“And sharing food at the table is ultimately about sharing one’s love for life.” – Frank Stitt, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table
Late on our last afternoon in the village of Sablet, Larry and I went out foraging for dinner at some of the local “commercants“. We started at Chez Thierry, the boucherie (butcher shop).
M. Thierry has not only fresh meats and fowl, but house-cured sausages, salumi, and pâtés that were displayed in a glass case with care and pride. We were greeted with a friendly smile and a happy “Bonjour Messieurs”. As we dithered over which pâté to select, M. Thierry brought out his butcher knife, of a size that could easily to decapitate a large cow, and sliced off several samples for our approval. We selected a slice of organic Pâté de Campagne (a rather large slice as slices go), half a kilo of salumi and four fat links of pork saucisson studded with black peppercorns – all made in the back room of his shop. We added some cornichons and three plump crottins of cow, goat and sheep cheeses. I am sure of the milk sources for the cheeses because M. Thiery communicated with “moo”, “baaaah”, and “bleeeet” sound effects – good old fashioned service!
Next stop was the boulangerie for a baguette or two. Sablet boasts two boulangeries which are both open five days a week but stagger the days that each shop is closed. A local resident told me French law mandates that all villages must have a boulangerie open every day so that families can obtain their “daily bread”. The French would not consider eating stale bread so the boulangeries bake baguettes twice a day. The loaves were still crusty and warm from the afternoon bake and the aroma of bread fresh from the oven is truly irresistible to me. OK, so we bought two. Our rationale had something to do with making our morning toast out of the leftovers. (Hah!). At .8 € each, buying two was an easy decision.
By the time we walked back up to the house, Karel and Sandy had chilled the white wine and the red was uncorked and breathing.
The temperature was starting to drop so we built a fire and after the briefest of preparation, dinner was ready.
We set the coffee table in front of the fireplace to enjoy our last dinner (at least, for this trip) in our Sablet house, a dinner that I will remember for much more than the delicious food.
The night went into my memory bank on the shelf reserved for extra-special events. It was similar, in many ways, to the times that were part of my family life growing up with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins who were spread from Mississippi to Florida. Whenever my grandmother was able to get the whole family together, there was always a big meal on Saturday night. It could have been fried bass and bream caught in my uncle’s pond and served with hushpuppies, or perhaps whole hog barbecue from my grandfather’s farm served with Brunswick Stew, of course. Or maybe it was fried chicken from the farm which was always complemented with mashed potatoes and gravy. In addition to those main dishes, all of my aunts pitched in cooking an inordinate number of vegetables, salads, cornbread or biscuits, and desserts. My mother was the queen of desserts and was never satisfied with just one layer cake. There had to be two or three choices. Lady Baltimore, Red Velvet, Coconut Chiffon and Caramel (with raisins and pecans) were all my favorites at one time or another. In addition, there had to be a pie or a pudding. Whatever was served, the constant was lots of good food, good conversations, and especially laughter throughout the night. Some of life’s greatest sources of joy happen around the dinner table.
Our Sablet feast was simply the incredible meats and cheeses that we had sourced from M. Thiery and Lou Canesteou, baguette(s) and some macarons and chocolates for dessert.
We spent hours in front of the fire eating and drinking, talking, giving each other (usually me) a hard time about some event of the day, discussing how to solve the problems of the world, but mostly laughing and happy to share the ambiance and the conviviality and pleasure of each other’s company.
Years from now (or anytime for that matter) when I have a slice of a particularly great Pâté de Campagne, the thought of this meal will come floating back and it will be good.
On our last morning in Provence, we drove to Orange, turned in the rental car and took the TGV train through the French and Italian Alps to Torino and began the second half of our adventure in Italy.
* Images noted with an asterisk are courtesy of Michel Augsburger