(The photograph, courtesy of John Armstrong, shows Hily van Bladel and myself in Grasse, Provence.)

Prior to our visit to Provence in May of this year, it was some time since we had eaten in France, and though there are many things about the French one can deplore, one can always forgive them all their sins for the excellence of their food.

Sitting in the sun in the open central square of a town in Provence, little boys playing street tennis in the dusty space, drinking coffee – very strong – is nice.    Having a delicious white coffee in a narrow street in Grasse with shops full of embroidered linen all around us, and a meringue as big as my head, crisp and firm at the outside and chewy and melting in the middle, was even nicer.

In a street in St Raphael, (with tablecloths!)  over-looking the marina, I had Lobster Salad; the meat having been extracted and replaced in the shell for ease of consumption.   This was followed by Ils Flottants, its soft meringue floating in a sea of egg custard.   Nan, one of our Scottish friends who had come with her husband to meet us and our Belgian hosts for lunch, and I were comparing this pudding with one we had eaten in Vernon, near Giverney, when visiting Monet’s garden some years previously.   (I choose this whenever it’s on the menu!)

At a water mill in Montauraux, in very beautiful surroundings in the garden, we first had, courtesy of the house, little toasts with different pates.   Then a tiny cup with fragrant cream of asparagus soup, and only then what I had ordered – cooked rabbit with vegetables.   The meat was curled around a little twig and tasted rather like a game bird – stronger than chicken.   And for pudding, what the English menu the waiter had insisted on our having (I often find the English incomprehensible and prefer to take pot luck with the French) quaintly described as Different Things to do with a Pineapple.   (I could think of plenty of different things to do with a pineapple, none of which were suitable to put on a menu.)We had fried pineapple, grated pineapple, and pineapple sorbet.   Then coffee or tisane and dainty sweetmeats.

But I also saw surprisingly many obese people, so I conclude that the French have abandoned their divine cuisine and eat fast food these days, for the fat people cannot all have been visitors.

In the market places there were stalls piled high with wonderful fruit and vegetables, others filled with crusty loaves, and gloriously aromatic ones displaying herbs and spices…

After a period in France, you despair of their dangerous driving, their hauteur, their cumbersome bureaucracy, their lack of interest in plumbing – but even as these things irritate you, when you remember the food – well, what do these trifles matter?

La cuisine – c’est la gloire de la France.


Things To Do with a Pineapple:

1                     Lob it as a weapon

2                     Use it as a hat stand

3                     Use it for darts practice

4                     Display it as a still life

5                     Take the skin off, slice it, reassemble it, stick cheese on sticks in it

6                     Play football with it

7                     Give it as a gift

8                     Play boules with it

9                     Use it as ant bait.