31 January 2013


One of the things we really love about our “other life” in France – for that’s how I now think of it, our life in the UK and a completely different life in France – is the generosity of our friends and neighbours.

gifts1A basket of salad appeared on our doorstep within minutes of us arriving at our little house last Easter. 

We have great friends in Derbyshire of course and I would never dream of suggesting they are not generous, because they are but – I don’t think I have ever opened my front door to find a bunch of flowers or basket of green salad on the doorstep.  It happens all the time in France.

gifts2 This collection of goodies was a gift from Nicole, waiting for us when we arrived in October.

It seems that a lot more people grow their own food and flowers, or have their own chickens, and when there is a surplus they are happy to give it away.

Mme André is a regular visitor to our doorstep.  Sometimes when we are in we might hear a little tap, tap, at the door and open it to find a huge bunch of roses from her garden, or a couple of kilos of haricots verts, in one of her collection of old baskets, most of which belonged to her mother and must therefore be getting on for a hundred years old.  She keeps them hanging from the beams in her grange. 

gifts3 Mme André left these tomatoes in a bag, hanging from our doorknob one day when we were out.

Our friend Barrie once joked about the concept of the same tomatoes doing the rounds – it is difficult to come away from anybody’s house without an armful of gorgeous, ripe, juicy tomatoes when they are in season, and if you can’t use them yourself the obvious thing to do is pass them on to someone else!

We have noticed how much longer the growing season is in the Loire – salad and vegetables appear much earlier in the year than the ones we grow at home, and other fruits and veg are still going strong in October.  When you then add all the free food, the blackberries, windfall apples and walnuts, it amounts to a huge bounty of produce.  I suppose that there is often more than each household needs so the natural thing to do is to give it away.  And we are more than grateful to receive it.

gifts4Our collection of tomatoes grew as we visited our friends. 

When we were chez nous last October we gradually accumulated quite a collection of tomatoes of various shapes and sizes.  I was reminded of this when I was shopping for tomatoes in the supermarket here recently.  The perfectly round, evenly sized specimens available might look tempting but they are not a patch on the gnarled and knobbly ones we acquired from our various friends – these would not have won any beauty contest but they were miles ahead in flavour.  I called them rarebreed tomatoes.

gifts5 gifts6 Some rarebreed tomatoes were given to us by Tim and Pauline.

Some of the tomatoes were varieties I had never heard of before and I confess I can’t remember their names now.  The previous year we had been invited to take part in a tomato tasting session at Tim and Pauline’s – we sat outside in the sunshine and tasted about half a dozen different types and they all had subtly different flavours. 

What a fantastic way to spend an afternoon!  Much better for the soul than sitting round a crowded swimming pool overlooked by some concrete monster of a hotel in some Spanish holiday resort – yet people still think we must be slightly mad to go to the same little old village for our holidays, year after year.  They have no idea !!


Anyway, Pauline gave me instructions on how to make a really tasty tomato soup from the various tomatoes we had acquired.

You cook a chopped onion in olive oil until it’s soft but not browned.  Add your chopped tomatoes (skin them if you can be bothered – I didn’t) and about a litre of vegetable or chicken stock.  Add salt and pepper and simmer for about 30 minutes until the tomatoes are nice and soft and breaking down.  Blitz right in the pan with a stick blender or transfer to a liquidiser or food processor to make it as smooth or lumpy as you like.  Add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche and maybe a sprinkle of chopped parsley.


Serve with crusty bread, feel virtuous and enjoy !!


  1. Great looking and tasty tomato soup!! If you want to give it some extra 'zing', just add half of a finely chopped red paprika/pepper and let it cook with the rest of the veggies before pouring it into the blender ... et voilà ... you have a delicious - what we call - 'Rimini soup'! Try it, you'll love it! Have a nice weekend, Martine x

    1. That's a good idea, Martine. I shall make your Rimini soup when I next have plenty of tomatoes.

  2. Who are you torturing more? Your readers or yourself with your tales of sun-ripened tomatoes? Two things occur to me, actually -- 1. the flavour has nothing to do with their shape, it has to do with the fact that they are fresh from the garden, picked when ripe and not cold stored, and 2. always peel a tomato given to you by a French person, as it will be covered in copper sulphate, which is highly toxic to mammals.

    1. Susan, the knobbly ones would be rejected by the supermarkets, regardless of how good they taste, in favour of the shiny round ones, regardless of how tateless they are !!

      I did know about the copper sulphate and noticed that some of the ones from Mme André had little blobs of blue stuff on them. I assumed a really good wash would get it off - we lived to tell the tale, anyway.

    2. Very true -- the supermarkets reject a truly shocking quantity of produce for the most miniscule flaws, and asymmetry is high on their list. I've been reading about it from Australian farmers who supply supermarkets, and offer the rejects to the Foodbank there.

