Many people will have heard of Peter Mayle’s book ‘A Year in Provence’ and many will have read it and longed to escape the hustle and bustle of busy city life for a more relaxed and laid back lifestyle in rural France. In fact many people from the United Kingdom were actually influenced by Mayles’ book and the film which followed it. I know that I was influenced by it and longed for this relaxed way of life. I was a mental health nurse and my French language skills were not up to the standard which would be necessary for assessing anyone with a health problem in France so it was out of the question at that time. But we have spent many wonderful holidays in the South of France and have had some enjoyable experiences along the way.
Mayle had moved to live in Menerbes, a rural area in the south west of Provence and he intended to write a novel once he had settled. Indeed he loved it so much that he found he had no time to sit and write when he first moved there. He became intrigued with life in Provence and was constantly distracted with the curiosities of daily living such as the education he received from the local plumber, the farmer who lived next door, not to mention the mushroom hunter and as a result, his novel was left on the back burner.
However, eventually it was these very same curiosities that Mayle wrote about in his book and as a result, aspired many Brits to seek the same idyllic lifestyle in Provence for themselves. Many people eventually bought second homes out there – and who can blame them – long warm summers with a relaxed lifestyle – good for the soul as well as the sun tan.
Peter Mayle, now in his seventies still lives in Provence although not in the same farmhouse and his books continue to sell – many people loving the idea of a French rural lifestyle, an escape even if they cannot move there in reality.
Another of my favourite books is ‘The Olive Farm’ a memoir of life, love and olive oil in the South of France by Carol Drinkwater. It is in fact a love story – one of romance between Carol Drinkwater and Michel, a television producer who fall in love with an abandoned Provencal olive farm called Appassionata. Even the name of the olive farm sounds so romantic. But it was not quite as romantic as it appeared once the couple began to work on the old farmhouse. Yes, this was Provence and things do not go quite as expected – the lifestyle is slow and lazy – sometimes lazy being the operative word!
Yet they survived and after a long battle trying to make the farmhouse habitable and Carol desperately trying to bring the olive trees back to life again, they managed to produce the finest extra-virgin olive oil from their land.
Of course, when word got around that one can have a wonderfully relaxed way of life in Provence, the cost of the properties began to rise. It is still a wonderful place to live and to have a second home there but not as easy as it once was.
However, what many people do not realise is that the region bordering Provence to the north is just as beautiful and at present, remains as Provence was a few decades ago. It is an area of outstanding beauty, of wonderful scenery, charming villages and fabulous cuisine. This is of course the Drome region and if you are in need of somewhere relaxed and breathtakingly beautiful, you should not overlook the opportunity to visit this area and embrace all that it has to offer.
There are numerous activities to please all the family in this area including horse riding, walking, rock climbing, paragliding and hiking. You will never be bored and if it is just a ‘get away from it all’ type of holiday you are seeking, this may be the very place you have been searching for.
It has fields of lavender, olive groves and vineyards of the Cote du Rhone region. Can you imagine the sight and smells of these glorious lavender fields; they captivate everyone who sees them. If you love olives, it is a paradise for you as I’m sure you will want to taste the produce for yourself while you are there.
Two of the most famous towns in the Drome are Montelimar which is famous for its nougat – a traditional confectionary made with honey and almonds; and Nyons, famous for its olive groves, of olives and extra virgin olive oil. You will also find a lavender distillery in Nyons where you can purchase many lavender products as well as learn all about the wonder of this gorgeous plant. Other produce also absolutely wonderful from the area around Nyons are the black truffles, apricots, honey, oranges and limes.
Of course these are what I like most – anything to do with French food, so wandering around the villages and markets is a favourite pastime for me. The scents which fill the air are intoxicating – especially when mixed with the scents of French herbs – it is heaven sent!
The olive tree provides one of the staple ingredients of the south of France. The olive tree was introduced into France by the Greeks as the trees thrive in the clay soils and the long sunny days and a dry climate (much the same as I would do, I’m sure!).
In the Nyons area many different olives are grown, green ones and black ones. Green ones marinated in herbs are usually the Picholine olives whilst the nicoise olives are black and are found in the salad called salade nicoise. They are all wonderful and worthy of appreciation.
For my recipe this month it has to be a recipe using olives and olive oil! If you do decide to visit the Drome area you will be able to sample much of the local cuisine but for those of you who are not able to travel just yet, or who would like a taste of the traditional cuisine anyway, I have found an old recipe for a really tasty olive bread. It can be used as an hors d oeuvres or as a main meal, whatever you want. Either way it is a delicious recipe and best of all it can be made in advance and put in the freezer until you want to use it.
All you will need for this recipe is a bread tin and a large mixing bowl.
Mediterranean Olive Bread
- 250grams/8oz or 2cups plus 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 4 beaten eggs
- 150grams/6oz pitted olives
- 200grams/8oz chopped cooked ham
- 150grams/6oz chopped, cooked lardons of bacon
- 150grams/6oz/1 1/2 cups grated hard cheese
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 glass/1/2 cup white wine
- 1 glass/1/2 cup of olive oil
- Black pepper to taste
- Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the eggs, the white wine and the olive oil.
- Add in progressions, the chopped ham, the bacon and the olives, the grated cheese and the black pepper.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared bread tin.(The tin should be greased and lined with greaseproof paper). If you leave enough paper at the sides you can lift your cake out of the tin more easily.
- Place in a moderately hot oven for about an hour until a skewer or long needle comes out clean when you test it.
- Remove from the oven and let it cool before lifting it out of the bread tin.
You can serve it warm or allow to cool. For me it is really good served cold as an hors d'oeuvres with a glass of Pastis - a local aniseed drink usually mixed with water until it becomes cloudy. Pastis is usually served as an aperitif.
This recipe was given to me when staying in the south of France but you will often see other olive bread recipes include herbs in their list of ingredients. It is up to you to try them all, a matter of personal preference but either way they will all be good.