In good company
Sunday was spent in a way that has become synonymous with France for me- eating good food!
It was the A.G.M of the Tomato Growers’ Association that I’ve mentioned before. The association transmitted an open invite to all its members and their families to come to the meeting at 10am, and the formalities would be followed by a meal.
Now I’m never one to pass up the opportunity to meet new people. My curiosity generally trips and skips ahead of me. And even the stars in the sky know that I would never slight a good meal. So the date was enthusiastically pencilled in on the calendar.
The tomatoes were such a success this year, that we were curious to see how all of the other members got on. The association comprises of a very committed group of individuals from all walks of life. You had people like us, families enjoying the fruits of our labours – hoping to make a small but meaningful contribution to the type of produce we consume.
Then there were others: well-established growers and producers, looking to source and exchange ideas with like-minded people.
Some were hard-core: one family that hoped to be completely self-sufficient in a few years’ time. Another couple with a vision to restoring their large estate to its pre-pesticide former glory. There were people there who were truly inspirational in their vision for a simpler, brighter future.
I was reminded how one or two small changes can really make a difference. I was also reminded of how the French, in general, are committed to using local produce. There were conversations abound of where this honey and that cheese could be sourced from, who had the best crop of beetroot this year, what was the best way of insulating the endives (chicory) in the cellar.
I know a few things about food, but I always feel like a complete novice when I’m surrounded by folk who seem to have culinary knowledge in their bones.
After the speeches (including a power-point presentation) were wrapped up, it was time for an aperitif. The traditional Burgundy blanc-cassis was passed around. This is a simple concoction of blackcurrant liqueur and white wine (the well known Kir is traditionally made with white Aligote wine, so round these parts they call anything else blanc-cassis). This is where the laughter began and the conversation flowed freely.
We eventually passed to the table where nothing short of a feast was served. One of the members, a caterer, also happens to rear his own free-range poultry. We were treated to a delicious coq au vin. On the side? A purée of pumpkin, ever so delicately seasoned and a potato gratin. All of this after an entrée of salads and crudités prepared by the President (of the association that is – not François Hollande!) and his wife, Jerôme and Aline. I can’t even begin to describe this couple’s idea of leisure time – that’s going to have to be a blog-post all of its own! The energy some people have is astounding!
I am always amazed at how the French seem to get portions and quantities just right! The meal was served up by the Vice-President – our good friend Adrien, the Secretary – Christophe, and mon homme, leaving just enough for those who wanted a second helping. The children were whipping around the tables, brandishing fistfuls of baguette. It kind of reminded me of an Irish wedding!
We moved onto cheeses!
The cheese plate can always be politely declined but I somehow can’t seem to get the hang of polite declination! Deliciously ripe and runny – what’s a girl to do?
The charge for this wonderful meal was minimal – just a contribution to cover the cost of the produce. In true French fashion everyone brought a dessert and some wine. The array of desserts was almost worrying! I hovered over the table, with the excuse of taking photos, but really I was trying to size up exactly how many I could try without appearing like some kind of sugar-psycho. I had already decided on some of mon homme’s tiramisu, but what else?
Oh decisions, DECISIONS!
And then I saw her!
A simple unassuming crème caramel!
Those who know me, know that I truly take after my mother in this respect. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that makes me happier than a well-made crème caramel or crème brûlée. I have been known to cry over a bad one. Not one of my prouder moments admittedly.
This one was perfect!
After the meal, when people started making their way homeward, I hovered again to see who would collect the caramel mould. Target identified, I made my way over. I had to tell her how gorgeous it was and I’m glad I did.
It’s a simple dessert, but when it’s made right it’s enough to make me believe there is a heaven!
The heaven-giver was delighted with the compliment and let me in on her little secret. She perfumed the crème with a lick of orange-infused rum. She also promised to make another one next year! I told her she may have to bring two!