Today is Sunday and I’m making SOUP...even though it is sunny and considerably warmer outside…a ‘balmy’ 54 degrees! The soup can actually simmer slowly on the gas stove while I poke around a bit outside in the sun gathering vitamin D. The sky has been overcast, gray and dreary for the past week so today is very welcome…and gives me a moment to gather a few fresh herbs! On the stove is late winter soup…chicken and vegetables…cooking in my favorite Le Creuset pot, a parting gift from friends when I left Texas over 12 years ago.
Soup has been a tradition of mine for many years…the gathering of ingredients, the preparation, the simmering pot on the stove, the aroma when coming inside from the garden and finally the enjoyment of a nice bowl of warm goodness after a day of chill and sometimes very hard work! What could be better?!
Of course, SOUP has historically been traditional fare for hundreds of years…and served as main meals in many countries. Cooked over a campfire, wood stove or gas range…most soups are simple to make from just about any collection of ingredients! I especially like the soups one finds around the south of France and areas of the Mediterranean. Gee, surprise.
There are so many kinds of soup that you can enjoy just about anywhere…shown above is a nice Provencal fall vegetable hearty soup being served family style on the patio. Along with the soup is Pistou, typically added just before serving at the table, a seasoning paste of pounded [in a mortar & pestle] garlic, basil, and olive oil. Often added to this mixture, is Parmesan cheese, dried bread and pine nuts or almonds…showing a bit of Italian influence.
Here, shown in the garden…is spring garden soup with new potatoes served alongside a fresh egg omelet. Another great companion for the humble soup would be Rillettes de Poisson, or creamy fish spread of finely shredded fish, chives and mustard spread on toasted baguette.
For villagers in the south of France, Provence, traditions are also strongly important…the families work long hours tending to their land, gardens, farm animals, vines and orchards, while making cheese and often doing stone work. Early morning would start with cafe’ and bread, usually left over from the the night before…unless fresh croissants were available in the village bakery. Their mid-day break for a meal [dejeuner] is typically the main meal of the day. Except for special occasions, their supper or evening meal is very light….typically soup, bread cheese and seasonal fruit or preserved jam/fruit as a little sweet with their bread.
Most Provencal cooking is considered “home cooking” with traditional food preparation methods or recipes passed from one generation to the next. This has been considered the inspiration for professional cooks/chefs…calling their food…”in the Provencal style “!
In most villages, the Provencal cook or housewife prepares meals from whatever is available seasonally from the garden or sometimes the bounty found at the village market…soup being the mainstay of the farm kitchen.
Many years ago, one of the most fabulous things I learned from my French sister, Jeanine, is to look in the refrigerator/freezer, find chicken stock, a few fresh or often “leftover” ingredients, collect some herbs and greens and such from the garden and within an hour or two have a fabulous meal of magical soup, cheese and bread as well as a simple dessert of freshly made sorbet. I’ve seen her do this from some of the most unlikely ingredients that quickly become a 3 Michelin star repast. After arriving home from the office, she does this several times a week and WE do it every time we are together. It soon becomes an art to see what we can create!
FRENCH ideology is…Take what you have and make it something better!
Reigning Violets…Tiny violets, fragrant violets, candied violets, violets on a salad, a nosegay of violets…the fragrance and beauty of Viola odorata flowers is elusive and unique. In the language of flowers, the violet celebrates modesty, virtue, faithfulness, humility and happiness.
Violets were used medicinally [ often a cough remedy] throughout the known world since before Christ, Romans made sweet wine from them, and they were used as a component of strewing herbs in Medieval homes to sweeten the air. Much later, violets became very popular with the Victorians for their fragrance when blossoms were used in eau de toilette and for tiny flower posies ladies carried to hide their noses from street smells. In fact, it was reported that in 1874 six tons of violet flowers were harvested in the south of France to then be shipped to England.
Violets won the hearts of the French long before Napoleon but they became a favorite of the Emperor and his wife Josephine. At her home, Malmaison, the Empress grew violets along with her favorite roses. The Emperor was so obsessed with violets that he chose them as his emblem and would often send Josephine tiny bouquets. While in exile in Elba, Napoleon told his supporters that he would return to France when violets were in bloom. After Josephine’s death, tiny bunches of violets were regularly placed on her grave.
Violets are a quaint, romantic little flower…used for soaps, medicinal preparations, candles and perfumes. Candied violets have been a favorite sweet treat throughout the centuries…I’ll never forget buying some of these quaint treats in a Paris sweet shop…I still have the jar and wrapping.
Gardeners can grow the true hardy Viola as well as some of the newer hybridized varieties that were bred with longer stems. Usually available in garden centers, or wooded areas, these dainty beauties are lovely in a strawberry bed, an herb garden or as a rose companion. Violets are virtuous, vivacious, valuable and oh, so powerful! Soon they will herald the arrival of early spring…
NOW, I’m going to take a moment to whine a bit…having VERTIGO really does suck!!
Here’s hoping I can work through all this and get on with my garden, my home and my writing…
From Holly and me…love & hugs till next time!