When I first visited my husband’s family in Lorraine, eastern France, I was a tiny bit disappointed. Paris had stolen my heart and if I was going to spend more time in the country it would preferably be in the City of Lights. Needless to say, sitting on benches designed for pygmies for hours over dinner and not understanding a word anyone was saying did not live up to my expectations of the perfect Gallic experience. Not even the strawberries fresh from the garden and waxy potatoes that had actual taste could raise my spirits.
How times change. These days I can’t wait to escape to the countryside. Being able to speak the language a little certainly helps, but I also relish the fresh air, the slower pace of life, the visible signs of the changing seasons and the complete freedom from the internet (there isn’t even a phone signal).
My favourite time to visit is late Spring/early Autumn – there are still white and red raspberries to be picked and eaten straight from the bushes but mushrooms have also started to pop up too. It’s also a time of bottling and preserving for the coming cooler months and the drying of seeds and such to be used the following Spring.
Visits here always manage to put life in London back into perspective. Things that you fret about in the big city don’t have nearly as much sway when you’re riding your bike over green hills or walking through lush forest in search of bulbous pine ceps. There’s not much time to relax – living off the land means that there are always chores to be done – but I always return home feeling recharged with a suitcase full of fresh produce to stock up my kitchen.
The food while we’re there is always amazing too. Rabbit from the hutch at the bottom of the garden. Melt-in-your-mouth beef tongue cooked for hours alongside celeriac and squash picked that very morning. Pungent Munster cheese and fresh baguettes. Plum tarts made from last year’s preserved crop. Pasta served with parsley, butter, garlic and ceps we foraged ourselves. I could go on, but I think it’s time for some photos.
foraging for ceps
The conditions were just right for hunting down these beautiful mushrooms (AKA porcini in Italy). We found loads and what we couldn’t eat, we oven-dried and brought back to London. Stand-by for a recipe or two.
fresh nuts, fruit and vegetables
Totally organic. Totally tasty. Totally made their way into my tummy.
preserving, past and present
I love the cyclical nature of living off the land. Saving this year’s bounty for next, and all that.
Roaming, riding, care free.
A note on travelling to France
I always take the Eurostar. Not only does it get you from city-centre to Paris to city-centre London quick as a flash, it’s also super comfortable and cheaper than flying if you book ahead.
From Paris I connect to the high-speed TGV trains. Too easy.
© Kate McAuley 2013