Saturday 28 July 2007

Tales and Tastes of France

I have been back from France for a week now and I promised to write a bit about it and so it’s about high time I did. We stayed in a lovely house that was in a small secluded village called Mormoiron. It was very quaint and quiet and surrounded by wonderful views (the above photo is the view we had from our house).

The day after we arrived there was a local food market in the town square and where we were able to buy all kinds of local cheeses, fruits and vegetables. The figs and apricots in particular were amazing, so full of flavour that we just cannot get back in England. The local Boulanger had set up a little stall outside his shop where he was giving out free tasters of his breads. I liked the fig bread which was studded with dried figs and went very well with cheese. The nut rolls was also very flavoursome with whole hazelnuts and almonds incorporated within it. The baguettes were also a firm favourite which had crisp yet slightly chewy crusts with pillowey soft centers and were quite rustic in appearance.

The bakery also sold a small assortment of pastries which of course we had to sample. The strawberry tart involved a base of creamy crème patisserie in a sweet pastry case with fresh strawberries and a glaze. The strawberries were very fresh and ripe resulting in a good flavour. The éclair was filled with a thick chocolate crème patisserie and topping with a shiny chocolate icing. I love the fact the French put crème patisserie inside their cakes and pastries, so much more interesting than boring whipped cream which in my opinion is rather bland. Next was a mixed fruit tart which was very similar to the strawberry tart and also very tasty. Finally there was the very rich and indulgent chocolate tart. This was basically a huge mound of ganache which had been piled into a sweet pastry base and dusted with cocoa. It gave a wonderful dark bitter chocolate flavour that just melted on your tongue.

All the nearby villages seemed to take it in turns to have markets on a different day of the week. We also visited the market in Bedoin which was absolutely enormous and teaming with people. It must have contained at least 300 stalls which snaked along the roadsides, and sold everything from pots, jewelry, bread, toys, shoes, fruits and oils. I bought a sweet looking cakey thing to try without really knowing what it was, as I couldn’t understand the sign, I just knew it included dates. It turned out to be quite a dry, crumbly and dense semolina wedge that had a filling of pureed dates and was coated in honey to give it a shiny glaze. The date bit was quite nice but the rest was very bland and disappointing. I’m glad I tried it though otherwise I probably would have wondered what it was like for the rest of the holiday.

One afternoon we headed deeper into the countryside to explore, passing many vineyards along the way. It always amazes me how they manage to plant them in such straight rows. The views were fantastic and we decided to climb up short slope to the top of a hill for a better look. At least we thought it was a short slope. We ended up scrambling up a dried up narrow river bed that twisted its way from left to right all the way up. The supposedly short climb took about three times as long as we were expecting. However, we were rewarded not only with amazing views but also the discovery of an old ruined church that we couldn’t see from the road below.

We visited Bedoin a second time when it was a lot quieter and came across the most wonderful bakery.
The fabulous smell of freshly baking bread drew up in even before we registered it was there. We left with a crusty seeded loaf and some olive bread. The olive bread was like no other olive bread I have tasted. It wasn’t just flavoured with little pieces of olives but was stuffed full of whole black olives which were bursting with flavour. The bread itself was quite chewy and naturally salty due to so many olives but it was wonderful cut into thin slices and eaten with cheese and tomatoes. We also stumbled across a little patisserie which had a range of beautifully presented pastries making us want to try them all. In the end we restrained ourselves to buying a very appealing walnut caramel tart and a wedge of proper thick, wobbly custard tart.

I was a wonderful holiday and I loved walking down into the village each morning to get fresh bread from the bakery and then spending the days exploring the area, shopping in the markets and trying out the different cakes, pastries and breads. We bought fresh seasonal fruit, vegetables and bread everyday and it really highlighted to me how much fresher and flavoursome the food is when you buy it this way. We have nothing like this back here in England, at least not near where I live. On the occasion that I have found a proper traditional bakery you can end up having to pay £3 or more for a loaf of bread and compared to the fruits I tasted in France the stuff we buy from the supermarkets is quite bland. I know France has a much better climate that we do for growing fruit but I still feel we could do better. The time went so quickly and I don’t feel I properly explored half the places we visited, the perfect excuse to return again sometime.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interested to hear about your hoiday in France. Yes they certainly know how to produce good food! And wish we could take a leaf from their book.