...hmm, French cooking! I'm looking forward to this, Sophie, and thanks very much for making time in your busy schedule to be here today...
Every child desperately wants to blend in, but growing up in the UK with a French mother I always felt different from other kids my age. We spoke a different language at home and the food we ate was different too. When I left home at eighteen I’d never tasted Toad in the Hole, Yorkshire Pudding, or Bread and Butter Pudding. (And I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to eat baked beans or tinned tomato soup!) We ate Mediterranean food: meat, fish and lots of vegetables considered exotic back then such as aubergine, courgettes, artichokes and garlic. And all cooked with lots of olive oil which, when Mum came to England in the 70s, she could only buy from the chemist.
My friends thought I was strange because I had paté sandwiches in my lunchbox (not meat paste), and at night we sat down as a family for meals – no ‘teas on your knees’ at our house. Little did they know that when we went to the south of France in summer, meals were even bigger – in every sense. More courses, more people, and lasting longer, sometimes hours, with lots of chatter and laughter.
My Grandmère did all the cooking and although she was from Northeast France, she preferred the simple strong flavours of Provençal cooking to the rich, creamy dishes of the north. Her food was a labour of love. She used to get up early to cook before it was too hot. My bedroom was next to the kitchen and I remember the comforting sound of her moving about opening the oven door, washing dishes in the sink. By the time we got up much later there’d be quiches or tarts cooling on the side, a big pot of beef stew on the stove or ratatouille cooling (Grandmère said it always tasted better reheated).
Her food was also love on a plate. If you didn’t have seconds she was insulted. If you had thirds, you became the darling. She used to prepare our favourite dishes for each of us: chocolate cake for my sister, apricot tart for my dad, and for me, steak and chips.
I’ve inherited Grandmère’s love of Provençal cooking. I love its simplicity, its focus on seasonal local ingredients, its punchy flavours. It is unpretentious, and its deliciousness relies on the ingredients which, grown in that fierce sunshine, are robust and intense. The fruit I tasted in Provence were bigger and sweeter than anything you can find in the UK. Peaches (bought by the roadside) with syrupy juice that dripped from your fingers, melons that filled the kitchen with their sweet perfume, tomatoes as sweet as fruit, and plump apricots and plums from the trees in the garden.
I’ve found it impossible to write about Provence without mentioning these delicious culinary details and food has crept into all my books. In my latest release, A Forget-Me-Not Summer, I included recipes for all the dishes mentioned so that my readers can try them at home.
It’s ironic that as a child I yearned to blend in and didn’t like to feel different. However, now I know how lucky I am to have these precious memories and I hope I can spread a little sunshine by sharing the recipes from my kitchen.
about the book… It's taken years, but Natasha Brown's life is finally on track. Running a florists in the quaint village of Willowbrook, she's put her short-lived marriage to Luc Duval far behind her. That is, until he unexpectedly walks through her shop door, three years after their divorce.
Luc reveals that he never told his family about their split, and now his father is desperately ill and demanding to meet Natasha. Luc needs her to come to France and pretend they're still happily married. Natasha is horrified, but when Luc makes her an offer she can't refuse, reluctantly packs her bags.
The deal is two weeks on a vineyard with his family, but will Luc and Natasha be able to play the perfect couple after years apart? And in the glorious Provence sun, will the old spark between them be impossible to ignore?
You can get Sophie's book from Amazon