As a Farmer, Eugene Took It for Granted That His Wife Would Feed Him
Roberts, Michele, New Statesman (1996)
A garden in this part of France means a vegetable plot. To designate a flower-filled space you have to specify: jardin d'ornement. New houses, brashly designed suburban-style to be admired from the road by passing motorists, dazzle with large circular flower beds, set in pristine lawns, ablaze with red, pink and yellow blooms.
But for the older people in their older houses, the garden is tucked away at the side, or round the back, and you enter it through a gate, taking care to close this securely behind you to make sure the poultry don't get in.
The gardens are ferociously neat, planted in parallel rows. They are equivalent to our allotments, those triumphs of socialist ideals made material. The poorest tenant-farmer can at least eat up his greens. People plant the classic soup vegetables: potatoes, leeks, carrots and onions. Everybody here also grows haricots verts in great quantities, bottling them for the winter months ahead, and likewise beetroot. Tomatoes too, and the basic herbs for bouquet garni, and salads.
Yvette's sister grew fennel last year, as an experiment, but it didn't do well. Bolted leggily. We shook our heads over it. We all grow courgettes. I pick mine small, and deep-fry the stuffed flowers in batter, but the neighbours like their courges big and fat like giants' truncheons. We argue amiably over who's right. My method is more wasteful. But then I'm not a proper gardener, not being here all year round. I call the weeds chez moi wild flowers and we leave it at that.
People here are almost self-sufficient. They eat their own meat and vegetables and make their own booze. On the way back from market last week, I dropped in on Yvette and Eugene and was invited to stay for lunch. The menu, on an ordinary working day, was: Pineau, Yvette's home-made aperitif, followed by snails, collected and prepared by herself, sweetbreads from the last beast they had slaughtered, a slice of faux-filet ditto, salad from the garden, white cheese made by Yvette, cherries from the garden. …