Not your average Valentine

Arrete de m'envoyer des fleurs

Never one to get into the Valentine’s theme of things, this photo sums it all up for me.

Translation, “Stop sending me flowers. Kidnap me you idiot.”

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Fruits of Summer – Memories of Long Ago

Long gone are the days when, with untamed braids, a scorched, freckled nose and rather un-fashionable pret-a-porter shorts becoming only of the 70’s, I’d spend afternoons hanging from the willows that rested on the edge of a nearby stream, dipping their tips into the trickle of water as it flowed past. 

It was a summer holiday routine, constant and stable. There was a forever-ness to the vacation, summers would always be full of this, or so I thought at the time.  They’d go on endlessly, never stopping.

Just as the sun would rise, and the cock would crow, each day in a field above the creek, a herd of cows would stand metres away from a kitchen door anticipating her arrival. Waiting in the bushes alongside the outhouse, swishing tails at bothersome flies, they knew with regularity that she’d soon be there.  Sure enough, eventually she was.

Mistress of a small acreage, my grandmother would arrive to her dutifully awaiting stock. Bucket in one hand, a stool in the other, her tiny grey haired figure, would exit the kitchen door. It was a cheap tinny door with a fly screen that clanked shut against a worn wooden frame, a frame that witnessed many openings, and bore the smacking shut, on much love and bickering. 

As the door slammed and echoed behind her, she’d descend the single step and pass through a gate adorned by her beloved apricot trees.  Each day her attire was no different to any other, standard floral dress, protected by an apron, and boots, to endure the cow pads that lay ahead. 

There, in that dry and dusty corner of town, each day with steady repetition, they’d run along beside her, her devoted Herefords, parallel but kept apart by wire, until she arrived near the barn.  Entering the first gate, metal with herringbone patterned wire, she’d cross a muddy, or otherwise dusty yard, open an old splintered gate and finally allow their smelly company into hers.  As per every other day, as done for some years previous, the stool would take its place, the bucket would go down and she’d assume her spot, crouched, aggravating an aching back, rubbing her already calloused fingers, milking away for another day.

Whilst I didn’t often wake to see her go out for the morning milk, there were many a time at the hour of the early evening session when along with my sisters, we’d stand peering, faces squashed through the divides of the wooden cattle yard.  Once relieved of their engorged udders, the cows would be returned to the paddock.  At which point we’d take it upon ourselves to be their chief tormentors, chasing them madly, possessed little devils having taken over our bodies, up and down the rocky hill. And, that was how days passed on those long summers spent in quiet, loving arms. 

On the mornings when she’d tiptoed gently out, that grandmother of mine, I’d continue to sleep on her heavenly pillow where dreams were made.  I’d miss the ritual sizzling of the pan fried breakfast, awakening long after it had been eaten, but just in time to soak in the last of the flavor of sausages and eggs that lingered in the air.  From the kitchen came the smoky smell of the grill that my grandfather and uncles would devour.  On the bread board were the remains of slices of bread, its blackened crust, a smell I can conjure up now, and a taste I’ve wished for again on so many occasions.

At other times when I’d been so lucky to have finished my dreams and woken before everyone had eaten, I’d sit alongside of them all.  In the middle of the table would be a jug of cream, strained through cheesecloth, full of the taste of farm freshness, straight from the cows that I’d tormented the days before.  With the cream, I’d indulge in apricots of summer in that little house on Petrie Street.  Grown, picked and preserved for longevity, they were enhanced with a flavor that can only come from something homegrown, loved and nurtured.

And that was the start of many of my early summer days.  Tart apricots, not quite ripe, yet nevertheless relished in their abundance, served with a fresh, rich cream, gave flavor to long summer holidays in a house full of the essence of a woman who’s influence runs deep so many years later.

A generation has now passed and thousands of miles stand between those memories and where I find my life happily settled in France.  Grandparents are long gone, the cows and the house too.  Yet each year, from the end of May, and until autumn arrives, French markets fill with the richness of tasty ripe apricots. They take me back to the paddock, the door, and those morning smells.  Once again, I dream of the magic taste that came only in the company of my grandmother,  her  cream,  her tart, but most deliciously full of love, apricots.

This summer, just as all others for the past nine years was no different.  On a recent outing to the Marché Notre Dame in Versailles, there they were, sitting amongst the cherries, waiting to be eaten and indulged, were the most beautiful apricots.  And there I was, a child swinging from a tree on the banks of a stream, waiting for the cows to come home. Wanting for the taste of some of that cream from so long ago that would go so deliciously with them.

The Marché Notre Dame is a lively, 300 year old market located on the Rue de la Paroisse in downtown Versailles.  The ‘halles’ (pavilions) are open Tues-Saturday 7am-19.30 and Sunday 7am-2pm.

The ‘Carrés’ Notre-Dame (external market) on the same market square is a bustle of activity each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday from 7am – 2 pm.