If you’ve been following my Instagram feed this summer, you’ve been gastronomically assaulted with picture after picture of my rustic tables set for lunch at Camont. More than once, we overflowed the big round wine vat table to two, then three old doors perched on sawhorses. They stretched down the new Barn terrace shaded by the roofline or filtered by the terrace awning. Camont felt like the Gare du Nord. Comings and goings as regular as trains announced friends and family who overflowed into the gypsy caravans and onto the many couches.
As I look back at the last couple month’s pictures filled with students and friends, colleagues and family, I am amazed at how productive one can be in all that friendly chaos across the weathered wooden tables.
Throughout the year, the teaching weeks give structure to my year and confirm new student’s dreams and goals. The Advanced Butchery & Charcuterie courses here at Camont and new Camp Charcuterie traveling workshops in the USA fill the calendar as the year rolls on. But it’s this spontaneous Summer food that we cooked and ate together over the last few weeks, that has become a part of a collective memory entitled ‘That Summer We Went to France.’
The pictures on Facebook and Instagram-a million delicious pixels of friendship and food when the table grew from 8 to 12 to 16 to 22- best document the good French food that comes from our local farms and markets. Even French people are surprised at the wealth of produce that spills from the little village markets. It all starts here, on the ground in Gascony. From the fertile soil of a little known and lesser traveled region of France, we grow and cook with some of the best products in the world. Did I forget to mention slabs of grass fed beef? Oysters and foie gras? Liters of dry cold rosé wines?
Thin-skin, meaty, heart-shaped tomatoes grown in river valley clay soil; sweet chin-dripping white peaches too fragile to ship farther than the local market; armloads of just picked chard greens transformed into surprising sweet and savory tartes. Served family style on large platters, these are the dishes that overspill the table at Camont and make each photograph a tribute to the farmers and friends who grow our food.
Rillettes of rabbit, terrines of guinea hens, pork patés, and small salt and pepper hams vie with jars of last winter’s duck confit for center stage. Fresh vegetables sleep under blankets of bechamel and seasonal sweet fruit is wrapped in butter pastry and toasted in the oven. The new outdoor kitchen and wheelbarrow fire pit toasts the lower branches of the shady Acacia tree as week after week we grill cote de boeuf, slow roast joints, bones, and other meaty bits to feed Those Who Showed Up, Old Friends and New.
These are the summer souvenirs that will enter in our Food Stories From Gascony project-tomato tartes, lavender and lemon cookies, real vanilla homemade ice cream, chicken wings and pork ribs, pizzas, flat breads, and too many cakes. Summer French Food is casual, fast and plenty. The abundance of food here is only inspired by the number of friends who passed this way. Dominique always says “Alone, you die,” I say “Alone, you starve.”
Cowboys, Farmers, Teachers, Chefs, Ranchers, Captains, Writers, Cooks, Students, and Kids all made it to this table this summer. Without them, I would have eaten TV dinners all summer. Without the eager, appreciative, fun and hardworking students, we would not have transformed too many pigs. Those big hams we salted are looking good now, Ben in Australia.
The aprons are beet stained thanks to Gioconda as we all now salt & fire in Uruguayan style.
The One Tomato Tarte experiment was a success and cold soups were conquered collectively as the youngest ones got their feet and hands wet in Camont’s kitchen cooking lunch and dinner, lunch and dinner. Oh, the dishes!
So when people ask me Why France? Why Gascony? Why Camont? I only have to look at the food we made, the tables we filled, and the dishes we dirtied to answer. Why here? Because this is where good food is grown by good people and shared by good friends. And it all starts here on the ground, in Gascony, and is shared at tables over and over – all year long.
These busy Summer days start to calm down at Camont and now I catch my breath. I am grateful for the famine as well as the feast. Funny, it’s like this every August-on the dot-and it still takes me by surprise. The bird song nesting, potager garden planting, and road trip madness fades away like a chattering soundtrack into quieter summer evenings. Hot days and sleepless thunderstorm nights now stretch before me as August descends like a nap.