01 December, 2008

Forgotten fruits.

(Beeswax sculpture of a wild boar. To be found very much alive, and in large numbers around here.)

The annual "Days of Trees, Plants, and Fruits" came to St. Jean du Gard this past weekend. For those into growing stuff, it's one of the highlights of the Cevenol calendar. You can find things very much off the beaten path, such as the un-commercialized, disappearing old fruit varieties, like some of these apples below. These were for sale, but they also served as tasting samples, and you could take home the very trees that grow the apples you liked best...I fell pretty hard for a Patte de Loup, a relatively plain apple sometimes distinguished by an ingrown natural "scrape" scar, resembling a nasty slash from a wolf. It has a strong perfume, great crunch, rich, wine-sweet flavor, with a refreshing dose of acidity. Also went home with Reinette d'Amourgine--its close cousin is Reinette d'Amboulne, a green apple hiding in the photo below. Beyond the apples, the whole event is pretty crunchy--lots of information on living more green, with organic foods, seeds, and plants for sale. As to be expected, there was a goodly number of participants with long hair, good skin and, very possibly, hemp shirts under their wool sweaters. The musician below is blowing into an instrument made of goatskin. Sounds striking, like a rather mystical bagpipe. The Cevennes has a pretty sizable, vibrant sub-group of

people who have opted out of the more mainstream way of things. These include the artists, the neo-hippies and every single permutation and degree between. They get on well with the "true" locals--you know, people like me--even if they tend to smile rather a lot.

After the requisite people-watching and chatting, I got down to the serious business of selecting this year's trees: the two apple varieties; a pear (a Williams Rouge, the smallish fruit is almost too pretty to bite into); a quetsche (a type of Damson plum, from which the Alsatians make Eau-de-vie); almonds; citrus (a clementine, and a Meyer lemon--go USA!); and that kaki. I was given a little Figue de Miel tree (with yellow, melt-in-in-your-mouth sweet fruit according to the grower, and passed down through four generations of his family). Another gift: a vine of old Raisin Fraise (Grape Strawberry!), which are sweet grapes claimed will make me the envy of all far and wide. This was announced with a straight face. Plan to drop in on us in a couple of summers to test that claim...

This being France, we had our choice of delicious soups, including a gorgeous onion one and a green bean one made by one of my favorite local (jam and everything-else-making) producers, who has participated in the St. Jean event for the past 18 years. Chestnut-flavored snacks, whole-grain breads and many other food treats were also there for the picking, in addition to the aforementioned apples. Did I mention how good the apples were?

As for beverages, I was intrigued by this concoction, made of elderberry juice, rosehips, and other fruits.
I overshot my gardening budget, as usual, but I did go home with heavy (bio-degradable!) bags and a full stomach. I've had worse days.

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