Sunday, August 22, 2010

More Reading Material and Other Flea Market Finds.

     Before I get into the stack of books I brought home from the vide grenier at Fanjeaux last Sunday (including this 1950s movie mag), a word or two about why we returned not once, but twice, to a certain barn. To be blunt, we couldn't resist the prices--which dropped steadily as the hours went by. First find--and my favourite--is the enamel coffee-pot that now stands on the bistro table on the terrace. An art director moment or what?

    Next up, but too boring to photograph, an ornate wooden knob to go on the knob-less post at the bottom of the stairs. Also not worthy of visuals, but undeniably nice, were two vintage linen pillowcases, square in shape, which means I must now buy two typically French square pillows.
But the best bargains were the books. Someone had thrown out a large stack of English gardening books. By the time I found them, the price was down to three for a euro. I walked away with Home-Grown Vegetables (published 1927) -- best page heading: "A Table of Manures." Varieties described in Rare Vegetables (1960) include tree onions--"the curious tree onion is a useful novelty"--Hamburg parsley, and Good King Henry--"sometimes known as Lincolnshire asparagus."  I do intend to research all these. Whether I'll grow them is another matter. The smallest gardening book but promising endless hours of amusement is simply titled Liquid Manure Gardening and features ads both at the front and the back of the book for a product called Liquinure. Slogan: "Your crops and flowers are liquid feeders." A regular diet of that plus a bottle of Corry's Slug Death --"one taste and they are dead"--must have guaranteed bumper crops.
I  picked up these two little  books because I couldn't bear to think that they might end up on a scrap heap somewhere. Untold hours have work have gone into these pages, all covered in spidery brown hand-writing. 

A close-up so you can see how densely the writer has filled the pages.

 Fanjeaux was definitely en fête right down to this troupe of "medieval" performers. I imagine the sombre colours and general air of griminess are far more authentic than the usual romanticized costumes you see.

    It's a charming hill-top village with steep streets, an impressive 13th century church and a sweet little tea-room. Pictures coming up...

The Greengage Summer.

     It's time I reread The Greengage Summer, a novel that, for me, captures the feeling of summer in France more than any other: its small-town life, its hotels, its modest restaurants with their strings of coloured lights in the trees, its heat and lassitude. Written in 1958 by English author, Rumer Godden, this poignant coming-of-age story was made into a movie sometime in the 60s. Anyone see it?
    Of the fruit--here known as "reines claudes"-- Godden wrote: "The greengages had a pale-blue bloom, especially in the shade, but in the sun the flesh showed amber through the clear-green skin; if it were cracked the juice was doubly warm and sweet."
     This afternoon, down at the café, it's 38 degrees in the shade. In the sun, it's so hot that windfall greengages have turned purple-black and literally cooked in their skins. They taste of compote, almost jammy. Some have already fermented, creating a pleasant boozy smell under the trees. I wonder if the birds and wasps that are feasting on them are getting a little tipsy?
    Friends had invited me to go and pick what I wanted from the branches that are almost bow to the ground with the weight of the fruit. Here's what I brought back. Some we'll eat fresh with our morning yogurt. Most will be frozen until the days get cooler. No jam-making when it's as hot as this.

     Our terrace faces north, so most of it is in the shade much of the day. You feel an abrupt temperature change when you step from the boiling hot garden into the shade. Lovely. The house is even cooler. As soon as the sun starts to sink, you feel the mercury falling. Mornings are cool, dew on the grass, and a great scented blast of honeysuckle greets me when I open the back door.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sunflower Season

     One field among many--and the sight still makes me glow. Sunflowers line a stretch of the road to Laroque d'Olmes, lining the route as you drive towards them. Now I know how the queen feels!
     Beyond the field in this shot are bales of hay, neatly and tightly rolled, golden, looking as though they've been shaken out of a packet of giant breakfast cereal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Two kilos of plums...

   The other day, on a piece of waste ground, I spotted a tree laden with small yellow plums. So I went back this morning and gathered two basketfuls. "Gathered" basically meant tickling them so they fell in my hand. They're so ripe that for every one I picked, another fell on the ground. The total harvest, washed, halved, pitted and ready for the freezer = two kilos.
    It's too hot to slave over pots of jam or chutney but come the autumn...

Viva La Poste

   What a lovely bit of art deco. Isn't this one of the most handsome post offices you've ever seen? It's in Foix, our departmental capital (aka the place we have to go for any government business). Can't you imagine Fred Astaire in top hat, white tie and tails and Ginger in something floaty and gorgeous dancing down that flight of steps?
    By moonlight.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Monster Tomato....

    Thanks for dropping in. Hope your Saturday is as sunny and glorious as ours is. This is peak time for vegetables. We harvested the first cucumber last week, the corn is as high as a large horse's eye, and the tomatoes are ripening as we speak.
    Every week, I make a beeline for a certain vegetable stall at Lavelanet market because the couple who run it grow everything they sell. Yesterday, I left with a frisée the size of a steering-wheel, a red pepper as long as my hand, a gorgeous bunch of fresh onions, also long and red--and some tomatoes. Not sure what variety this one is--anyone know?--but doesn't it make you think of a 1950s horror movie? The Tomato That Ate Léran.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thoughts on Salade Niçoise

    Does your mind drift off when you're in the kitchen? Mine does. Usually what goes through my head has something to do with what I'm making. So, a few thoughts that came up recently while I was putting together a salade Niçoise.
    1. None of us eats enough parsley. I say this because, now that the plants in the potager have run to seed, I have to buy bunches at the market--and rarely do I use up the whole bunch before it turns yellow. Chopped parsley (you know the trick: leaves stripped into a coffee mug, a bit of fast work with scissors) enhances just about any savoury dish. This was the first time I'd strewn it over salade Niçoise but it won't be the last.
    2. This salad is a doddle once you've made it a few times and know to put the chunked potatoes into cold water first. Once they come to the boil, stick the timer on for ten minutes and add one egg per person. A few minutes later, throw in the haricots verts if you're using them. Everything's ready at once.
    3. How annoyed I get at cookbook writers who list "best quality olive oil" when they simply mean "olive oil." By now, we all know that cheap olive oil isn't worth the price. Anyone who cooks buys the best their budget will stretch to--and if their budget won't stretch that far, they don't need reminding of that.
    4. And while on the topic, references to "fresh-ground black pepper" and "sea salt" are also starting to make me cross.
    5. Smile back on my face. Black olives and scarlet tomatoes are a stunning colour combination. Ditto black olives and lemons. And, if either of those doesn't transform a pork chop or fish fillet into a photo op, there's always chopped parsley.