What a scorcher of a week! Don't know about you but high temperatures in England don't actually fit in that well. Suddenly the trains have to go slowly, we get weather warnings galore and air pollution alerts. The underground takes on A cheesey sort of smell and people cast off their clothes, bearing their pearly white skin to the powerful sun's rays – turning their bodies red, pink and white stripes ! The air is filled with a smell of burning sausages combined with the excited squeals from children splashing in their inflatable paddling pools filled with freezing tap water. We all go mad for a day or two because we all know summer will not last much longer than that !
Cross the Channel however and the same temperatures bring different pleasures ! The cacophony of voices singing their demands in colourful French markets coupled with the aroma of freshly baked bread, gently simmering bouillabaisse in its large flat wok then the pungent scent from fresh basil and dried herbs and spices. Everyone has a kind of caramel glow to their skin and absolutely no peeling sunburn or white legs. I just love French culture – the language, the countryside, the people but most of all the food and the French attitude to food.
Have a walk around any English supermarket and we are all now familiar with the "eat in for £10" type offers, buy one get one free, ready prepared rice, mashed potatoes, chilli, curry, shepherds pie and even mushy peas. Puddings and desserts galore are pre-prepared, stuffed into their bespoke plastic containers ready for the microwave and the evening meal is soon sorted. No thinking, no planning, no cooking and most of all – absolutely no idea what has had to go into it to make it last ten days or so.
The French by comparison do not buy pre-prepared meals – I personally believe these would be an insult to any French housewife. Fast food in France is a plate of pan fried or grilled sardines, frittata, mussels, or a simple salad with anchovies. Fast dessert would be grilled peaches with vanilla or simply yoghurt or cheese and fresh figs.
French supermarkets are stuffed with fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, meat and of course their cheese – but the difference between them and us is – firstly, they don't need to import their fresh food because they grow it themselves and secondly they only have available what is in season. I recall searching for strawberries in April thinking someone somewhere would have some. All I was told was "ce n'est pas la saison Madame – essayez la confiture" (it's not the season – try jam).
I didn't know until I shopped in France that fish also has its season.
I really think there is sense in seasonality because food eaten in its season has a fuller flavour and I remember as a small child being so excited when strawberry season arrived. They tasted delicious even though the season was short.
People ask me where I get my inspiration. I think that it is this very passion for fresh and seasonal ingredients that are central to all my cooking and baking. Similarly I am asked regularly whether I will write a book. The answer is hopefully yes – in fact I have already 200 recipes collated but each season brings with it new ideas and flavours for me and for this reason I need to have a calculated approach so that my book is wholesome and for me complete.
Let's hope the sun continues to shine – really enjoying Wimbledon !
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