Amanda on November 24th, 2011
Radish

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.  Read More »

Warm November In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on March 12th, 2011
gariguette strawberries

Gariguette Strawberries

Glorious sunshine gilds the drab landscape as spring finally makes her debut.

 

In the forest glades dark carpets of leaves are punctuated by a scattering of violets, like a stolen hoard of amethysts, hurriedly discarded. And every now and then the paler daisy-shaped jewel of an anemone blanda, so charming, so delicate and as tough as old tree roots. Overhead the first green has begun to appear, long lines of chartreuse willow and tangles of hawthorn and honeysuckle, complemented perfectly by a froth of blossom from the early blushing brides, wild cherry, almond and blackthorn. A triple wedding – a promise of good times to come.

Down in the market everything had changed. The last of the winter vegetables stepped back and the spring beauties flounced into the limelight. Read More »

Spring In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on December 24th, 2010
Cenac In The Snow

Cenac In The Snow

Dawn revealed a sparkling scene. The huge pines at the bottom of the valley were veiled in a delicate frost, junipers shook the icing sugar from their needle sharp leaves, oaks bowed under the weight of their snow overcoats and forest animals creeping ever closer to the warmth of human habitation. It was Christmas Eve in the Quercy.

Early that morning I visited the age-old Christmas market in Cahors, standing at the edge of the cobbled square I wondered how many Christmases have rolled by in that ancient place, how many market scenes almost identical to the one I was witnessing. Birds of every kind were laid out in thrilling abundance, delicate quail, boned and stuffed, caponed guinea fowl, half-plucked turkeys of every breed imaginable, hung head-down over the counters, wings spread to prove their breed, and of course the ubiquitous duck. But the goose has always been king here, and it is still. A fat Toulouse goose is the perfect centre piece for the Christmas table. Read More »

Christmas In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on December 4th, 2009
Jamie Oliver in Cahors Market

Jamie Oliver in Cahors Market

Salut! And welcome to the beautiful Quercy in ankle-deep autumn.
It may officially be winter elsewhere, but here in this incredibly mild year, autumn clings on. The oaks, reluctant as always to surrender their leaves, are a splendid rusty brown and after every wind, a fresh layer of leaves means the forest floor disappears completely. It’s mushroom time, and my kitchen table is permanently coated with learned tomes on the edible – and otherwise – fungi of Europe. Fortunately I also have a couple of mushroom-guru friends who help separate the delicious from the deadly. Pharmacies will help too, but they’re cautious to the point of condemning everything but those you knew anyway. My gurus are better, and I now have a satisfying string of Clitocybe Geotropa drying gently above the wood burning stove in my kitchen, not to mention a good crop of Tricholoma Terreums and Shaggy Ink Caps growing in the garden. Of course a few mushrooms are great for a risotto and the bee’s knees for an omelette or to add to a casserole, but they don’t exactly keep body and soul together. To that end I hared into Cahors market this morning, early for once to the immense surprise of my favourite stall holder. Read More »

Forever Autumn In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on November 14th, 2009
Autumn Vives

Autumn Vines

Welcome to deep, deep autumn in the rain-washed Quercy.
In years to come people will talk about the long hot summer of 2009 and remind one another that it truly lasted from April to October. But it’s November now and the bitter Northern winds have swept across the landscape, turning the shivering vines scarlet and bringing driving rain in their wake. For the first time in my life I really don’t mind. The countryside is parched and gasping, wells and waterholes have been dry for months and the gardens are in desperate need of a good drink. Meanwhile the autumn pruning has been done, winter wood has been cut and stacked and all the leftovers piled high on the bonfire. The last of the wild harvests have been gathered too. Pinecones for the fire – pinecones make superb fire lighters – are piled in six capacious boxes on the lower terrace. Walnuts, still wet and unctuous, wait to be moved inside to dry out for the year, quinces await the preserving pans and bags of fat, glossy chestnuts will be roasted, peeled – what a fiddly job that is – and frozen for Christmas. Read More »

