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French Country Kitchen

French Country Kitchen

By Geraldene Holt

Published 1987

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We sat under the acacia, very still in the heat, cloudy glasses of pastis beside us. It was noon; only the cicadas in the long grass and the bees above disturbed the silence. Eventually I stirred. I’ll get some lunch, I mumbled, and moved off into the kitchen.
On a long dish in the pantry lay a dozen or so fresh, silver-glinting sardines, bought in the morning’s market. Looking at them I decided they needed to be cooked outside, over flames.

For safety’s sake we used the paved floor of a demolished outbuilding as a base and on it built a low circular wall of stones from the collapsed vine terraces around the garden. We filled the centre with dry vine prunings and on top wedged a metal grid from the kitchen oven. Then I brought out the freshly rinsed fish and wrapped each one in vine leaves. We lit the prunings and they burned brightly giving an intense heat, perfuming the air with a woody, winy fragrance. As the flames died down I placed the fish on the grid. Turned once, they are cooked in 4–5 minutes. And, if eaten straight away, as you unwrap each fish, the vine leaves peel away the skin to reveal moist flesh, tasting lemony from the leaves and smoky from the fire. With a baguette broken in two and a bottle of spicy Syrah wine from the Côtes d’Ardèche, it was a lunch to dream about on a wet February day in England.