Imagine, if you will, a small village in South West France. Scarcely more than a hamlet, just a farm and a few houses. It sits astride a quiet Departmental road.
Yesterday, had you been driving along that D road you might have thought it a ghost village as you passed by. Doors closed, not a soul about. Nobody plucking fruit from their plum tree no-one hoeing their leeks, no corner conversations happening and no dogs being walked.
If however you had turned down an unassuming cul de sac, a side road that enters what is little more than a farmyard with two barns and three or four houses arranged around two sides of a triangular patch of grass shaded by trees, you might have been quite startled. The double doors of the big barn thrown wide open, with trestles and benches arranged inside, tables laden with food and drink.
Outside, in the evening sun, with the ducks sporting on the pond, and a shy but friendly black and white Border Collie making tentative overtures, you might have found not one but three games of Petanque going on, alongside a bout of Finnish Skittles. Each game with its fair share of audience; drinking, talking in French and English and in the language that all understand, laughing.
Each year the villagers get together for a communal meal and a day of international fraternisation. Every household brings along a contribution to the feast; a starter or dessert but usually both, and their own plates, cutlery and glasses. Subscription covers the cost of the meat for a main course, the wine and the bread. Sangria for pre-meal drinks comes in a couple of Baby Burco type containers and is not for the novice drinker. Powerful stuff!
The Entrees were ample; many and various. We had supplied Samosas and they sat alongside figs with goat cheese and prosciutto, pizzas, quiches and, amongst other goodies, that fascinating French peculiarity, the savoury Cake or Cake Salé. An unexpected salad course came next, followed by the main course of cold roast Turkey and Pork with potatoes. Cheese came next, of course – Camembert and Chevres, served in the French style. Desserts were as various and ample as were the starters. We had brought a White Chocolate torte and a Raspberry Coulis.
Everything that we ate was simply delicious.
Lunch lingered on from around 1pm until almost 6pm, when dogs were walked and bellies eased a little. Then came the games. French ladies of a certain age remained in the barn, playing board games whilst the men of all ages, the children and some ladies played Boules and Skittles.
At around 9:30 pm we were all summoned to return to the table, when slices of fresh melon were served, followed by the remains of lunch to be eaten up.
Lightweights such as ourselves left around 11pm but I am certain that the party will have continued for quite some time thereafter. We strolled home by the light of a mobile phone, under a sky full of stars (the street lights here go off at 10:15 pm). There were suggestions that we might have to return for lunch again today in order to finish off the food but fortunately we have not been summoned.
It was a most splendid event! Perhaps the two nations did not mingle quite as much as they might. In previous years apparently the mixing has been better. It was just an issue of how the seating fell, I believe. International games of Petanque were friendly and competitive but the teams were entirely mixed by gender and nation. The skittle players were really quite rowdy, so I can only assume that great fun was had by all.
I am not sure why I was hesitant about mixing with my limited French skills. After all, the French here appear to have no English whatsoever and are not embarrassed by that, deploying sbody and sign language to get their point across. I particularly liked the finger wag that Mr L received upon playing a really good ball – it clearly meant “you sly old dog, been hiding your light under a bushel.”
A special word for the Cake Salé here. I have seen them for sale in the supermarkets, in the Apero sections. I have also seen recipes for them and have been wanting to try making one myself but as yet lack the necessary kitchen equipment. Yesterday’s home-baked examples were simply superb. Served still slightly warm, there was an Olive and Feta version and a Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil one. I was encouraged to have a piece of both and so I did. Very happy to have done so, too! The French also have them as an Entree or as a light main course, served with a salad. A versatile dish. I shall be making one very soon, I think.
If the savoury cake concept escapes the reader, try this link for a base recipe and variations (in French) or if linguistically challenged, see what Hugh F-W has to say on the matter. Really, though, you have to try it. Scrumptious!
Oh, and if I had any worries about my offerings, I need not have. There was nothing remaining to be eaten up at supper time, it all went at lunch. Some of the English had me worried when I told them that I was making Samosas: “Oh, the French don’t like spicy foods…” Well, at least some of them did. We didn’t see any part samosas heading for the bin.
Looking forward to next year already and planning something less taxing for my offerings so that I can simply chill. I am actually considering some nice old-fashioned stuffed eggs. Very 1970s! As “the French don’t like spicy foods” perhaps not Devilled eggs, though, but a nice platter of hard boiled eggs with three or four different tasty fillings should make for good come-again finger food and be easily transportable
Photographs? Non! (the featured image is an old one, just to perk things up a little) I did take my camera but it seemed to be a little churlish to whip it out, so please, just imagine the images. I can at least tell you that the setting was perfect – and perfectly French. The farm is home to an extended family, so all the houses around the little green are occupied by different generations. The houses have shutters and lovely lace window dressings, with neat arrays of potted plants to brighten up the frontage. There are toddler playthings under the trees, a well-stocked vegetable plot through the wrought iron gate in the hedge and that perfect little duck pond. You could not paint a more archetypal setting if you tried.