A French market, even a supermarket, brings it all into
focus - the ingredients from the barnyard, the wild, the
orchard, the market and potager gardens, the sea and the
rivers – the French draw from all of these to compose a
meal. Cows, sheep, and goats are the source of hundreds
of different cheeses, as well as meat. Chickens and other
poultry provide eggs and meat, and from the essential pig
comes France’s famous charcuterie as well as cuts of meat.
Wild mushrooms, herbs, truffles, and game reflect the
seasons. From the orchards come nuts and fruits, and of
course vineyards supply wine. Market gardens and home
gardens, or potagers, provide every aspect of vegetables,
from winter’s cardoons to summer’s eggplants and
tomatoes. From France’s waterways and its thousands of
miles of coastline come fish and shellfish.
I live most of the year in Northern California, an hour or so
from Berkeley, San Francisco and the Napa wine country.
The farmers, ranchers, cheesemakers, and other artisans
produce some of the most stellar ingredients in the nation.
The region’s farmers markets are among the most celebrated
in the nation. Many of the restaurants are considered among
the best in the world.
In a village near my house in Provence, a village of 1500,
there is a new supermarket, Super U. It has not one, but
three in-house butchers. In the fresh meat counter, on a
recent trip, I found a half dozen different cuts of veal, every
cut of pork, lamb, and beef imaginable, plus my beloved
innards such as kidney, sweetbreads and tripe. These are
items that I have to special order from local butchers around
Northern California, if I can get them at all.
I was able to buy, right from the counter, enough pieds et
pacquets (lamb tripe packets filled with a savory garlic
and parsley filling, plus lamb’s feet for a dinner party for
six people. Cost? About $12.00. I bought a huge head of
escarole to make a salad, and some goat cheese and honey
I’ve written numerous cookbooks and garden books on
the subject of French food and gardening, and it is why I
founded La Vie Rustic – Sustainable Living in the French
Style, a product line and on-line store to try to help others
accomplish that wonderful feeling that the French way
brings to us, but here in our lives in the United States.
What translates? We might not be able to find large, full-hearted escarole in our local supermarkets, but we can grow
them in a small potager garden, for example, along with
Growing French heirloom vegetables yourself is a source of
great pleasure from start to finish. Reading about the history
of some of the vegetables, like Romaine Rouge d’Hiver
lettuce, first written about in the 1800s, or Maussane de
Carouby peas, a long podded pea called a mangetout, with
edible pod and fully formed peas, grown for more than
100 years in Maussane in the Bouche de Rhone region of
Provence, near St. Remy. By planting the seeds, caring for
the emerging seedlings and plants, and finally from the
harvest to the dinner, you capture the French experience
of living with the seasons, and understanding the quality
and peak of freshness that are the hallmarks of the best
ingredients. There are fruits as well. Planting an heirloom
French fig or other heirloom tree aligns you with history.