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 January 2nd, 2011
Chocolate Cranberry Tart

Chocolate Cranberry Tart

All Christmassed out?  Up to your ears in leftovers?  Turn them to stunningly good account.

Cold turkey is of course old hat nowadays – to mix my metaphors thoroughly – and recipes for big bird leftovers ooze from every TV chef’s repertoire like icing from a bag.  But what on earth do you do with all those cranberries?  Are you one of those who makes three times as much as required – just in case – and ends up with half a kilo of delicious cranberry and orange relish that you can’t even sell with a roast chicken?  Or maybe you buy yours readymade, two jars – just in case – and end up using half a jar?

And then on New Year’s Eve your daughter drops a bombshell of nuclear proportions.  She’s off for a sleepover, everybody is taking a dish and she – which means you, in code – has been detailed to provide a pudding.  You have two hours and the shops are closed.  Got a couple of eggs?  Then this, my dear gastronomes, is for you. Read More »

Chocolate Cranberry Tart from French Life

Amanda on January 2nd, 2011
Game Pie

Game Pie

Serves eight hungry hunters

Boxing Day, and despite your massive efforts in the kitchen during the previous twenty-four hours, more food is required to feed your healthy-walking, out-hunting, let’s-all-get-fit outdoor types.  Game pie is the answer.  It is filling, beautiful, utterly delicious and makes a jaw-dropping centrepiece for the cold table.  You can – indeed you should – make it two or three days in advance.  Fill in the spaces with salad, chutneys and some baked potatoes and you’re all set.

Of course all game pies are made with that mysteriously tricky-sounding pastry, a hot water crust.  Well I’ll let you into a secret, it’s a doddle.  Follow the rules and you can’t go wrong.  Just one pointer – there is no substitute for lard.  It’s not common here in southern France, so I have to trot along to the butcher and winkle some out of him.  What a sweetie, he spent a good five minutes digging some out, putting it in a tub, sealing it, wrapping it and then asked if I wanted anything else… I didn’t of course.  He charged me sixty cents and I felt an absolute heel! Read More »

Easy Peasy Pheasant Game Pie 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 November 2nd, 2010
Cenac In The Mist

Cenac Through The Mist

Mists drift past the dripping hills, shrouding the oaks and walnuts in their delicate, damp veils.  As they shift and part shafts of topaz light pierce the scene and a breathtaking world emerges.  The countryside is spiced with cinnamon and saffron, peppered with cayenne. Autumn has finally arrived in all her blazing glory.  I drive down through the valley passing gilded vineyards of breathtaking beauty, line upon line of flame haired maidens swaying to the rustle and rhythm of the leaves in a vast Celtic dance. Read More »

Autumn In The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on July 3rd, 2010
The Pink Ball 2010

The Pink Ball 2010

The dog days of high summer and the heat is on.  Cicadas scream madly from the trees and sunflowers reach for shimmering skies washed of colour.

In the markets meanwhile, colour reigns supreme.  Piles of misshapen scarlet peppers and shiny purple and mauve aubergines nudge their culinary partners, the abundant courgettes and vast, delectable Marmande tomatoes; a ratatouille dances across almost every market stall.  On the long fruit stands the star of the summer ball is making her flamboyant entrance – the beautiful, fleshy peach.  Cherries are over now, apricots are making their bow, but the lovely peach will see us through the holiday months – and for sheer voluptuous pleasure, there is nothing to touch a ripe peach.  A private pleasure of course, one wouldn’t want to be caught in the act, it can be embarrassing. Read More »

The Pink Ball from French Life

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 February 11th, 2010

Quercy Black Truffle
It’s a strange phenomenon, but as winter loosens its iron grip and the first spring bulbs begin to feel their way into the exhilarating air of a Quercy February, my mind takes a retrograde step.  I start to think of truffles.
I imagine it happens this way.  November is too early and often still warm. December is the usual frantic stuffed-bird, fat pudding, vast quantities of everything, festive season.  January is devoted to repairing the ravages of the festive season, lean, calm and frugal.  By February my usual buoyancy has returned and I’m ready for a little deep, dark, intensely indulgent deliciousness.  I don’t think I’m alone either, but whilst most do it with chocolates – around about Valentine’s Day – I do it with truffles.
It all started for me this year when I went to visit a couple of friends of mine – a pair of particularly wise old owls.  Their knowledge of botany is a constant source of delight, and I sat in their sunny conservatory sipping my Lapsang Souchong and entering gamely into a profound discussion on a reliable organic cure for Codling Moth.  We chatted about this and that, watched a tree creeper mousing its way up their giant oak and thrashed out the probable chances of success for my maiden apple trees. Read More »

February – The Month Of The Truffle from French Life

Amanda on October 9th, 2009

Chestnuts

Chestnuts

Happy Birthday to You, Squashed Tomatoes and Stew!
Autumn has seeped inexorably into the south in the last few days.  I prowled around Prayssac market this morning admiring box after box of fat, glossy chestnuts and tempting over-sized quinces.  Cardoons are beginning to appear and knobbly, pink Jerusalem artichokes.  All the vegetable stalls have an abundance of late-season tomatoes, and they don’t seem to be diminishing… seasonal tastes are changing and the tomato glut is beginning to tell, prices have dropped to rock bottom and still they can’t sell them all.  The café and restaurant menus are undergoing a subtle change too.  Earthy soups, spiked with Quercy saffron.  Guinea fowl, deliciously pot roasted and served with lardons and chestnuts.  Desserts of apple and pear, quince and walnut replace the soft fruits and frothy, frivolous confections of high summer.  It’s food to go walking on. Read More »

