All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Good Life in the Fast Lane

Making dinnerImage by kostika via Flickr
I have long been sceptical about the French claims to superiority in matters of food.
Any nation that can produce and eat the andouillette has something terribly wrong with its psyche, while the claim that snails are better than fillet steak says an awful lot about the quality of fillet steak in France.
Proof positive is the absence of that most delicate of vegetables, the purple sprouting broccoli, queen of the vegetable garden in  spring and worthy rival of the much vaunted asparagus.

In my time in France, the vegetable garden has been disappearing under patios, lawns and garden furniture, but even in its' heyday rare were the gardeners who aimed at quality, despite the religious observance of sowing by the cycles of the moon and buying a special calendar for the purpose.
The garden would be judged by how neat it was, how well its' rows were aligned and by the absence of any living thing other than the plants sown..... weedkiller and insecticide well in evidence because everything was judged by the eye of the neighbour rather than by the tastebuds of the gardener.

Bulk food was the idea.....hordes of green beans for bottling, cabbages all splitting at the same time, lettuces bolting in unison....with some honourable exceptions, of course, like  Madeleine's husband who was all too willing to produce whatever was necessary whenever necessary to enable her to produce her wonders day after day all round the year.

The larder of any self respecting rural Frenchwoman would be filled with Kilner jars full of the year's produce - mostly fruit and green beans but also carrots, courgettes, and, according to one astonished but reliable source, lettuce!
The freezer has always been suspect to the bottling generation, who carry on bottling from the garden while the freezer generation buy it all from the supermarkets ready packed - or from the travelling freezer vans which traverse the countryside to deliver the orders taken over the telephone.

At a country fete years ago there was a group of men at the bar who all worked for the same frozen goods delivery company and they were discussing the best way to arrange their rounds.
Not, as you might think, in terms of saving petrol and time, but in terms of when certain lady customers would be free.
As they worked for a local firm, I thought it best to deliver the round of drinks quickly to my table and then go back to tune in over a glass of rose.

There used to be a song
'Never on a Sunday'...well, in their case it was 'never on a Wednesday'...the dreaded day when all the kids were off school and no married lady was available.
I drank my wine slowly and became more closely acquainted with what goes on behind the shutters in rural France.
This could be one reason why bottling went out of fashion.

Nowadays, even the women who stay at home to look after the children don't seem to have time to cook, while their husbands certainly don't have time for a vegetable garden, so 'fast food' has taken over, at home and increasingly in cafes, where the buffet items are bought in from the supermarket and the main meals ready packed and portioned from a wholesaler.
I've never found such items to be very fast by the time you've read the instructions, found that you need to preheat the oven, and then have to prise the item from its' packaging, so I stick to fast food country style, as follows:

Breakfast at asparagus time is a doddle.
Let the hens and ducks out and collect eggs.
Put two pans of water on to boil.
Go down to the garden and pick asparagus.
Soft boil eggs, cook asparagus and put on table with some salt and butter.
Better than soldiers any day.

Once the asparagus is over, it will be
Slice tomatoes into olive oil, cook gently.
Let  hens and ducks out and collect eggs.
Snip off some young lovage shoots on the way back to the house.
Bread in toaster.
Break eggs into the softened tomatoes, chop lovage and sprinkle over.
Bread out of toaster, eggs etc. on toast.
Easy peasy and wonderful flavour.

Lunch is no more difficult.
Cook linguine.
Cook asparagus.
Mix egg yolks and creme fraiche.
Toss linguine and asparagus in butter, add egg mix, allow to thicken and serve.

Fry slices of cold potato.
Poach eggs.
Cook sprouting broccoli.
Potato on plate, egg on top, broccoli over that and break the yolks.

pork pate with a salad of just cooked and cooled sprouting broccoli in a hazelnut oil vinaigrette.

What could be faster?

Keeping poultry is fun - all your hens and ducks have different characters - while growing purple sprouting broccoli is a no trouble at all. People get very worried about growing asparagus, but it is a weed if you treat it properly, so nothing about this style of fast food is a problem, and it leaves you time to get on with life, rather than trailing round the supermarket looking dolefully at packets showing pastry cases rising like hot air balloons.

Out by the asparagus beds last Friday, the day after the election in the U.K., the sight of the myriad spires rising from the bare earth reminded me of the song
'There lived a king' from 'The Gondoliers', when

'Prime Ministers and such as they
Grew like asparagus in May'

Now, long gone are the days when Gilbert and Sullivan held sway over the mind of the British people - nowadays it's more likely to be Gilbert and George - but with the current in'fighting in Westminster, the old pair must have been prophetic.

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