The cooker had three burners, one large, one medium and one small. They had two gas speeds, said our hostess, on and off. It had an oven, too, but she advised us not to use it as it usually burnt everything. There wasn't a grill, so I built a barbecue.
Normally, I am not much of a one when it comes to life in the wild, but I am particularly proud of that barbecue. I made it out of two breeze blocks with a griddle fashioned out of a dismantled fire guard. The first night I tested it out on local merguez and pork sausages. Emboldened by success, I went on to grill chickens, shoulders of lamb, aubergines, courgettes and yet more sausages.
By the end of the week, I was the master of burnt meat, even working out how to keep things warm when the troops weren't quite at the table.
For the rest of the staples, we plundered the markets around Périgord, in Neuvic, St Astier and Riberac. There was bread, rillettes, salamis, cheeses and salads for lunch, and grilled meats and veg for supper. For puddings, nothing more than apricots, white peaches, melons and the most exquisite little plums that our neighbours brought around to the house one day, the fruit laid out on a tray with fig leaves, which were delicate and sweetly fleshy when fresh, but which developed a toffeeish intensity as they dried out. Who could want for more?
All recipes serve four (though the lamb will do for six, at a pinch).
Barbecued shoulder of lamb
The meat was Périgordine, and came from Monsieur Texier's stall in the market at St Astier. (I had made his acquaintance earlier at Neuvic, where he made hamburgers in the time-honoured fashion by grinding the beef in front of my eyes and then forming the thick patties with an ingenious machine.) He offered to bone it for me, but I declined and did the job myself, sitting in the sunshine in front of the house. I improvised a marinade from a couple of pots of the children's yoghurt mixed with some apricot jam and chopped wild mint from beside my chair. It was served with more yoghurt, a bowl of apricot jam and another of mint. Everything was eaten.
1 shoulder lamb
2 tbsp apricot jam
8 mint leaves (optional)
Bone the lamb and remove as much of the extraneous fat as possible. Mix together the yoghurt, apricot jam and optional mint leaves (chopped). Flatten the lamb as much as possible. Slather it in the yoghurt and apricot mixture, cover and leave in a cool place for four to six hours at least, and if possible overnight. Light your barbecue and stoke it up well. When the flames have died down and you've got a good, even glow, slap on the lamb. Cook for 15 minutes and turn. Cook for another 15 minutes and turn again. Cook for a further 10 minutes and turn once more. Cook for a further 10 minutes. These timings are approximate because, like everything else with barbecue cooking, it depends on your barbecue, the heat therefrom, the consistency of heat, the dying of the heat, the wind, the thickness of the meat and how much you've had to drink. The meat should be in part charred and in part tanned on the outside, and cooked pinkish to well done all the way through. Serve with griddled courgettes and aubergines and more yoghurt, doctored as you see fit. Couscous is a nice accompaniment, too.
Spatchcocked chicken in lemon and thyme
My own favourite dish of the holiday was griddled chicken, simply spatchcocked - that is, split through the breastbone, flattened, marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and wild thyme which grew at the back of the house, cooked over the barbecue for 30-40 minutes, and then doused in more lemon juice, olive oil and thyme just before being cut up and served - but it doesn't seem much of a recipe to me.
French bean, tomato and egg salad
A lunchtime speciality of Madame Mau. French beans available in Britain are a mystery to me. At a time when every market in Europe has a mountain of beans, as thin as needles and tasting as fresh as grass, costing, in this case, Fr15 (about £1.50) a kilo, the only ones generally available in supermarkets in the UK come from Kenya, taste of nothing and cost £4 a kilo. Something is obviously wrong somewhere. Madame Mau insists that the tomatoes must be peeled, seeded and chopped finely, but then she is a stickler on such matters. I wanted to add a little finely chopped shallot to season the salad, but she would have none of it. But I will have my way, so I have added it here. Make your own vinaigrette.
500g tiny French beans
4 very ripe tomatoes
For my vinaigrette
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tsp red-wine vinegar
15 tsp olive oil
Top and tail the beans and cook in a large pan of salted water until just cooked through. Strain and dunk them immediately in cold water. Skin the tomatoes by dropping them in boiling water for one minute, taking them out and piercing the skin. It should peel off without any bother. Cut into quarters and scoop out the seeds. Now chop the remaining flesh quite fine. Put the eggs into cold water, bring to the boil and cook for eight minutes. Drain, tap each egg to break the shell and plunge into running cold water until quite cool. Peel and slice in half.
Very finely dice the shallots. Drain the French beans, pat dry in a drying cloth and put in bowl. Add the chopped tomatoes and shallots and several spoonfuls of the dressing. Mix carefully and thoroughly with your hands. Turnout on to a plate and pop the egg halves on top. Eat with bread.
Flaugnarde aux abricots
This is a bit of a cheat as I didn't actually make it. My wife ate it at Le Lion d'Or at Manzac sur Vern, which I reviewed last week, and liked it so much that she made me promise to track down a recipe. Here is the result of my research, based on a recipe found in an old favourite, Goose Fat And Garlic, by Jeanne Strang. It turns out that a flaugnarde is a local variation on a clafoutis.
500g fresh apricots
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp flour
2 dssp apricot brandy (or another eau de vie)
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Butter a shallow baking dish lavishly and place into oven. Split the apricots and crack the stones to extract the kernels. Beat the eggs and the sugar until frothy and white. Beat in the flour, then the milk and the liqueur. Take the baking dish out of the oven. Put in the fruit, scatter the kernels around and then pour the batter over the lot, making sure that the edges of one or two of the apricots come above the surface. Bake for 30-45 minutes, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve warm. It should have the texture of a good crème brûlée (ie, not too solid)