Vais-je tomber, ne pas tomber?
Se disait la dernière pomme.

(La Dernière Pomme, by Maurice Câreme)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!

(Autumn, by John Keats)

Autumn is a rich season in Provence. This despite the low rainfall and thin, chalky soil of the rocky massifs surrounding Aix.

You’ve probably all seen acorns on oak trees. But have you ever seen them on a holly bush? Not really, of course, it just seems like it. The scrubby countryside of the garrigue is home to a short, bushy variety of oak with prickly leaves, known as chêne kermès.
You would be forgiven for taking them for holly, but they are oaks, and are weighed down with acorns at this time of year.

Shiny horse chestnuts lie on the ground, already popped out of their prickly shells. These are the conkers which we always collected and polished for games in England. Chestnuts can be known as châtaignesor marrons, and although we have noticed that the words seem to be interchangeable in everyday speech, in fact there are differences, since marronsare edible while châtaignes are not. Marrons are used in stuffings and sauces, or glazed to produce the prized delicacy of marrons glaçés, especially popular at Christmas.

The grape harvest is almost done, and it is time for the first olive harvest. Most local growers take their olives to a local press to be made into olive oil: they are part of a cooperative, and receive oil according to how many olives were contributed.

You don’t have to be a professional to do this. Growers with a larger amount can have a special pressing and produce their own label of oil. The majority of olives grown in Provence are harvested while the fruits are still green. We even have our own small olive tree on the balcony.Olives can also be preserved as a confit, a lovely accompaniment to cheese or charcuterie, or made into tapenade to be spread on bread or toast.

While walking in the Massif de la Sainte Victoire, we came across blackberries (brambles), which are great to eat raw or cooked in a pie with apples. There is also an abundance of rosehips. These fruits of the wild rose or dog rose can be made into jellies and jams.
When we were young we collected and sold rosehips to be made into delicious syrup, an important source of vitamin C in post-war England.

One of the fruits we have especially enjoyed recently is figs. They are mouth-watering when eaten fresh or added to a salad of roquette (arugula) with goats’ cheese. Friends brought us a jar of fig jam, and on a recent dinner out I could not resist the fig tart served with fresh cream.

Here is some of the autumn vocabulary. French usually makes a distinction between the name of the fruit and that of the tree.

une olive = an olive
un olivier = an olive tree
une oliveraie = an olive grove
une châtaigne or un marron = a chestnut
un châtaignier or un marronnier = a chestnut tree
une figue = a fig
un figuier = a fig tree
un cynorhodon (also known as gratte-cul because of the hairy seeds inside which act like an itching powder) = rose hip
un églantier = wild rose or dog rose bush which produces rose hips.
un gland = an acorn
un chêne
= an oak tree
un chêne kermès = short, prickly variety of evergreen oak

Happy harvesting!


© 2012 Trevor and Valerie White



One thought on “les fruits d’automne

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