Things I Learned in France

frenchbountyI returned to the United States early this week, jet lagged and haggard. Billy picked me up in Miami and we went directly to the Calle Ocho–which is where the best Cuban food in America is made. We then drove back to Orlando where another plane would take us back to San Francisco. Our bellies full of Chicken with Yellow Rice and Cubano sandwiches, we cruised down the highway in a Lincoln Continental (the car of Bill’s mom). As we drove, the band Denegue Fever rocked our world, and a lightening storm started. I’ll admit it: I always feel relieved when I return to the United States. Everything feels so ad hoc and jumbled, for good and bad, I suppose.

But: France. And the untrammeled loveliness that is the Corbieres region where my sister lives. That is something. I could brag about the amazing farmers markets, the bread, and the wine that I had the chance to experience. What really moved me, this trip, was the natural abundance found in the hills around their tiny village.

My sister, of the blog These Days in French Life, documents the bounty of this place very well. To experience it firsthand is another thing entirely. I came during the vendange when all the tractors are rolling through the villages, carts stacked with grapes going to press. The workers (who are paid about 10 euros an hour) become dusty and covered with grape juice. One day, we ventured out to pick grapes in a field long abandoned, so the grapes had gone wild. Oh, their sweet dusky fruit! Along the way, we stopped at almond trees and picked the nuts. Later, we went to the Med and trolled for clams, which Riana then made into an amazing dinner, cooking them with wine and cream. I started to have delusions that I could just move to France and wander, gypsy-like from harvest to harvest, living off the land. Bill and I might just do that next September, on bikes.

Being an ever-alert farmer, I did want to learn a few tricks, that’s one of the greatest things about traveling. I learned the following:

-At the honey shop where they had a bee demonstration and this foxy French beekeeper explained how bees make honey and how they then harvest it,  I finally figured out how a professional cuts the cappings off a frame of honey. Instead of laying it facedown on a flat surface (like I’ve been doing for years), they have an anchored metal tip where they balance the frame while decapping. Genius!

-At the farmer’s market (where I bought some amazing saucissons and some of that pink rose garlic (Rose du Tarn)–do they sell that in the States?), there were vendors selling vegetable starts. No big deal, but it was how they sold them that I liked. Instead of using 6 packs like here, they simply had an entire tray of seedlings, and you would buy how many you wanted. Like 20 lettuce plants. They would then cut them out of the soil, count them and put them in a bag. Or, there was a lady selling leeks–50 for 3 euros. She would pluck them directly out of the plug trays, then bundle them for you to take home. So elegant and efficient!

-Riana and I went to visit a rabbit farmer, and I was really psyched about her rabbit feeding procedure and fattening runs. Since this farmer lady and her husband grow all their own food, including the animal feed, they didn’t ever buy pellets for the bunnies (which has been bothering me lately about my operation). Instead, they fed them on dried alfalfa (lovely green, leafy stuff), wild fennel, and a grain ration which was barley and oats. That’s it! The rabbits were healthy and large. The baby rabbits were left with their mothers until two months, when they were moved to giant runs–12 feet by 4 feet–a litter in each run where they fattened and got some exercise.

We took a rabbit home from the farmer lady, and that next morning I showed Riana and her neighbor my fail-proof method for killing, skinning, and cleaning a rabbit. It was very cyclical, because I first was inspired to keep rabbits because my sister lives in France, and now I was passing on what I had learned a few years later.

Now that I’m back in the States, although the general vibe is so different from France, the principles are the same: find the bounty, savor it, learn from it, and share it.


9 responses to “Things I Learned in France

  1. Peaceful Valley and Seed Savers both have red garlic. Maybe it’s similar to what you saw in France?

  2. I got a gorgeous sampler pack of garlics from is that the garlic you’re looking for? (the rose du lautrec). Though it seems it might be difficult to get that particular garlic, they’ve got many other splendid varieties.. The bulbs I was sent are huge and lovely. I’m hoping to break them up and put them in the ground the next week or so !

  3. ghosttownfarm

    hey dusky;
    i looked on the sticker: the garlic is called rose du tarn. i’ll plant it this year and see how it produces in california. the weather is pretty similar, but it might be warmer here.

  4. Hi there,

    I read your book while hanging out at Oakland Children’s Hospital with my daughter for 10 days (she is fine now). I drove by several times trying to get the guts up to knock on the door, but I gotta be honest. There were always cop cars nearby. I have lived in a little town for 10 years and have gotten a wishy-washy. Anyway, I’d love to hear about how you milk your goats. Do you have a machine? How much was it? I tried to find the info on your blog, but haven’t stumbled on it yet. I’m lucky to have plenty of land to garden, but manage to screw most of it up, most of the time. My chickens are the best. I will tell all my friends about your book and best of luck!

  5. So glad you had that deep breath of French country air. that you and Riana are sisters is no sweet surprise- life is wonderfully connected via terre and ether. Looking forward to having your book for our library here.

  6. I just wanted to leave a note. Half the way through the book I got from a friend for my birthday (what a present!) I discovered beehives( and beekeepers) next to my son’s favorite playground. I also discovered the coincidence of seeding and rain, although the book too got a little wet from it. Thank you for giving so much.

  7. I get the Rose de Lautrec at the Healdsburg farm market. It’s expensive, small, and inconvenient, with lots of small cloves per bulb. But it’s absolutely delicious, and makes a fabulous pesto. I’d be surprised if the Tarn isn’t the same thing.

  8. ghosttownfarm

    hey charles;
    the tarn has pretty big cloves, 12 to a head, i’d say. but maybe in our climate it gets small and pesky…

  9. Hi! A chef friend sent me your book. Arrived
    yesterday, and viola! I was sick today. I read the
    first two sections and just loved it. I work as a gardener, and have a garden at home and at my
    boyfriend’s. We are way in to Toby, Gaia’s Garden.
    Thanks for your wonderful book, and may you
    garden on for a long long time.

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