Saturday, September 29, 2012

Signs of Autumn in Southern France

   Recently, it's been really chilly at night to the point that last Sunday, after a terrific outdoor party, we walked home and made ourselves mugs of cocoa. As I write this, late on a Saturday afternoon, the hills are swathed in what looks like a thin layer of cotton wool but is actually rain, it's a cool 11 degrees outside, and we're talking about lighting a fire. Two cubic metres of 50 cm oak logs were delivered last week. We're ready.
   But even without all this, just by wandering around Lavelanet market, you'd still know that winter is looming. 

 For a start, all the cloches have been reduced in price.
    These are the invaluable folding covers that keep flies and other insects off food when you're eating outside. While there will be many days still when it's warm enough for pâté, salads and rosé in the garden, the long candle-lit dinners on the terrace are over for this year.
   But there are compensations. Like girolles and ceps to cook gently in butter with garlic and eat on toasted baguette, or to add to scrambled eggs or a risotto.

    Lucques is the name of a meaty and delicious olive that's grown mainly in the Languedoc. Green, with pointy ends, shaped a little like a half-moon, they're known as "Les Rolls Royces" of olives.
 And of course it's apple season...
 ...and quince season. Three euros for two kilos is a bargain.
 Best of all, this is the time when the grape growers bring their harvest to the market. Muscat grapes are dark, sweet, filled with sticky juice. Pressed and made into a sweet aperitif, muscat is the traditional tipple for madames while messieurs sip pastis. On their own, the grapes go beautifully with a little round of pungent white goat cheese, and the new season's walnuts.
There's always a queue at this producer's stall.
   You have to warm your outside too. All the flimsy cotton frocks, and tiny tops of summer have been marked down to five euros. Replacing them are long sleeves and warmer colours.

 Charentaises are the kind of cosy slipper worn by grandads in storybooks. It's easy enough to get romantic about tiled floors in the summer but the reality is that they're cold on the feet.
    Can you imagine how comforting it would be to slip your bare tootsies into these when you get out of bed on a chilly morning?

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