      I'm really dubious that washing adequately removes copper sulphate, as it is used partly because it doesn't tend to wash off the plant when it rains. BTW, copper sulphate doesn't always show as blue -- it depends what base it's been mixed with. It can be white or even clear.

  3. Gosh those tomatoes do look fab! I have been lucky in receiving some free food from the Foodbank. Mine all comes in tins and packets. Even so I am very grateful for the bounty.

  4. Your photos truly capture the delicious tomatoes. I can almost taste them!

  5. The French are very generous we find. We use copper sulphate on our tomato plants as I get blight early in the season if I don't spray. I also just wash them well, but I guess there can be long term effects. Diane xx

  6. Our house is very close indeed to our French farming neighbours. And like yours we have found them to be very generous with food fresh from the garden. I particularly remember a melon still warm from the sun! And lots of wild mushrooms and cepes. I'll be trying your tomato soup recipe next summer for sure!

  7. I so agree, Jean, both about the joy of going back to the same place and the sheer pleasure of really good fresh tomatoes. Before we started spending our summers in France, I grew my own tomatoes and always chose old and tasty varieties like Ailsa Craig. In France our hard-working farmer neighbour often gives us little gifts of flowers and salad from her garden and I reciprocate with things she specially enjoys like scones.

    1. Perpetua, as we obviously don't grow anything in France either, other than the lovely flowers in our tiny garden that Nicole looks after for us, we also reciprocate with baking !!

      Mme André accepts all these little morsels with a combination of humour and amazement. If I cook anything recognisably French she will pronounce me a bon patissière. If it's rather too English she will sometimes marvel at it, as if she's astonished that anything from the other side of the channel should taste so good. Other times she stays graciously silent !! Which means it was a bit TOO English !!

      She is definitely not a fan of mince pies !!

  8. The cut open toms:
    Yellow: Lemon Boy
    Green: Green Zebra
    Red [top picture]:Vanessa
    Red [Lower pic]: a variety of Oxheart/Coeur du Beouf

    And we use no treatments on our veg... except a bit of Soft Soap [Savon Noir] on anything covered by aphids... unless there are ladybird or hoverfly larvae present.

    Pauline is currently looking at what we are growing this year... and we have already purchased certain spuds and shallots... and are going on a hunt for Hercules this afternoon...

    I am going NOWHERE at the moment... the rain is lashing against the doors and windows... AGAIN!
    So February starts WET... QUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK!!

    1. Tim, today is Friday so I am not working, January is out of the way, it is nice and mild and THE SUN IS SHINING !!

      Just thought I would annoy you by saying that !!
      Good luck in finding Hercules.

    2. According to the mechanical gauge, we've had 9mm so far... !!!...
      the rain is horizontal in the rain and I am not sure that it is all being picked up...
      the physical one is by the weather station...
      and I am not going out there YET!!
      I am going to suggest to Pauline that she looks in the catalogues for types of RICE that we could grow here...

      The millstream is "café au lait"... and still rising...
      there are a further 20mm forecast for this evening... but no real break in between............. glug..glug..GLUG!
      Even the moorhens are sitting under the vegetation.

    3. My question to Pauline..."What does a wet pheasant look like?"
      Her answer... "THAT!"... as she pointed to the feeder!!

    4. Further Grand Pressigny update [at 4:20pm local time]....
      Still raining sideways... millstream has risen 40cm...
      We have opened a "café au lait"teria at the roadside and are heating buckets of the river water and adding loads of sucre... selling it to the lorry drivers...
      As you can see, we've got to the stir-crazy "duh!-lusional"... we are NOT seeking Hercules today!!
      Current rainfall 15mm!!... the worst is yet to come, apparently....

  9. I guess the copper sulfate on the grapes is killing all of us who drink the wine! Anyway, the thought of garden-grown tomatoes right now... well you are just making us suffer more from the winter weather. Thanks quand même for the beautiful pictures and the hope for summer weather soon.

    1. Ken, at this time of year I just have to torture myself with pictures of sunnier times - it's the only way I can get through the winter, to remember that although it may feel like it, winter doesn't actually last forever !!

  10. oh but I miss real homegrown tomatoes! I used to grow hundreds of them, various heirlooms in all sorts of colours. I would rather have one of these than a $$ bottle of wine.

  11. It may be far to far away as yet ... but thanks anway for such a tasty dash of colour :-) As Tim already said, we're pretty much awash-- even here up on the ridge!

  12. We got 29 mm of water in the pluviomètre yesterday. We've had a few showers today but nothing to compare with yesterday's steady rainfall.

    1. Ken, we ended up with 20.4 on the electronic gauge... I haven't visited the "real" one... but I was watching the radar at intervals to see if there were any clear spots and could see dark blue passing over your area... so you must have had it worse than here... and our flood plain is just that... flooded!! Those poor vines out the back of yours must really be suffering with their roots in water all the time.

  13. These are amazing, what beautiful colours! Lovely to have found your blog :) Louise x