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An ode to the tomato…and other summer highlights from Provence

As summer draws to a close, I’m reflecting on the many pleasures I experienced in Provence this year. Since my “retirement” I’ve had the luxury of summering there (possible thanks to the Internet), and after spending most of my adult life working through summers in New York, I truly appreciate every moment of it. I’ve been walking, swimming, eating good food, traveling, seeing friends. I had lots of guests come to stay and enjoyed watching them unwind as they, too, adjusted to the Provençal pace of life. Even my work takes on a more relaxed feel there.

It’s been a delicious summer, too, full of pleasures from the earth. I’ve eaten many simple, homemade meals of tomato salad, ratatouille, fish, duck, local cheese, bread, fruit, and much more. My generous neighbors like to drop off little treats from their gardens, so thanks to them I had a constant supply of tomatoes and other veggies, all bio (organic) though not labeled as such since they’re not store-bought. As local as it gets. Most of my guests sampled the Magical Breakfast Cream (made famous in The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook and pictured below), and I converted a few more people who couldn’t believe how easy and delicious this breakfast could be.

I’ve mentioned before that a talented local chef, Christian Étienne, makes a seven course Menu Tomates (tomato menu) each summer, with all courses centered on the red fruit. I had the pleasure of trying it again this year, and again it was incredible. Each course is surprisingly varied in color, flavor and texture, and one of the best parts is that each course is so light, being tomato-based, that you don’t leave feeling weighed down. This menu is guaranteed not to make you fat!

Two highlights from the meal:

Tomato consommé “Marmande,” essentially a French tomato-based interpretation of wonton soup

The dessert of tomato-strawberry salad with green tea cake and tomato sorbet (delicious):

I’ve enjoyed foods of the more decadent type, too, of course, like our local pastries. I had an Italian friend stay with me who tried a Tropezienne (a brioche pastry filled with a butter-cream) for the first time and liked it so much she ate the whole thing! Here’s the “before” photo:

And everyone who came to stay wanted to see the local farmer’s market, a true treat for the eyes. Here’s one of the fruit stands, with fragrant donut peaches and melon de cavaillon:

There were other delights for the senses, too, outside of food. At one point in the summer, all over the countryside there were fields of bright yellow sunflowers in bloom, just as Van Gogh famously painted, offset against a brilliant blue sky:

And patches of lavender; in this picture it’s paling and ready to be cut:

One of the picturesque local nectarine orchards, with the fruit right at its peak and ready for picking:

With all of these lovely memories in mind, I’m savoring the last of the summer now back at my New York home, ready to embrace the next season of life.

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