Autumn is Approaching in The Quercy from French Life

Amanda on September 1st, 2009
Ripe Figs

Ripe Figs

The last of the season’s fêtes drew to a close at the weekend. The early morning light revealed a Coke can rolling casually down the street and tattered streamers flapping gently in the warm breeze. The tourists have gone and the lazy, hazy, crazy days are over, but the hot southern summer lingers on.
The famous vineyards of the region are heavy with fruit, we have had no significant rain for three months and the grapes are cooking in the searing heat. They cannot be artificially watered if they are to produce an AOC wine and there is no likelihood of any rain on the horizon. No other crop could stand the pace. Read More »

Tomato Chutney and Fig Preserve from French Life

Amanda on July 1st, 2009
Apricots

Apricots

July heralds the start of the tourist season here in southern France. Markets swell to five times their winter size, chefs sharpen their knives in eager anticipation and the rest of us try to remember where we found that tiny nook that was always available to park the car. But in congested Cahors, things have changed a little, with the opening of the long awaited Parking de l’Amphitheatre. Why is she telling us about a car park for heaven’s sake? I hear you all cry from your collective desks in the grey north. Well hush and I’ll illuminate. This is not just any old car park, it should have three Michelin stars and a mention in every guide book worth its salt. It is a work of art, a day out on its own. You descend into the gleaming depths of a brand new underground parking area, and are confronted by the staggeringly beautiful remains of Cahors’ ancient Roman amphitheatre. There it is, all laid out for you to see, with detailed guide and a plan to show you just how it must have appeared in its glorious past. All this and parking thrown in. Fabulous. When you have feasted your eyes enough, you will want to ascend to the sunlit place, now beautifully landscaped and planted with trees, to stroll and muse and end up in one of the cafes on the boulevard. Read More »

Lunch at the Poule au Pot from French Life

Amanda on June 1st, 2009
Moissac

Moissac

Out on the terraces a thousand thermometers boil, cicadas scream from the trees and the oleanders have shaken off their reticence and burst into a riot of bloom. It’s high summer and a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of windsurfing. This can be a fortunate circumstance for me, because the resident man’s favourite puddle for this sort of daredevil activity is the huge lake caused by the confluence of the rivers Tarn and Garonne. It’s just south of the historic city of Moissac, and that happens to be a very convenient spot for me to meet a friend from the Gers, it was time for a highly indulgent lunch. This is one of the perks of the laid-back lifestyle in southern France. When the going gets hot, drop everything and cool off, which is just what we did, in our varying ways, last Thursday. Read More »

A Delightful Lunch in Moissac from French Life

Amanda on March 1st, 2009
Lemons on our Tree

Lemons on our Tree

Welcome to spring in the Quercy where the last few days have been as warm and wonderful as May. My lemon trees have been hauled out of their winter quarters to waft their delicious scent over the sunlit terrace; they’re chock full of waxy blossom and in dire need of a few bees. The herb gardens have had an explosion of tender new growth too, creating another fragrant assault on the senses whenever one happens to brush past. Almond trees have shyly unfurled their pale pink petals and, most significant of all, the lizards who’ve spent the freezing winter months holed up in deep stone cracks have started to creep out and sun themselves on rocky outcrops. Summer is just a few degrees away. Read More »

Lunch in Puy L’Eveque 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 December 1st, 2008
Autumn Vines

Autumn Vines

We were to arrive at 12.30 on a Sunday afternoon – which means at least half an hour later as naturally nobody ever arrives on time in France. We were looking forward to this encounter, but with some trepidation, as our neighbours speak absolutely no English. This is fair enough of course and on its own we would have been able to cope with it quite well, but they add to this minor hurdle by having extremely strong southwestern accents. This means that when confronted with a polite: Read More »

Lunch with the Neighbours from French Life

Amanda on November 1st, 2008
Café Noir

Café Noir

Lunch in this café is a one-menu-for-all affair, and very good it is too. I began with a small plate of shiny, plump violet and black olives, a bowl of cornichons and a slice of nutty, air-dried ham from Bayonne. The bread came from the bakery on the other side of the church, a good chewy, yeasty flute, to be consumed with pace and care. I refused a glass of wine, to the frank amazement of my neighbouring diners. They were workmen in dusty overalls, cold and hungry, their bellies budging the table to and fro as they reached for the bread or salt. Read More »

It Could Only Happen in France from French Life

Amanda on September 1st, 2008
Wild Fruit Harvest

Wild Fruit Harvest

The last few weeks of summer are lazy. The mercury is boiling in a thousand thermometers and nobody feels inclined to move.
Vignerons prowl slowly round the vines, squinting anxiously at distant clouds. Holidaymakers prowl round the little villages, cameras at the ready, squinting curiously through ancient stone doorways and posing in front of the old chapel; the rest of us do as little as possible in the heat of the day, and wait until the cool of the evening to conduct any serious business. Eating, drinking, flirting and partying are the most serious, naturally, but even the more sober pursuits, such as harvesting – the combine-harvesters work all night – and of course shopping, are done in the evening. Read More »

Figs for Breakfast 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 July 1st, 2008
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. Read More »

Summer Entertaining from French Life

Amanda on June 1st, 2008
Cherries

Cherries

A month in which the residents of the Quercy prepare for the long, hot summer season. All along the boulevard in Cahors the little cafes and boulangeries that fringe this wonderful street have laid tables and chairs on the wide pavements. The established restaurants and bistros billow out in all directions screened from the road by strategically placed oleanders and potted olive trees. Short-sleeved waiters shimmy back and forth with trays brimming with the evocative drinks of summer, Perrier menthe and Coca Cola – in a bottle of course – cool foaming beers, Orangina and delicious iced tea. A deft hand removes the bottle tops whilst still balancing the loaded tray on the other hand – how do they do that? Read More »

White Stone Black Wine Published from French Life