One of the things we really love about our “other life” in France – for that’s how I now think of it, our life in the UK and a completely different life in France – is the generosity of our friends and neighbours.
We have great friends in Derbyshire of course and I would never dream of suggesting they are not generous, because they are but – I don’t think I have ever opened my front door to find a bunch of flowers or basket of green salad on the doorstep. It happens all the time in France.
It seems that a lot more people grow their own food and flowers, or have their own chickens, and when there is a surplus they are happy to give it away.
Mme André is a regular visitor to our doorstep. Sometimes when we are in we might hear a little tap, tap, at the door and open it to find a huge bunch of roses from her garden, or a couple of kilos of haricots verts, in one of her collection of old baskets, most of which belonged to her mother and must therefore be getting on for a hundred years old. She keeps them hanging from the beams in her grange.
Our friend Barrie once joked about the concept of the same tomatoes doing the rounds – it is difficult to come away from anybody’s house without an armful of gorgeous, ripe, juicy tomatoes when they are in season, and if you can’t use them yourself the obvious thing to do is pass them on to someone else!
We have noticed how much longer the growing season is in the Loire – salad and vegetables appear much earlier in the year than the ones we grow at home, and other fruits and veg are still going strong in October. When you then add all the free food, the blackberries, windfall apples and walnuts, it amounts to a huge bounty of produce. I suppose that there is often more than each household needs so the natural thing to do is to give it away. And we are more than grateful to receive it.
When we were chez nous last October we gradually accumulated quite a collection of tomatoes of various shapes and sizes. I was reminded of this when I was shopping for tomatoes in the supermarket here recently. The perfectly round, evenly sized specimens available might look tempting but they are not a patch on the gnarled and knobbly ones we acquired from our various friends – these would not have won any beauty contest but they were miles ahead in flavour. I called them rarebreed tomatoes.
Some of the tomatoes were varieties I had never heard of before and I confess I can’t remember their names now. The previous year we had been invited to take part in a tomato tasting session at Tim and Pauline’s – we sat outside in the sunshine and tasted about half a dozen different types and they all had subtly different flavours.
What a fantastic way to spend an afternoon! Much better for the soul than sitting round a crowded swimming pool overlooked by some concrete monster of a hotel in some Spanish holiday resort – yet people still think we must be slightly mad to go to the same little old village for our holidays, year after year. They have no idea !!
Anyway, Pauline gave me instructions on how to make a really tasty tomato soup from the various tomatoes we had acquired.
You cook a chopped onion in olive oil until it’s soft but not browned. Add your chopped tomatoes (skin them if you can be bothered – I didn’t) and about a litre of vegetable or chicken stock. Add salt and pepper and simmer for about 30 minutes until the tomatoes are nice and soft and breaking down. Blitz right in the pan with a stick blender or transfer to a liquidiser or food processor to make it as smooth or lumpy as you like. Add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche and maybe a sprinkle of chopped parsley.
Serve with crusty bread, feel virtuous and enjoy !!