Amanda on June 9th, 2010
Temptation

Temptation

Warm breezes caress my bare shoulders as I sit on the terrace amongst my lemon trees.  Despite their diminutive size, the amazing scent of their blossom is almost overwhelming.  At the bottom of the garden I can hear the first of the season’s cicadas screaming – the heralds of hot weather – and I sigh in contentment.  Nowhere is summer more seductive than in the Quercy.
Down in the markets the early summer fruits are rolling in.  Prayssac was awash with cherries this morning, huge black Burlats, tart and exciting, laid in vast piles on the wooden tables, the dusky scarlet Bigareaux just beginning to nudge them out.  They are late this year and before long will be replaced by the honey-sweet, fuzzy golden globes of the early apricots, and everywhere the fragrant aroma of the Garriguette strawberry. Read More »

Warm June In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on March 9th, 2010
Blosson In The Quercy

Early March Quercy Blossom

Early March and spring rushes in to relieve the chill of a long, hard winter. My almond trees are spreading their delicate petals to the seeping warmth and the Rosemaries have suddenly exploded into a riot of pale blues. The sun is hot now, despite the still-cool air, hot enough to eat lunch outside – and on the spreading pavements and boulevards of Cahors that is exactly what they have been doing.
Outside one of my favourite cafes – just beside Gambetta’s statue – a party of English tourists noisily settled into a large table for eight, excitedly rustling their maps and expressing wonder at the glories of the architecture. Dressed in pale creams and beige linen, newly streaked hair perfectly groomed, they pushed their up-to-the-minute shades into their hair and looked expectantly at Florian. He was busy juggling beers for a pair of regulars, stopped en route to the bar to kiss my ears, and shimmied in without seeming to notice his suddenly expanding clientele. Long years of experience. Read More »

March In The Quercy – Spring At Last 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 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 January 1st, 2008
Plat du Jour

Plat du Jour

Living in the heartland of French gastronomy can be an exceptionally rewarding business. No more so than on a cold winter’s day when you blow into a warm, bustling café a few minutes before twelve-thirty, chilly, hungry and teased by the tantalising aromas wafting from the kitchens. It’s one of the great pleasures of life in France.
Ah Madame, vous allez bien?’ The proprietor greeted me, as I hauled myself up the marble staircase in one of my favourite eateries. He didn’t wait for a reply, but bestowed two quick kisses and a hearty buffet on the shoulder, then whisked me down the crowded room to a cosy table in the corner – narrowly avoiding collision with two speeding waiters, loaded to the elbows. I sank into the chair with a thankful sigh, shook out my napkin and prepared to enjoy myself. Read More »

Lunch in Cahors from French Life

Amanda on December 1st, 2007
Frosted Vines

Frosted Vines

Christmas spirit has invaded the Quercy. Temperatures have plummeted, leaving the landscape shivering under a veil of frosty white. Geese are once more seen at the gates of scattered farmhouses and every shop from the Dordogne to the Garonne is liberally stocked with foie gras, oysters and Champagne. Friends drop in for an aperitif at any hour. It’s a delightful time of year.
Meanwhile I’m struggling with the component parts of the feast. Have you ever tried stuffing a goose neck? Everybody does it in these parts, and I’m determined to beat the bird into submission and master the art. It isn’t easy. My neighbours learned the technique at their mother’s elbow, and every rural Quercynoise can display a beautifully crisp, stuffed sausage. Some will serve this as an hors d’oeuvre, but my nearest neighbour serves it with drinks on Boxing Day which is what I shall do if I ever manage to grasp the essentials of the procedure. Read More »

Christmas 2007 in the Quercy from French Life

Amanda on October 1st, 2007
Morning Mists

Morning Mists

Mellow October is upon us. Mornings are characterised by swirling valley mists that mask little villages and swallow the vineyards. From my balcony, high above the floor of the glorious river Lot, I look down on meringue confections as elaborate as any you would see in the pâtisserie. It is these same mists that on the banks of the nearby Ciron River induce the alchemy known as Noble Rot, a fascinating and benevolent fungus that ultimately produces a delectable form of liquid gold, Sauternes. No such process is required here, and the richly purple grapes must be gathered quickly to concoct our own local brew, dark, delicious Cahors. The harvesters are out all day and well into the evening, tractors with fully laden trailers creak round the hairpin bends leaving small grape slicks in their wake. Read More »

