The Round Days at Camont
The days are long. Longer now. And each step toward midsummer, that June Solstice date, is measured in sunsets and early mornings. This is when the words of French writer, Jean Giono (1914-1970?) ring in my ears again—the days are round not long.
It starts with the sun rising early, just after 6:00, on the other side of the canal. It circles south and high across the early summer sky. It’s still raining and cool this year but the light tells me it is fully summer. The sun will set at 9:40 after it crosses the canal again, making a beacon of late light mirrored in a ribbon stretch of still water.
At Camont that means that I am planting vegetables to eat through the late summer when friends appear, when cooking students arrive. Again. The potager is a grid of raised beds that circle through the seasons with some perennial herbs like lovage, sage, rosemary, and mint; some overgrown weeds that by May give way to some seeds and plants; repeated flowering of borage and nigella to scatter a bit of blue across the gravel drifts; and berry canes finally giving enough fruit to harvest to add to a pot or two of jam. The grid helps me keep track. I can count on these stragglers to come around each summer. Round again.
The longer days do circle back to other years, too. When there was jumping into the canal on a hot day with a plastic float of Cuba Libras attached to the barge( 1997); when the Midsummer fete meant a bright bonfire and a large group of friends for a lamb roast and armagnac late into the night (2004); and further back when this house was just a stone and brick shell and I talked about how it was going to look- fixed up and with a garden gate(1989). Seems like yesterday. But thirty years blink by. And now the gate supports a tangle of climbing roses- a bouffant pink and white Pierre Ronsard and an old cream-colored scented rose whose name I have lost.
Round days happen in my kitchen, too. It’s time to pluck a few squash blossoms and add them to an omelette made with courgettes, a way of acknowledging the flower and the fruit together. I put the straw hats and flowers in the hearth in an offhand homage to Roy Andrie de Groot and that far away Auberge of the Flower Hearth which remains an inspiration of French cookbooks. I cook once a day, either for lunch or dinner, letting us graze on les rests so that distractions from work are a pleasure. The tomato tarts make their appearance one by one, then in a flurry for a cooking class where everyone learns to make the simplest of my French butter pastry. Radishes pop up overnight and their greens are a peppery substitute for watercress in a cold or hot soup (see below). Then the June making of Vin de Noix is celebrated with whomever is visiting that week of the Solstice and the Fête de la Musique. We’ll make that soon, so stay tuned!
So I leave you with these few June dishes to make. Want to come to France and cook with me? Shop at the market? Sit at the table and talk stories? There’s a lot of ways to do that. Sign up for the newsletter here at the bottom of this page and then join me every week and on your favorite social media habits—Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. I’ll post a recipe on Instagram stories soon, too. Radish Pannacotta, anyone?
This recipe is from my first book- A Culinary Journey in Gascony (1995 copyright)
Radish Leaf Soup
1 bunch firm radishes with the fresh bright greens attached
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 onion chopped finely
2 cloves garlic minced or crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
A bit of fresh grated nutmeg
2 whole potatoes, peeled and diced
Separate the radishes from the greens and set aside.
Wash the greens well. Don’t bother draining.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.
Add the chopped onion and garlic then cook over a low heat until they are soft and translucent.
Add the whole wet radish leaves to the pan and let wilt.
Add the chopped potatoes and salt then cover with 1 liter of water.
Increase the heat and bring to a boil.
Cook for 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes are very soft and start to fall apart.
Remove from heat. Puree with a hand mixer or pass through a food mill.
Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as desired.
Serve hot with tartines of sweet butter and sliced radishes
Or chill and serve cold with a dollop of crème fraîche.