Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rediscovering the taste of things



Also known as..."Oh mon Dieu, what on earth are they are selling us at the supermarket?"

Behold Exhibition A, above. Now...let's see if you can guess which of these tomatoes was bought - in season no less - and which one was grown in our garden...Exactly.

Yes, our little garden specimen is not bright red (a good thing as it is a noire de Crimée or a "black" heirloom tomato), it is kind of scrappy looking and has some stretch marks along the top...but what about on the inside? Just to be sure, let's try the specimen on the right. Hmmm, a distinct flavor of...watery...air?


Above are the basics of what we are growing in our garden, along with snappy salads, a failed attempt at resuscitating moved wild strawberries, not so hot red peppers and radishes that pack lightning heat. We are learning that not everything grows perfectly in this silty soil of Provence but if they do, well then look out - it is like tiger-taming. 

When there has been a "first" harvest of something, Remi and I would celebrate the moment by having a dégustation and then stare it each other, wide-eyed with wonder while slowly savoring each bite. Then we would blurt out, every single time: "But this doesn't taste anything at all like what we have been eating! C'est fou! Not even close!"


The tomatoes burst in our mouths like the friendliest version of the sun imaginable (and will get their own post with recettes next week), the zucchini is so dense that it could pass for steak, our neighbors shallots are smoky not stinging, the cucumbers have a sweet perfume and aren't watery in the least, the purple eggplants have made a convert out of Remi as they aren't even remotely bitter, let alone the white eggplants which make us feel like we are dining out at a Michelin one-star and the potatoes which demand to be the star of the show, never again to be relegated to the role of lumpy side-dish.


Those of you that grow vegetables have most likely stopped reading by now. You know all of this and secretly shake your heads at the rest of us poor fools. But what about those of you who have never had a garden? 


Like...us? This is our first attempt at gardening ever. We were uncertain as we have killed many a houseplant in our years together but, as I have mentioned, there is a lovely little community of fellow gardeners who kindly keep us on track. And truly, as the rental of the land is only 20 Euros for the entire year, we thought, "What the hay, let's give it a go." Certainly, it is a lot of work but of the kind that wipes away any troubling worries in the process and the bounty just keeps on coming. We are hooked

And we are also convinced that it is wonderful for our health too. Because even if you can afford to buy organic at Whole Foods or any big producer, many grow their goods with hothouse techniques - yep, even here in France, land of non-genetically modified, non-hormone injected and non-cloned foods (don't even get me started on the recent lobbyist bought insanities in the House of Representatives). But here is my question: while the jury is still out regarding whether heating foods in plastic can cause cancerogens in the body - isn't food grown under plastic basically subjugated to the same effect? Or worse? If anyone out there knows the answer to that question, please speak up. But the theory seems plausible to me...


...as does reaping all of the "extra" benefits of growing your own. Such as discovering that you magically happen to have five fleurs des courgettes that have blossomed on the same evening and that if you stuff them with ricotta then bake them with a thin paint of egg yolk and a sprinkling of bread crumbs, you automatically have at hand the perfect apéro item for two.

It's enough to start me off on the path of rediscovery all over again...

31 comments:

  1. I know, I know, I know! Even though we don't grow much of our own, every May, when our local organic farm reopens is a time of celebration. Enjoy the bounty -- it is indeed very special!

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    1. Yes! I truly missed shopping the producers section at the market in Arles (a lot of which is just resellers with even goods that are imported!) so I am SO happy to have good food on the table again. And for you, after last winter, I bet the reopening of the market was a festival!!

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  2. O, the bountiful blessings of personally grown garden produce. Your appetite enhancing description and photos are enough to feed my hunger. How much more if you can taste and eat them.

    Growing your own garden is one of life’s graces, worth the effort, time and money.

    Fresh produce is the secret of good food. And maybe plus a personal touch in cooking also.

    Congratulations Heather & Remi.

