If you told me the idea for farmers’ markets came from Provence in southern France, I’d have no trouble believing you. As much as the cicadas chirping and the warm summer winds typify the region, it’s also full of people enamored with where they live and the cornucopia of consumables that come from this region.
Though perhaps typical of all of France, if you ask a Provencal to recommend a cheese or a wine, they’ll probably tell you where it came from before they tell you the type of animal or grape (respectively, of course) that was its origin. While we were visiting Aix-en-Provence, where Anne-Claire studied abroad in college, I was the beneficiary of two tremendous culinary tours de force.
We camped on a hilltop at the edge of the town overlooking Sainte Victoire, a craggy peak dividing an otherwise rolling valley of forests and turquoise lakes. Our second day in town, we got an unexpected invitation to lunch from Anne-Claire’s host family. In just a few hours, Amablé threw together a feast. What started with prosciutto-style ham and a healthy salad quickly turned into a pastry shell filled with cheese and spinach. As the newest guest and given that my mouth wasn’t much good for speaking French, everyone else figured I might as well put it to use eating, so I was given second (and sometimes third) helpings of every course.
Stuffed to the point of bursting, I watched as the main course came out, these sort-of bready tubes covered in red pepper sauce that come from Lyon. Delicious, but again, once we’d all had our fill, I was given the final serving. Then came cantaloupe for dessert. But, this being France, a single representative of any one course just wouldn’t do, so we had ice cream after that.
It was a truly epic lunch and we had a fantastic time visiting. Anne-Claire and I took a short walk around 5 to see her school in Aix and say hello to the director 10 years on. We went back to Amablé’s house and had a light dinner of meats, cheeses and tapenade in the cool evening air on their patio.
Two days later, we were in Marseille staying with Julie, Anne-Claire’s language partner from her time in Aix. After a day of sightseeing around the cliffs and beaches of Marseille (more on that in a later post), we went over to Julie’s parents’ house for dinner. Once again, French hospitality didn’t falter. We had champagne and sausages, along with a few other little munchies, to start with before even sitting at the dinner table. A caprese salad, steak and potatoes came next, followed by some lamb. Over the course of dinner, we tried three different bottles of wine, all from the local area. Dessert was fruit, and as the sun set in the distance and we took a stunning view of the Mediterranean from the terrace, we enjoyed a digestif – plums soaked in alcohol. The fruit themselves were tasty, but the drink afterward was a perfect end to the meal.