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PFS France ARTICLE
HAVING AN APPETITE FOR FRANCE
By B A Boyle
If you’re thinking of moving to France then you must be at least half keen on food and drink. It helps though if you can literally stomach anything.
Let’s start with an aperitif. Well you may end with that too, since if you are invited to a French house in the evening, this is likely to be all you will get. My first experience was an invitation to our elderly neighbour’s house shortly after we moved in. Monsieur M replaced the mountain of junk mail, straw and chicken eggs on his old wooden table with hastily wiped tiny glasses, even tinier cups and saucers and a huge dish of enormous white sugar lumps. Then the ritual began. A quick look through the shuttered window to check that that the coast was clear, a conspiratorial wink, and the opening and pouring of a crystal clear liquid from an old soda bottle. This was our first encounter with home brewed eau de vie. To accompany this traditional aperitif we were served thick black coffee in the tiny cups. “Pas du sucre” I say as I brush aside the sugar dish. Our host is undeterred; it is not an option. The sweet black liquid is foul but the eau de vie is worse. I glance across the table to my husband. It’s difficult to tell whether he’s savouring every mouthful or just can’t bring himself to swallow it. I guess that it’s unlikely he will be able to come to my rescue. Denied the option of sliding my glass over to him to drink, I look around the room for another escape. The light is dim since the shutters are still half closed. I notice that our genial host wears thick glasses and wonder how bad his eyesight really is. He reaches for the bottle, he sees that his glass is empty. As he pours the innocent looking liquid slowly into his glass I seize the opportunity to empty the remainder of my drink onto the sad looking potted geranium which is on the window sill beside me. I manage, with slight of hand, to return my empty glass, as if from my lips, just as he recaps the bottle. However, he now sees that my glass is empty and quickly refills it. This comedy continues for about an hour, becoming more farcical as my husband passes his own glass to me to dispose of the contents too.
As we leave Monsieur M fast asleep with his head on the table I notice that the geranium has perked up.
Our next invitation is quite different. Our new neighbours are from Paris; spending the summer in their country home in the village.
Aperitifs are served at 7pm. Would we like pink or white champagne? Have we ever tasted foie gras? Here is a plateful. Do we like caviar? Yes, the salty little black things on that toast. “No, I haven’t tasted either before” – (and look forward to never tasting them again). Thankfully, on this occasion, my husband, with a more sophisticated palate than my own, joins our Parisian friends to finish the goose liver and fish eggs whilst I happily eat my way through the other delicious canapés, nuts and cherry tomatoes. At about 10 pm it’s time for dinner and we leave our hosts to prepare their meal while we return to our house, full of food and fizz, and go straight to bed!
Now we have learned that the French way is to invite friends just for aperitifs. We are surprised then when the local farmer, having recently married, invites us to dinner. By this time I have mysteriously developed (honestly), an allergy to some seafood, namely oysters and mussels. The young wife is pleased to hear this; she doesn’t want to poison me so will prepare something different “Frogs legs?” “ No”. That’s a pity because I’ve had them before; they taste like chicken. What then? Voila, she appears at the table with a dish piled high with snails. The farmer shows us how to eat them, his face lights up with pleasure as he picks out and chews the contents of the shell. Even smothered in garlic, butter and parsley I can’t generate any enthusiasm at all. Worse still, I know that my face is contorting with pain as I attempt to slide the rubbery creature down my gullet without having to chew it. I see that my husband is suffering too. No potted geranium in sight this time.
I don’t remember praying but maybe I did. Our young host suddenly leapt up from the table to answer a furious knocking at the door. “Les vaches - libre” was all we could hear as he ran out onto the road, followed by a flustered wife shouting to us, in schoolgirl English, that they were sorry but the cows have escaped and they would have to go and catch them.
When they return we are sitting smugly behind plates of empty shells. The snails are safely secreted in our pockets. The young wife is overjoyed. It is the first time she’s prepared snails and is so glad we’ve enjoyed them. What luck that she’s made so many. She returns from the kitchen with another great plateful.
I must remember to add snails to the list of things I’m allergic to.
When we return their hospitality and invite the young couple to join us for dinner, I struggle to decide what to cook for them. It’s impossible to think of a truly traditional English dish so I choose a popular dish, my favourite, instead. The evening goes well, with our limited French, their limited English and a lot of wine. Another bottle of wine is called for. This necessitates a visit to the cave (wine cellar) under the kitchen floor and as I hold up the heavy wooden hatch my husband searches below for some good claret. Several minutes later we return to the dining room. I am amazed to see the youngsters mopping up curry sauce with the last of the bread. “C'était délicieux ” says the wife.
There’s more curry in the pot. I hesitate before offering it, wondering if their pockets are already full of chicken tikka masala!
About the Author
Barbara & Kevan Boyle have owned several properties in France over a period of nearly 20 years.
Covering 19,399 km², the region of Picardie has an estimated population of 1,857,481 or 96 /km².
There can be no question that the quality and richness of the environment are assets for Picardy. The wild coastline, the forested massifs, the quality of the air, the richness of the soil and the diversity of the flora and fauna all illustrate a diverse natural heritage.
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