Among the very many excellent reasons for spending half our year in France, is the food. The French are very demanding about the quality of what they eat, so if you shop – as we do – in the huge Leclerc hypermarket in Fontenay, you just have to put up with the excellent range and quality of food the French demand. Anything from bargains like fresh sardines, to luxury meats like veal or pintade, can be had pretty well year-round. And things are sold by their exact variety. In the UK we buy (and enjoy) venison – but in France you must specify the species and sex of the forest meat you’re buying: cerf, or biche, chevreuil … all are precisely named. And of course, different.
Similarly, the humble potato is never just ‘white’ or ‘red’ (as if it mattered what colour the skin was!) but Amandine or Noirmoutier.
Which brings me to strawberries. The hypermarket at the moment will sell you Charlottes or Gariguettes, of which the latter are the more richly nectared. And right now Margaret’s garden, over the road, is providing us with enormous quantities of the latter. They are crimson and luscious berries, that cry out for marinading in a little Pineau des Charentes (a sweet liqueur very popular hereabouts). We’ve eaten vast quantities for a week now, and yesterday, having picked 4kg, made outr first batch of jam of the season. Pleasure to come.
(And again, note, that the hypermarkets have put vast displays of jamming equipment on display at their entrances – beautiful jamming pans in copper or steel, assorted jars, labels, and an amazing range of devices for stirring, measuring, pulping etc. The French really do take food seriously!)
And no blog from here would be complete without a homage to our newly reopened restaurant next door but two. For the last dozen years it has limped on with a variety of proprietors (including, implausibly, a French-American family who couldn’t cook at all!). But this year, after a long period of closure, La Maison des Amis de la Foret is open again. The building is wooden, and built around an amazing, huge open hearth where logs blaze all winter. Its walls are festooned with ancient agricultural and forestry artefacts, and its bar is, amazingly, one rough-hewn horizontal oak-tree from the forest.
Today we fancied a meal there, and were treated to three courses. We started with a plate of charcuterie – six types of cold meats with a salad. Next was an enormous sweet-cured slice of Vendéen ham, served with a honeyed sauce and haricots verts. Then a slice of beautiful tarte au citron for dessert. Oh and the wine, of course- ½ litre of good red. The cost? Well, would you believe 11€? No – I mean for both of us? That’s £9.40!
I ought to confess that this was half-price, because they run a clever little loyalty card which gets you every fifth meal at half price, and every tenth , free. But that in itself is amazing.
Oh, and last Friday, when (as a concession to the English) they serve fish and chips (good stuff, too, I’m told) they recalled a chance comment of mine to the effect that I don’t eat fish ‘n chips – and insisted on serving me a whole duck breast, cooked ‘saignant’ as I like it, with haricots verts. Not on the menu – just offered for the same price!
You may imagine that we deeply hope these lovely people make a go of La Maison. They can certainly count on our custom!