The first time I drove into the Lot-et-Garonne department, it was the Spring of 1988. It was snowing. I was driving into a sunny snow storm on the Canal de Garonne. I remember masses of purple wisteria wired to stone walls, draped over pergolas and woven onto iron fences competing with a thousand tidy orchards exploding with blossom. Growing up in Hawaii and Southern California, I had a seasonally deprived childhood. I didn’t see my first daffodil until I was in my 20’s and never had a garden planted from seeds and stolen shoots. No wonder that I continue to be amazed at what springs out of dead looking branches and against old stone walls. Since that first French Spring, there have been many other memorable March days with hail, sun and rain- all within the same day. We call it Les Giboulees de Mars- when the wind roars around all 360 degrees and the sun shoves the clouds away. Anything can happen now. And now, so many years later, I still marvel at the explosion of color and weather of this four season paradise- Gascony.
The orchards and fields in this old river basin are sowed and planted, terraced and treed, and dotted with old stone farmhouses claiming small plots of garden. My neighbor’s lemon trees have come out into the sun from their winter shelter in the barn; a beautifully trained wisteria down the road is ready to burst into lilac bunches; a scattering of soapwort rises pink and pretty at the corner of the lane. Camont sports it’s share of color this week, too and wears it proudly like a banner announcing what’s to come.
From my new kitchen window at Camont I see forsythia yellow and peach pink, acid green of the willows leafing out and a million paper white petals of the many wild plums trees along the canal. It’s not all pretty flowers though and these are Food Stories, right? So I pluck a handful of blossoms to bring inside, take some of the prunings for a vase, and start plotting the plantings of raspberry, pomegranate and other fruiting bushes I am using to fill in a new ‘foresty’ garden area. (inspired by the King of Forest Gardening Robert Hart) Of course, I see the sprigs of pink and white blossoms first, but I quickly jump to what comes next. At Camont, the most beautiful first tree to sprout deep pink flowers is the actually the last to harvest. It’s is a blood-red peach- a pêche de vigne- and I can already taste the bright deep stain running down my September chin. When I planted that tree many years ago, I couldn’t imagine the joy of anticipation its pretty flowers would bring. This is the point of ‘frontyard foraging’- plant it now; you’ll be foraging your own yard soon enough.
It’s a little ritual to wait. Wait to see the next harvest before I use the last of the old. So now I can take the last jars of red peach jam to spread over a goat cheese tartlette or use the deep red cocktail syrup in a Gascon tribute to spring- a Giboulée de Mars. Inspired by last month’s cocktail shaker, Sean Richardson, and good friend and a Smarter and Fitter Smoothie Master, Monica Shaw, I whipped up a ‘cocktail smoothie’ to celebrate this delicious equinoctial moment and all the good food to grow, forage and discover outside my kitchen doors.
Giboulée de Mars- a Cocktail Smoothie for Spring
- 1 banana
- 1 cup farm fresh yogurt
- large soup spoon of homemade pêche de vigne jam or other summer fruit confiture (raspberry, peach, apricot…)
- several ice cubes broken up in smaller pieces
- one cup of fresh grapes or grape juice, water, or other liquid
- a shot of honeysuckle liquor, framboise or other fruit alcohol.
Blend and drink!
Now when I look into my potager garden beds–moved closer last year to the kitchen terrace in a mosaic of metal rimmed squares– and I am hankering to see everything blooming and budding, I remember that first French Spring snow storm. Although it might be the first days of Spring, anything can happen. So patience is the word for the rest of this month. A little extra planning now, will result in a lot more productivity later. This is where my Food Stories from Gascony begin. Remember, flowers = fruit.
For more about Pêche de Vigne and planting your garden read these Spring posts: