When we first moved here, it was frustrating not to find strawberries or asparagus in the French shops in the winter. I completely changed my mind a long time ago. There is a lot to be said for enjoying produce only when it is in season. First, you know it hasn’t got an eye-wateringly large carbon footprint. Second, it’s generally better because it’s in season and not forced unnaturally. Third, it’s more of a treat as it’s not available at other times.
In Paris or other big French cities, no doubt, you can get produce that has been specially flown in – at a price to match. But out here in the sticks, what’s available in the supermarkets and certainly at the markets varies with the time of year.
So we were pleased to see the first French asparagus at our local market yesterday morning. We have eschewed the Spanish version. And we’re certainly not going to buy the Peruvian variety, as we once did by mistake.
We are very partial to these juicy green spears with their delicate and distinctive taste. In fact we like them so much that we have been known to eat asparagus almost every day during its relatively short appearance. Connoisseurs claim that the fat purple-tinged variety are the best. I don’t agree. I find them bitter and tough and much prefer green asparagus.
In my opinion, faites simple is the way to treat asparagus. Classically, it is served with hollandaise sauce. But I have never mastered the art of making it. So for me it’s mayonnaise and for the SF it’s melted butter. We also prefer asparagus warm, although some French friends serve it cold with hard boiled eggs and ham.
Not just any old strawberries. They have to be Gariguettes, the variety that is grown locally. They are huge and misshapen and look like something that just landed from outer space, but they have a particularly sweet flavour.
I am not generally a fan of strawberries, finding them rather bland. It was an eye-opener, then, when we were house-hunting here nearly 18 years ago and tasted Gariguettes for the first time. We turned up late for lunch at a restaurant, which had only a set menu. Soup, asparagus, veal stew and cheese were succeeded by the sweetest strawberries I have ever tasted. We were hooked.
Again, they are available only fleetingly. They are grown extensively in the south west but also in Brittany, under glass. Apparently, this year’s crop is better than normal because of the mild winter.
As with asparagus, faites simple. Gariguettes don’t need sugar and adding cream just masks their flavour. The SF likes to put red wine on his, a trick he learned when he lived in Limoges some years ago. It’s not greatly to my taste, but chacun à son goût.
We shall be gorging ourselves on these seasonal treats for a few weeks. Then it will be time to move onto something else.
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