Autumnal French Life from French Life

Amanda on April 1st, 2007
Strawberries

Strawberries

April is sailing by and here in the beautiful Quercy glorious summer is already on the horizon; the weather is delightfully warm, our summer migrants have arrived – both birds and humans – and the stage is set for six months of outdoor living.
Asparagus, strawberries and globe artichokes are the quintessential signs of early summer, and the backdrop of the current market scene. I spent a happy hour wandering round the aromatic stalls in Cahors, picking the crispest of the new salads and choosing the sweetest fruit and the fattest, freshest artichokes and asparagus to grace the first all-afternoon outdoor lunch of the year.
The table was set on the terrace; old pine and creaky teak were neatly covered with acres of white linen cloth, two-dozen glasses and a stack of plates. Read More »

Summer on the Way from French Life

Amanda on November 1st, 2006
Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

The last few days of October were as hot and balmy as August, the markets were thronged with visitors and full of flowers. Great clumps of chrysanthemums in purple, white, crimson and gold jostled against rank upon rank of pierrot-faced violas and armfuls of more exotic blooms, a wonderful sight which brought out a rash of resident artists.

November came in with a deadly northeasterly and brought a sudden drop in temperatures. From a pleasant mid-afternoon twenty-five degrees to a perishing early-morning minus one. The lemon trees were hurriedly moved to their winter quarters and in Cahors the plane trees shivered and dropped fifty percent of their leaves in forty-eight hours. The vines glowed red, then rust and finally a golden yellow. Soon they’ll take on their winter persona and be no more than stark silhouettes against the winter skyline. Read More »

Crisp, Cold and Sunny in the Quercy from French Life

Amanda on July 1st, 2006
Lauzerte

Lauzerte

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. Read More »

Living in France in High Summer from French Life

Amanda on May 1st, 2006
Orchid

Orchid

The weather is truly warm here now, meals are taken outside and the more exotic flowers are beginning to make their appearance. The oleanders are full of bud, numerous tamarisk trees drip with dusky pink blossom and on a recent five kilometre ramble I spotted seven different varieties of wild orchid – the Quercy is justly famed for it’s orchids – and after a copious amount of huffing and puffing and thumbing through dusty tomes I eventually managed to identify my prizes. In all the years that I tramped the woods and fields the length and breadth of Sussex, I never found more than two at one time, thrilling. Read More »

French Life in the Quercy from French Life

Amanda on April 1st, 2006

Welcome to the Quercy in the sparkling springtime!

Cowslips

Cowslips

We’ve finally shaken off the last of the winter clouds and spirits are soaring. All along the grassy banks little darns of lemon yellow have suddenly spread to become huge patches of glorious cowslips. The willows are a delicious lime green, the almonds and wild cherries laden with delicate white blossom.
In the towns and villages café tables have spread onto the pavements, overflowing with people enjoying the first few outdoor lunches of the year, their pale faces raised to the sun, the clink of glasses a fitting celebration.
In the markets the produce has changed completely. Gone are the stalwart cabbages and leeks, elbowed aside by the glamorous drama queens of spring, asparagus and strawberries. The first of the new crop of broad beans has appeared, there are exquisite new peas and potatoes, sprouting broccoli, herbs and a dozen varieties of new spring greens. Read More »

French Life in Sparkling Springtime from French Life

Amanda on March 12th, 2006
Cahors Wine

Cahors Wine

Revered by Tsars, Popes and Princes
Why black? Principally because it is almost black, just hold a bottle up to the light and you’ll see into its deliciously inky depths. Cahors wines are reputedly the darkest in the world; they are also some of the strongest and richest and will keep for years.

Cahors has a fascinating but somewhat turbulent history; the vineyards were amongst the first planted in France by the Roman Emperors, more than two thousand years ago and they were an immediate hit. However as the Empire grew it became abundantly clear that production of wheat would need to be stepped up in order to feed the growing masses. France was to be the breadbasket of the Roman Empire and the vines, splendid though they were, would have to go. In the third century one of the more discerning Emperors, Probus, decided that enough was enough and the time had come to reinstate this delicious nectar. He is still a much-celebrated figure in winemaking circles today and one of the distinguished Chateaux of the region has a rather delicious wine named Prince Probus in his honour. Read More »

Cahors Wine – The Black Wine 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