Autumn In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on May 1st, 2009
Gariguette strawberries

Gariguette strawberries

Welcome to the Quercy in lovely May, where the first strains of summer can be heard drifting through the villages and across the fields.
Every month of the calendar year has its own special charm, but I have to admit, May has the edge. The verges foam with cow parsley, underplanted with the renowned orchids of the region. Meadows are knee deep in blond grasses studded with numerous wild flowers. Rape gilds the fields and the ravishing white stone houses are pillowed by the new lime green of the oak forests. As I drove down into the valley yesterday, my car windows were wide open. Soft, warm breezes wafted delicious fragrances as I passed through hamlets garlanded with wisteria, plumped with blowsy peonies and studded with the pale lavender irises that mirror the colour of the wisteria and seem so very popular here. The sweeping vineyards drifted past, burgeoning new green, the walnut groves were tentatively putting out their first, delicate bronze leaves. From behind a collapsing old borie, a young deer eyed me curiously before springing to the safety of the forest, flashing her creamy rump. Read More »

May Market Life in France from French Life

Amanda on April 1st, 2009
Grape Hyacinth

Grape Hyacinth

Last week as I drove south down that most characteristic of holiday routes – the A20 – from Cahors to Montauban, I gazed out at an enchanting landscape. The chequered fields and woods were newly green and the fabulous orchards of the Quercy Bas appeared in a haze of white blossom, as if somebody had shaken a feather pillow over the land. Closer to home, the vines are breaking bud, violets spread their purple mantles beneath the oaks, delicate lemon cowslips throng the verges, and every now and then I spot a cluster of deep blue gems among the rocky outcrops, wild grape hyacinths hide their startling colours like sapphires carelessly discarded. Redstarts sing boisterously from the top of our pigeonnier, cranes flap laboriously past and cuckoos call from the deep woods.

Down in the markets the change is heart-warming. Asparagus spears lie in stacked bundles side by side with innumerable boxes of that sweet, fragrant and amazingly early strawberry of the Quercy, the Gariguette. Tourists are beginning to arrive for an Easter break, they sit in carefree, laughing groups outside the sprawling cafes, shuffling maps, guides and café crèmes. Happy just to be here, sit in the sun and watch the world go by. Read More »

I Do Love Cahors! from French Life

Amanda on February 1st, 2009
Cahors Market

Cahors Market

Whilst England shivered under a blanket of snow, all last week the Quercy languished under sparkling blue skies. They lured me out for the day on Wednesday. It was market day in Cahors and by the time I rounded the chilly corner of the Rue Marechal Foch into the blazing sunshine opposite the cathedral the morning was well advanced. I exchanged some halting badinage with one of my favourite stall holders about the state of the English weather, bought an armful of magnificent leeks, admired the truffle he had unexpectedly unearthed that morning and moved on to the man with the birds. Read More »

Lunch in Cahors from French Life

Amanda on January 1st, 2009
Frosted Vines

Frosted Vines

Year 2009 dawned bright and clear in the lovely Quercy and we’re all set for a good year.
Out in the chilly vineyards half-frozen paysans bend over the wiry winter vines pruning and tidying, they’ve been out there for weeks and it’s a relentless task. I watched them on Boxing Day (the 26th December isn’t a holiday in France) full of Buche de Noel and litres of good wine, doggedly ploughing on despite the sudden fall of snow. The hunters were out in force too. According to the local rag, and despite the best endeavours of the afore-mentioned, wild boar caused hundreds of thousands of euros worth of damage amongst the precious vines in this tiny area alone. There are thousands of them out there in the rampant oak forests, which is peculiar, because although you see plenty of evidence, where they’ve rooted for truffles at the base of a tree for instance, you hardly ever see them, although when you consider that whenever they tentatively poke their snouts out of the undergrowth they get their whiskers blown off, perhaps it isn’t so peculiar. Read More »

