heading home for lunch.

Dumping the flute on the table I mixed a luscious salad, dripping with walnut oil and liberally laced with the crunchy radishes. My lemon trees yielded a good crop this year. A good squeeze from a prize specimen just finished it off. And so I sat down on the sunny terrace to a veritable feast. An excellent terrine de sanglier paired with good bread and a tangy salad is about as good as it gets. I gazed thoughtfully out between the still flowering oleanders to the distant horizon. A pair of buzzards wheeled effortlessly over the still green forest canopy. It has been a long, hot summer, we have had no significant rain for nearly six months and the countryside is parched. But the oaks of the Quercy are used to drought. Their deep roots seek every crack and crevice in the mountains that support them, draining every drop of moisture. Thus they keep their green longer than any other living thing in these parts. Looking out over the rolling vista that afternoon you could easily have imagined yourself in mid-August rather than mid-November.

Every house in the district has its winter supply of wood, neatly stacked in vast piles within easy reach of the kitchen door. Down in the cellar there will be stores of pork and paté, jars of preserves and sacks of beans, side by side with sack after sack of pine cones for lighting recalcitrant wood burners. We have the same. But it seems that after all the preparation there is to be no winter. Already the spring bulbs are appearing, there are buds on the lilacs and out by the pool my tender bougainvillea is still tenaciously in bloom.

It has been the warmest autumn the Quercy has known in living memory.

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Warm November In The Quercy from French Vie

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