Hints & Tips
Yes. You’ve gone and guessed it. I was in Normandy for my holidays. It’s a beautiful place, friendly, pretty, very French (obviously) and full of wonderful produce, tasty hand reared chickens, pungent firm onions, plump rabbits, naturally coloured purple and white and yellow carrots (the orange colour we are so used to was bred in to carrots and grown by Dutch farmers to celebrate William of Orange. Why?) tender, delicious pork, dark green thickly leaved celery, sweet fully-flavoured tomatoes and heavily scented delicate but powerful garlic that make your meals and your trips to the local market that bit special. So much for the eating, what about the drinking?
Well, suffice to say the fortnight I spend in France is about the only time I don’t drink English beer and I don’t really miss it. Why? Because there are so many other lovely drinks to try of course.
For example, who can resist a glass of cold Normandy Cidre on a summers evening? (Yes, it is cider but not quite) or perhaps a glass of tantalising aniseed pastis, (I like the brand from Marseilles) topped up with water so often it eventually becomes a soft drink, or a glass of chilled rosé, pink and light and perfect for a summer barbecue in the sun. Even ‘un demi de bière pression’ (Pelforth preferably) has its charm and a small glass of Calvados after a fine dinner of Rabbit and mushrooms is a pure, fine, appely joy. Ah. Bliss. And no, I am not going to say ‘please drink responsibly’, I am going to assume that you will just use your common sense just like we all used to. The cidre in particular is extremely well priced, even in these days of post Brexit sterling doldrums. The Calvados is more pricy but worth every Euro and still cheaper than buying it here. 12 year old Calvados de Domfrontais (from ‘Pacory’, a small cellar or ‘cave’ in the heart of the area) is particularly good.
So yes, of course apple feature highly in the Normandy landscape and if you were lucky enough, as I was, to be staying in the calvados region, you would see acre on acre of old, burgeoning orchards, full of trees offering rich rouge and green fruit with exotic sounding (French innit) varieties like the ‘Rouge Duret’ or the ‘Mettais’, or the ‘Saint Martin’, all of which are used in the production of the heavenly eau de vie de cidre that is Calvados (Calvados is made by distilling cidre)
‘Normandy is lush, green, large, quiet and totally devoid of lawn stripes. This is easy to notice for one is used to seeing them everywhere here and any suburban street will sport at least a couple. But not in France. What do I mean? Lawns. Where you do see a lawn it is generally longer than the average British variety and the smart stripe, so beloved of our sward enthusiasts, is just not there. (Well, at I’ve never seen one, if you have, let me know).
“Why is this?” I hear you cry. What is it about the mighty stripe that makes it so iconic in this country? Do the French really not do them? “Je ne sais pas” I reply in Schoolboy French, then pausing to consider that I am supposed to know about these things I do some research and offer this…
I think it’s about status. Lawns used to be a sign of wealth as keeping them pristine was incredibly costly. For me there’s a touch of class one-upmanship about an
expanse of striped lawn. The French are a little too “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” for such things and think we English foolish for our love of lawns. They are, after all, a folly in much the same way as a ruined tower or an ornamental hedge in the grounds of a stately home. What are they for? To look smart. That’s it. I do not indulge in the traditional ‘they help linesmen sort out offsides’ argument for that is surely a bi-product for striped lawns not their ‘raison d’etre.’
Suffice to say that, rather like the beer, in the rural republic of France I didn’t miss the stripes at all, but having returned home I am finding their formal familiarity very welcome and homely. I would use that well worn “When in Rome…” quote but, apparently, the Italians think striped lawns are silly too. Ah. C’est la Guerre.
Profitez de votre jardin. Drew Hardy
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