It’s Thursday morning, around 9.00am and there is a suspiciously large amount of activity in Petite Rue. Shutters are flung wide, pots and pans rattle and a delicious muddle of savoury and sweet scents fills the street drawing in the village cats. They menace any injudiciously open window, yowling, eyes a-glitter tails stiff and upright to warn off any competition. By 10.30 the village shop has had a run on eggs, milk and flour and when I trundle there on a quest for ground almonds all I can find is a small packet of salted whole ones for snacks.
It is of course the day of the “voisinade”, our street party. We all pay 5 euros for the meat, wine and bread and then each household brings either an entrée or a dessert and we have a good old knees-up.
A quick trip to my neighbour Sandra furnishes the ground almonds and the fun begins. I’ve opted to use up the plethora of plums from the garden transforming them into a tart. The plums are to be doused in calvados and set into an almond base. So far so good. Down in my bat cave (aka my kitchen) I start to cut open the plums and in one after another, a disgusting mass of midget maggots writhes in greeting. It takes several kilos of plums just to find some fit to eat.
Meanwhile, upstairs in the apartment kitchen, Barbara, my brother’s significantly better half, is far more daring than I. She has opted to make a pavlova – a meringue circle filled with cream and fresh fruit from the market. Alas, these French eggs haven’t heard of E.L.James. Their whites resolutely refuse to be whipped into soft peaks as per the recipe and after a brief consultation we hie to ever-helpful Sandra, to borrow an electric whisk. Finally, Barbara calls time on the whipping, takes a swig of something that looks like alcohol and bundles the whole lot into the oven. After an hour and some anxious peeks, the obstreperous mix gives a sad sigh and collapses over the tray into something akin to a pancake.
Nothing daunted meringue mark II is born but…oops some of that pesky egg yolk smuggles itself into the mix. A quick trip to the shop and nursing yet another clutch of eggs, the indomitable Barbara starts again. By this time lunch is well past and nothing solid has touched our lips. Mark II is encased in the oven and Mark I removed in disgrace to my kitchen where we stuff it in a cooling oven. By this time the plum tart is done, a bit saggy in the middle, but hey, who am I to talk. It looks good and I allow myself a brief frisson of satisfaction or is it smugness?
Meanwhile up in the apartment kitchen Barbara keeps an anxious vigil on Mark II which shows every sign of following in the footsteps of its predecessor.
Some hours later, Mark I meringue (the pancake meringue) is released from its oven and whilst trying to slip it onto a plate, The Accident happens and it slides off on its own little journey to collapse into sugary morsels which we throw artistically on a plate, slather with squirty cream and stir in slices of juicy peaches. Eton Mess has nothing on this.
Time is pressing so we decide Mark II has had enough of our attention and gingerly Barbara removes her day’s opus from the oven. Only, instead of the perky fluffed up crown we expect, we have something resembling a well-trodden sombrero. The Disaster! When faced with disaster reach for the G&T and make a few dozen biscuits instead.
The street party is a hoot and we get to meet neighbours and move from the formal “vous” to the more friendly “tu” mode of addressing them.The babel of conversation rises in proportion to the quantity of wine flowing and the Disco plays on until 2.00am. Everyone has a great time and agrees sagely that “this is how village life should be”.
The irony of this tale is that every morsel of meringues Mark I and II was scoffed. Not a scrap remained and Barbara recovered the empty plates in triumph. The biscuits were yummy too. As for my plum tart… well, anyone want half a duff plum tart?