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    1. Thank you, Edgar. Yes, we do try to put our stamp on things at times (I have been trying to figure out the recipe that I mentioned for the soy-marinated eggplants at the Naka restaurant in Avignon that I wrote about a while back) but mainly, they really just speak for themselves. At least once a day, we cut up a freshly gathered tomato and eat it raw, over the sink, with juice dripping down our chins...

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    2. For fresh eggplant: steam or grill the eggplant then add lime juice and a very light sprinkle of salt before serving.

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  3. I have had gardens on and off for 40+ years .. right, I'm a bit old.... I live in the Languedoc area of southern France, and am fortunate enough to share the garden of an 80 year old neighbor. I have tomatoes that look like both of your examples, as I'm growing 8 different kinds: the green ones, that are green when ripe; the yellow ones; the pear shaped ones (not doing well); the giant ones that look implausible; two kinds of cherry tomatoes -- one of them is a baby noir de crimée, and two plants of my darlings, the big noir de crimée. Also eggplant, onions, potatoes, peppers, courgettes (zucchini), beets and lettuce. And as always, I have a surplus. I love being in the garden and eating the little tomatoes right from the vine, warm from the sun. Our garden is one of the ancient ones along the riverbank, probably used for hundreds of years, and still bearing the tall stone-built "well sweep" base, which I understand was brought by the Saracens a thousand years ago. I feel the flow of history whenever I'm there.

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    1. And I could definitely feel it just in reading your lovely response, thank you. It must be incredibly beautiful to have your garden on a riverbank...an image of it, along with the stone base is clear in my mind. But oh how I am jealous of your baby noir de crimée! Well, cherry tomatoes will be a definite if we are still here next year (being much of the nomad sort, neither my companion or I take anything for granted) as will onions if they will grow in the soil - everyone seems to grow leeks instead and I know that carrots are a no-go so we will just have to see. Sadly our beets were planted right before the canicule struck and so didn't take at all.

      Did your neighbor provide the plants for your tomatoes?

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  4. I love seeing your perfectly imperfect homegrown vegetables! And I'm reminded of an article I read some time ago about an organization that buys the "ugly" produce that supermarkets don't want to display, and sells it at far more accessible prices to those who are in need...

    And that Huff Post reference?!?

    Has the US utterly lost its mind?

    Oh, right. I think we know the answer to that. Besides, all those nice profitable GMO comestibles mean Big Food is good for Big Pharma... Long live the Profit Motive.

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    1. Exactly...again, don't get me started!

      In Barbara Kinglsover's excellent book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" she talks about how much organic food goes to waste (this despite efforts after to pass it along) as certain cucumbers are too long and zucchinis too crooked. It is ridiculous and sad...

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  5. Like truly beautiful people .. judge by substance and "character" .. give me the delicious "ugly" tomato every time .. the one that leaves me enchanted and spellbound with the memory of it's "taste" lingering on my palate .. leaves me wanting and needing more .. just like a human of intellect and passion and soul. Grow Garden Grow!

    Mahalo et Merci, Heather, for sharing.

    Aloha et Au revoir,
    Bill

    www.kauai-to-paris.com

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    1. Grow garden, Grow! Right back at you...

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  6. It's pure delight to read your description of eating one's home-grown produce. Every summer I marvel at the luxury of being able to go out to the garden and pick what's for dinner. These days we're enjoying a LOT of zucchini and the tomatoes are just beginning!
    What a better place the world would be if everyone had a garden.

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    1. Wouldn't it? I feel so calm when I come back from the garden. Every time. Not to mention if everyone had access to proper food, well...

      We had that giant heat wave and so it knocked out not just ours but everyone's zucchini's this year. But tomatoes? Yowza...

