On your way to the village you will drive through the wide flat plain of the Rhône valley.
You’ll recognise some of the names – Gigondas, Vacqueras, Châteauneuf du Pape. Others will
probably be new to you. Every small village has it’s own particular wine. I love the reds
of Saint-Maurice sur Eygues or Vinsobres. The principal grapes are Syrah, Grenache,
sometimes Cinsault, but always dominantly Mourvèrdre, which gives that distinctive hot
peppery taste of the Côtes du Rhône, the red of the brief very cold winters and long
very hot summers we enjoy here. rosé is plentiful. A friend of mine has a theory that
rosé is only drinkable when you’re warm in the sun. I have certainly always found it
thin and insipid in the UK, here it is the perfect accompaniment, with some little olives,
to watching the swallows pirouetting over the river as the sun begins to set behind the
Provence is a huge region, from the Italian border on the coast of the Mediterranean, to the eastern bank of the Rhône, and the cuisine is hugely varied. What is common is the use of olive oil. Nyons, our local town, where you will go the weekly market, is the centre of the olive industry. The olives are AOC, like the best wine. They look like goat droppings, which is unfortunate, but the taste is quite sublime. I often make tapenade to have on little toasts before dinner.
Fruit and vegetables are quite wonderful here. Because a flat field is a rare sight,
there is little agro-industry, and we still have small farms where people grow without
pesticides. It is the centre of apricot, greengage and cherry growing in France.
Apricot season, which starts on 23 June (please note, not 24 or 22 ) gives us extraordinary
luminous fruit, seemingly lit from within. Like a woman possessed I make jams
(along with blackcurrant, I think apricot is the best jam fruit), compotes and wine which
I hope you will enjoy.
The vegetables are seasonal. In the summer you will, of course, have lots of salads. These are grown I the soil (whatever next?) so have a flavour. We have many varieties of tomatoes, some of which I bake very slowly for hours and serve drizzled with oil and fresh basil, some of which I stuff, and others just slice with rock salt and oil. (Richard Olney, my favourite food writer, said “In season I can ill support a day without a tomato salad”, an excellent maxim which we follow).
The village has an artisan baker, and his sour yellowy pain de campagne is the perfect
foil to the green oil and salt. I find that simple things, like a tomato salad, or a
fried egg, or excellent quality unsalted butter are rendered celestial with some of
Didier’s bread, hard rough crust and soft slightly sour interior.
The main cheese is goat. They are little roundels, called “picadon” and you can have them
very fresh and wet,which I serve usually as desert with fruit compote or some of the honey
from down the hill: or they come slightly more mature, rolled in ash or sariette (the wild
sage which grows all over the place here): or very mature, almost liquid and a bit smelly,
which is very good with some muscular red at the end of the evening. We have some cow
cheese as well, various Tommes and Saint-Marcellin, from a little way further into the alps.
All the meat we use is free-range and, where possible, local. I usually buy from a local poultry farmer who raises chickens and guinea fowl in the fields which surround the farm. They scrabble around in the dust and run up and down the lanes, so their meat is quite dark but has a depth of flavour which is remarkable. I think that is one of the dominant features of the food, it’s pure strength of flavour, whether it’s an apricot or a piece of beef from the farm up the valley, it sings on a clear strong note which is the perfect foil for the hard bright light of the summer.
Here are a few examples of the catering provided on Pink House Courses.
Penny Averill has lived in the Pink House for six years. She learned to cook in France. Most of her working life has been spent in the film and television industries, but she has also co-owned and run a restaurant in the City of London, and done all the cooking for the BBC Italian series Regional Italian Food. She continues to work on a consultancy basis for the film industry, and also advises restaurants. Her blog, about food, France and England can be found at www.pinkhousefoods.wordpress.com.