A New Year, A New French Life from French Life

Amanda on August 1st, 2008
Prayssac Market

Prayssac Market

Glorious August in southwest France lures tourists as a buddleia in full bloom lures butterflies. The heat, the holiday atmosphere that pervades every little town and village, and the outstanding food and wine available at every turn, have all contributed to make this once neglected little rural backwater one of the holiday hotspots of Europe. For decades the overworked masses have swarmed down from the frozen North to the beaches of the Mediterranean, but gradually, very gradually, tourists have worked inland. They’ve stopped en route, made forays into hitherto untented territory, and discovered to their amazement that the beautiful Quercy holds more attractions than they had believed possible. Now, during the two holiday months, the population more than doubles and nowhere is this more obvious than in the markets. They swell in season, to four or five times their winter size, jammed with lithe blondes in skimpy shorts (much appreciated by some of the locals) and enormous bellies in lively shirts. Read More »

Balmy August in the Quercy from French Life

Amanda on April 1st, 2008
Gariguette strawberries

Gariguette strawberries

The sweet smell of a thousand fragrant Gariguette strawberries lured me round Cahors market last Wednesday. The day was warm, the sky a cloudless blue and the stalwart stallholders were in carnival mood. Asparagus assailed me as I entered the fray at the southern end; huge bunches of creamy green, brushed with purple. Just the thing for a light supper, dripping with melted butter and accompanied by some good bread and a nice jug of Cahors. I glanced at the early peaches, transported overnight from the glasshouses of Andalucia, but the rising scent of strawberries was becoming insistent. Rounding the corner, where one of my jovial stallholder friends was holding his weekly pantomime with leeks and cauliflowers, I was mesmerised by a sea of scarlet. Read More »

The Lure of Gariguette Strawberries from French Life

Amanda on March 1st, 2006

Welcome to early spring in the Quercy!

Cahors Market

Cahors Market

It’s still a tad chilly here, cold nights and warm afternoons. There are few short-sleeved-shirts, with the strange exception of café waiters who seem to have an internal central heating system! There are fewer still bared shoulders, but there is an almost tangible air of expectancy, because when the warm weather comes to this land, it comes in a rush. Suddenly you’re wondering where you put the brolly because the terrace isn’t yet shaded by the old vine and whether or not to risk sitting outside for lunch if you can’t find it. Meanwhile the lemon trees that have spent the winter languishing in various cellars are cautiously re-appearing on terraces and balconies.
Read More »

The Joys of French Life in Spring from French Life

Amanda on February 1st, 2006

Welcome to early spring in the Quercy!

Cahors Market

Cahors Market

It’s still a tad chilly here, cold nights and warm afternoons. There are few short-sleeved-shirts, with the strange exception of café waiters who seem to have an internal central heating system! There are fewer still bared shoulders, but there is an almost tangible air of expectancy, because when the warm weather comes to this land, it comes in a rush. Suddenly you’re wondering where you put the brolly because the terrace isn’t yet shaded by the old vine and whether or not to risk sitting outside for lunch if you can’t find it. Meanwhile the lemon trees that have spent the winter languishing in various cellars are cautiously re-appearing on terraces and balconies.
Read More »

Early Spring in the Quercy from French Life

Amanda on August 23rd, 2005

Historic gateway to the South of France

Pont Valentre

Pont Valentre

History
Cahors is strategically situated in a loop of the curvaceous river Lot, surrounded by hills. To the north the roads lead straight to Paris, to the south straight to Toulouse and on to the passes of the Pyrenees and the bustling ports of the Mediterranean. To the west, following the line of the river, lies the great wine producing city and port of Bordeaux. To the east, the wild and beautiful Causses and the foothills of the Massif Central.

It was in this advantageous spot that the ancient tribe of the Cadurci decided to settle in about 800BC. Many scholars maintain that it was from these first settlers that Cahors and the Quercy take their names. Others argue that Quercy comes from the Latin Quercus, meaning oak, a reference to the oak forests that romp across the landscape. Either way, both Cahors and the Quercy itself are ancient settlements. Read More »

Cahors – Capital of the Quercy from French Life