Spring in Southwest France

 

Cloth of gold: buttercups in our field

Cloth of gold: buttercups in our field

Well, this year it’s easy to tell it’s arrived. The weather has generally been lovely in April – with the occasional off-day. More often, April is cold and windy. The fine weather has brought everything out early and many of the trees are already in full leaf. Only the oaks and walnuts lag behind. No doubt things will change for Easter, as usual, although the Météo is still hopeful.

The seasonal visitors are arriving

So far, we we’ve heard and seen cuckoos, hoopoes and swallows. The nightingale hasn’t turned up yet but should arrive soon. Last year, we didn’t hear many nightingales close by, so I hope it will be different this year. Their sliding song in the thickets is so evocative; and, despite their name, they sing day and night.

While not exactly seasonal visitors, since they are here all year around, we have seen more hares so far this year than in previous years. This might be because our area has been a réserve de chasse (i.e. no hunting allowed) for several years.

Frogs are tuning up

The frogs carry on their nightly concert in and around the swimming pool and in any other water they can find in the area. Despite all the rain we’ve had, it’s dried up fast. The noisiest are the small green variety. How such a small creature can be so loud is beyond me.

Seasonal treats are on the menu 

The new season’s asparagus and the locally-grown garriguette strawberries are back. We don’t like eating these treats out of season, since they are imported then – with all the implications for carbon footprint etc – and they don’t taste the same, anyway.

My first taste of garriguettes was when we were house-hunting 17 years ago almost to the day. We ate a late lunch one day when they were provided en dessert. They are naturally sweet and more elongated than other varieties. Not previously a strawberry fan, I was converted immediately.

Respounchous hunters have come out of the woodwork

I’m always amazed by French people’s ability to glean something edible from unpromising material. Cars are parked mysteriously beside the roads at this season, while their occupants scan the verges, nose down, tail up. They are searching for the local delicacy respounchous, or a form of creeper whose young shoots resemble wild asparagus.

Our neighbours are very partial to it and are delighted if we turn up with a bunch from our wood. There’s even a fête at Cordes (Tarn), celebrating this plant. We don’t eat it ourselves, having been told it’s very bitter. It’s not a taste I’m keen to acquire.

We have been surprised to see motorists from the neighbouring Aveyron département turn up and rootle about in our wood.

‘Don’t they have their own?’ I said to friend Françoise.

‘It doesn’t grow there,’ she replied. ‘Even only 10 kilometres from here at Le Cuzoul, it’s very rare.’

Geraniums are inaugurated

I judge that the danger of a sharp frost is over (we’ve had very few this year, anyway). So yesterday saw the annual installation of my geraniums. I always buy new ones; I can’t get them to last over the winter. They are a bit gaudy but they do look lovely against the stone walls of our house. And, for me, they are redolent of the south of France.

Every time you turn your back the lawn grows

Actually, it never stopped throughout the winter, owing to the mild weather and the rain. This meant that mowing had to start early before it became impossible. Now, it’s a bit like painting the Forth Bridge: you just get to the end and then you have to start again.

Nonetheless, as our neighbour Monsieur F says, ‘C’est la belle saison.’ He’s right.

You might also like:

Geraniums
Watery Walk – la Vallée de la Bonnette
Nature come back to life

Copyright © 2014 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

 

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About Vanessa Couchman

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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19 Responses to Spring in Southwest France

  1. amelie88 says:

    Spring is definitely in full swing here too! The daffodils, crocuses, and forsythia have been blooming for a few weeks and this morning I noticed shoots opening up on the trees that up until this week had been bare! We have family visiting from France right now and my uncle would not stop taking pictures of all the squirrels and deer visiting our yard (we have a family of 7 deer that pretty much never leave). The weather is warming up too and for that we can only be glad!

