Oh Sun it is so nice to see you once more, and also to welcome your twin, warmth; I am so happy to make your acquaintance again. For I can no longer kid myself that we are in the last few days of summer. There is no hiding behind whichever theory one chooses to believe, for whether we follow the meteorological calendar or the astrological one, either way it is now autumn and the signs of the new season are all around, in the garden, on the streets and at the market.
The cold winds and grey skies, the rain and low temperatures that have dominated our days since the beginning of September have been forgotten. Is it too soon to call this an Indian Summer? Would it be presumptuous, just because we have had a week of fabulous weather? An Indian summer is described in Wikipedia as “a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather” and may occur any time from late September through to November. In truth there is nothing unseasonable about these days at the moment, this is more than normal for early autumn in the Charente Maritime – what we had experienced last week and the one before that was what was definitely out of kilter.
However, rather than dwell on what has been, we’ve been making the most of the heat once more. The Japanese anemone are flowering in abundance; they thrive in our garden always against north facing walls!
Tiny cyclamen have pushed their way up through the earth appearing in unusual places, they are so small it’s easy to miss them altogether.
The leaves are still firmly clinging to the trees and the only ones to have changed colour are those of the Virginia Creeper which climb the walls of our house, turning a vivid burgundy red in places. The roses and geraniums are as stubborn as always, refusing to lie down and be forgotten; they will keep flowering despite rather tatty looking leaves and spindly stems until they are forced to surrender by the first frost of the year.
Yesterday afternoon, being a Wednesday, the children were off school as normal and so we set off on our bikes. Millie was leading us on an adventure, and taking us to new places she had discovered quite by chance earlier in the week.
We found a long row of apple trees planted haphazardly beside a track completely abandoned now. They were a rather a motley looking bunch; the fruit was mostly insect-bitten and small, but some of it was tasty none the less!
So much of our life here is governed by seasons, now is the time to stock up on wood for the winter
and start to gather the first of our walnuts. The fun part is knocking them off the tree
before the sightly more laborious task of removing the outer shells, they stain the skin and it’s a messy job, but always made entirely more enjoyable by the company of our four legged friends who are never far way and always up for a game in the sun!
French food is completely defined by the season; we eat what is grown locally and that means whatever thrives at each time of year. This is how I grew up and I like that France has kept this tradition.
We had friends for dinner at the weekend and they offered to bring an entrée, a delicious home made butternut squash soup, spiced with the perfect amount of fresh ginger to give it that added zing; we all devoured it with much gusto, and of course the conversation turned to ingredients and discussing the food we were eating and where it had come from. Quite naturally I asked for the recipe (oh, and to add another confirmation that we are heading into the colder months, soup is back on the menu for mid week lunches) and I’ve already made it once since the weekend – I can see it is going to become a regular feature.
It is quick and simple, nutritious and wholesome and tastes divine.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
675 g butternut squash, seeds removed and cubed
1 to 2 inches of fresh ginger
600 ml vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
100 ml orange juice
salt and black pepper
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and fry until softened.
2. Add the butternut squash and add the ginger. Cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.
3. Add the stock and orange juice and simmer for about 30 minutes until the squash is tender.
4. Leave the soup to cool slightly, before puréeing with a hand blender until smooth. Season to taste, reheat if necessary and serve. One can add a little cream if needed.
We have had this made with both vegetable stock and chicken stock and both were equally delicious. (This is adapted from a UK Good Food recipe).
I can imagine this in a flask, perfect for a picnic mid cycle or walk, served in big mugs with a crusty baguette or some home made wholewheat bread. In fact I am giving myself ideas as I write as Saturday is meant to be really warm, and I can sense a long country walk with all the family. With the aforementioned flask.
Whilst I copied this recipe I wondered if it would work just as well with pumpkins, I asked Roddy what he thought and he mentioned the word “gourd” in his reply. Is this a word that is even used nowadays? I must admit I was quite ignorant and it set me on a trail of discovery. Firstly to the meaning of the word (a gourd is a plant of the family Cucurbitaceae) and I found a gourd is a large round fruit with a hard skin. Then it was on to Mrs Beeton, that doyenne of English cooking, who wrote in her book that “the term squash is loosely used, especially in the United States, for 2 or 3 kinds of gourd, including the pumpkin”.
So I am assuming that this recipe would work just as well with pumpkins!
But I have to confess I got thoroughly sidetracked and stayed up until the small hours of the morning, utterly engrossed in her very ancient book. Amongst our huge array of cookbooks we have always had Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management sitting on the shelf. It is a First Edition from 1923, the red leather spine is torn and battered and the well thumbed pages are quite yellow with age, but the content is incredible.
Along with thousands of recipes there are also sections on Household Work, Etiquette, Entertaining, The Nursery, Laundry Work, The Home Lawyer, The Home Doctor, How To Keep Well “Nothing is more important to physical well being, and consequently to the attainment of long life, than the two evidences of a healthy stomach – good digestion and appetite”. and so it goes on. Everything anyone could ever have wanted to know about life a century ago.
Of soups she wrote, “soup forms the first course of the meal of those who dine in the true sense of the term, but its importance as a part of the every day diet is not sufficiently appreciated by the multitude. Yet no form of food is more digestible and wholesome”.
There is a huge section on food and recipes from around the world and even one on Vegetarian Cookery, although she sights the need for a different diet for medical and religious reasons when I read her advice on a meat-free diet I certainly detected an undercurrent of disapproval!
In the Australian and the American & Canadian sections she describes the food as English in character although in both parts she notes that French cuisine is highly sought after.
The French Cookery section is much the same as I would imagine it to be if published today, with a whole section on typical French dishes.
In her ‘General Observations on French Cookery’ she notes that France is now the nurse of all modern cooks – remember this is 1923, though! She goes on to say that Nature supplies the whole of France very generously with everything that can further good cooking. So there you go – some things never change!
However one of the most fascinating sections for me was that titled, “Marketing”. I was confused at first, wondering what she was trying to sell before I started to read and realised she was discussing buying food.
In this respect very little has changed here at all, the produce is still carefully examined before purchase and there is never any rush
and the vendor will happily cut a large ‘gourd’ to size.
Whilst we must embrace modern technology, I also hope this way of life will never change. I think a mixture of the best the 21st century has to offer with some good old fashioned fun thrown in makes perhaps the perfect lifestyle.
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