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  7. TOLD YOU SO!!!!!!!!
    IT's EASY............
    YOUR HOOKED!THAT PUTS A BIG FAT SMILE ON MY FACE!!!!!!!
    AMAZING the difference.............today I told the produce guy at our local supermarket <"Why does the produce keep getting bigger?"What are they trying to prove!??He couldn't answer me but picked up a peach and said soon this will be $6.00.
    SO HAPPY FOR YOU...........and your shopping bill has decreased I would imagine!More TOYS for the BOYS!
    XOXOXO

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    1. Yes! It has gone way, way down - which we needed! And yep, you did tell me that and I told Remi that you said so and we listened to you!!! Now look!!!!
      Much Love...

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  8. I love the passion and excitement in your voice! It's great to hear! I haven't as yet made the crossover into growing-your-own-vegetables, but I can well understand the difference in flavour between a store bought tomato and a home grown one. Not to mention the sense of achievement! Plus having to discover and try out new recipes for whatever bounty is in season, now!
    Good on you!
    Cheers,
    Deb C - Melbourne

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    1. I imagine that you have access to great farmers markets in Melbourne! And what an incredible variety too...? But yes, home-grown is just fantastic when possible. I am thrilled...

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  9. I have been waiting for this post!!! I am just loving the fact that you are growing your own, living vicariously yet again. This is big on my list of "I want to do that when I retire and move to France" because as a NYer, I just do not have the capability of growing my own food. Even if I COULD get a spot in a community garden, the pollution that is rampant here does not encourage my wanting to grow something I would want to eat. Your produce looks amazing! Bon Apetit!!!

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    1. Are you really thinking of moving to France when you retire?! That makes me SO happy! And I hear you about gardens in NYC - awesome ideas and good for both the community and kids but I always remember walking by the one on Houston Street and thinking, "eeeee..."

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  10. Heather everything you have grown looks so delish! Community gardens are one of the most wonderful ideas ever!
    Your bounty is astounding!!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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    1. Everyone has been so nice to us Karena, it really makes us feel welcome!

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  11. Oh Heather this is wonderful ! Growing your own vegetables is a great experience. Living in a small village gives a lot of opportunities for a better quality of life. Pollution and al the other problems will not stop the satisfaction of enjoying your great success.
    Those "fleurs the courgettes" are so inviting dear.
    Have a nice weekend .

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    1. Grazie mille, Emilia! And to you too! Yes, our world is far from perfect but it is true when I am in the garden I can forget for an hour or two...
      xoxo

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  12. Amen sistah. Speaking of good food, having just arrived back in Canada and switching from French to Canadian peaches is making me cry. I think that seed producers create fruit and vegetable hybrids with attributes like shipability, short growth cycle and disease resistance. Taste and texture seem to come last. I'm glad we have local Producteurs who have more freedom to plant what they wish but the best thing is to have a garden. You're lucky that you can plant anything your heart and mouth desires.

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    1. Yes! Pretty much. You have a better climate in Menton than we do and better soil too I bet. I would give anything to have a big ol' avocado tree!!

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  13. I don't know who said this but 'I am forever doing that which I know not how to do, in order that I may learn to do it' is a most rewarding way of life. Modern food production is revolting. And did you know there is actually a chemical in soil that makes you happy? If I can find the article I read I'll post a link. I have dirt under my fingernails right now and a glass of parsley wine :-)

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    1. Oooh, please do send if you find it Lisa - otherwise I will google it. Because what a concept! It certainly has been working for Remi and I.

      We went to a big grocery store for the first time in a long time this past weekend and both were kind of freaked out over the food we found. :(

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  14. How beautiful! I have been considering growing a garden, and now you've convinced me. Sometimes it's the ugliest things that taste the most amazing!

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    1. I will be so proud if you do your own garden because of this!! It is so amazing and it is like giving love to all of the "Lost Toys" of the veggie world too. :)

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  15. I LOVED this post! And I am so envious of your garden. I think I just wiped away a tear. Enjoy!!! xoxo

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    1. I get kind of verklempt about our garden often. After so many years in NYC...who would have thunk it? I so wish that I could teleport you one of the tomatoes that I picked tonight!!

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