  2. Helen says:

    Respounchous (reponchon) are the shoots of Back Bryony They are searched for avidly by other members of our walking group (Villefranche de Rouergue), goes well in an omelette we’re told. British wiki says that they are poisonous! Lot’s in our garden, they grow from a tuber which is a pain to have to dig out when weeding.

    http://www.cuisinealafrancaise.com/fr/dgal/produits/78-reponchon

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dioscorea_communis

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for the info. My (French) friend who says they don’t grow in Aveyron must be mistaken – or maybe they simply don’t grow in certain parts of Aveyron. I had heard they become more toxic as the shoots get bigger, which is presumably why people only eat the young shoots. I notice one of our local restaurants is having a soirée respounchous this weekend at which it will feature.

  3. pfornari says:

    I always kept geraniums in our years in belgium, Vanessa. Sometimes I would manage to make them survive the winter, pruned and covered, in our garage. I kept them indoors till early May…but Brussels is a good deal further north than you are.

    • nessafrance says:

      Actually, it’s not so much the cold – although at 1,000 feet above sea level we can easily have minus 15C here – it’s more that I don’t have somewhere suitable to store them over the winter. Our barn gets rather damp and I’ve tried several times with geraniums but they are nothing like as good the following year. So I take the line of least resistance and buy new every year.

  4. Janice says:

    Having read this, I am looking forward, even more than I was, to our trip to our home in France in just 10 days time… we’ve been away for 6 months, and I cant wait to see how the winter has treated our garden… and then to the next 6 months when I will be enjoying it.

    • nessafrance says:

      I hope you enjoy it. I think you might find it’s rather green after all the rain we had over the winter! We have been basking in lovely sunshine this week. Long may it last.

  5. lostfrance says:

    Further to previous comment. These hop shoots are very popular in salads and omelettes here in north Aveyron. These shoots usually described as wild asparagus first came to my attention in Elizabeth David’s book “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine”. She had them in a risotto in Venice where they call them bruscandoli a corruption of luppoli, meaning hops, although they too apparently thought they were asparagus.

    • nessafrance says:

      This is turning into an interesting discussion! Respounchous are often referred to as wild asparagus but that, as I understand it and from what you say, is a different plant. I’ve never read that particular book of Elizabeth David’s but I was interested to see from Liz’s earlier comment that they are also a delicacy in Italy.

  6. Répountchous exist here in Aveyron, they are wild hop shoots.

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks. My friend (who is French and has lived here for years) implied that they don’t grow there but I imagine there are areas where they do. I’d be surprised if there were none at all. It is interesting, though, that in all the 17 years we’ve lived here, the cars that pull up on the track leading to our wood are all immatriculée 12!

    • lizgyooll says:

      Ah, okay … we also eat those in Tuscany and they are very good too, but bitter in the same way.

  7. Chris says:

    What a beautiful field of buttercups. Was interested to read about the respounchous, and lizgyooll’s comment has me even more intrigued; I didn’t know that wild clematis shoots were edible. I love the sound of frog concerts.

  8. lizgyooll says:

    Ah, “respounchous”; I didn’t know the French name. I know them well from Tuscany where they are also a delicacy and in fact they are wild clematis shoots, Old Man’s Beard! I break off the tough bits at the base of the stem (as with asparagus), steam them and then bake them in an Italian frittatta with the addition of a bit of grated Parmesan cheese. They are slightly bitter, but go very well with egg which counteracts the bitterness … they feel as though they are doing you good:)

    • nessafrance says:

      Interesting to know that they are also in Tuscany and that they, too, eat them with egg. Here they are eaten in a salad, generally, with hard-boiled eggs, lardons and sometimes potatoes. I’ll be interested to know if you have them in your part of Aveyron. According to what my friend says, they don’t grow there.

      • lizgyooll says:

        Well, I’m going to have a good look for them now:) I bought a bunch in the market last week, but can’t remember if it was a local stall holder. Strangely we are on the same latitude here as in Tuscany (where it’s a very invasive weed) so I would have thought it could grow here. It’s now a bit late in the season … I usually cook it at the end of March, beginning of April. They are really delicious!

      • nessafrance says:

        Yes, I’ve seen them in the markets, too. Of course, it’s more satisfying to pick your own (providing you don’t do it next to a main road). As far as I can gather, the plant can be sensitive about the type of soil it grows in, otherwise I would have expected it to grow near you, too.

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