French Photo Diary #9: Enjoying the July Heatwave in Brittany
My ‘summer holiday’ that I took last week at the Brittany house can really be summed up by several things: white peaches from the South of France, copious amounts of French rosé wine, the blistering heat, and the beautiful hydrangeas in every shade of blue, pink, purple and cream you could possibly imagine in full bloom in practically every single garden and car park. When I said, back in April that I wanted to go to France in July for a ‘summer holiday’ I don’t think anyone could have predicted the freak heatwave that had me hiding, stretched out on a picnic rug with my book under the walnut tree practically all day, but god it was glorious.
Every night at 6pm before making dinner we sat out on the patio for an aperitif. On the first night, we had a couple of bottles of fizz, and when we were out after arriving home and opening up the house to get supplies, I picked up a couple of local Cancale oysters to christen the oyster knife I’d picked up earlier in the year. So, opening them is a skill I still have not managed to master by myself, but I’ve got to keep at it as the washed up shells are starting to make a really pretty drainage base for our own budding hydrangea bush.
One of the best parts about anywhere in France this time of year is the great, fragrant trays of white and yellow peaches, nectarines and apricots brought up from the south stacked up in every supermarket. We had them for breakfast every morning with local yogurts (Brittany’s fame for it’s butter extends to the quality of all dairy), sometimes Spanish cantaloupe too, and with ice cubes in our breakfast juice out on the patio once it had become too hot to stay in bed much longer. We brought a tray back with us, but sadly I think this morning is the last morning I’ll be eating a two perfectly ripe white peaches for breakfast since last Saturday.
France seems to be the only place these days I get to properly read books anymore. Fueled by copious amounts of ice-laden mint flavoured Badoit French sparkling water, sitting on the patio and under the walnut tree I really enjoyed Jessie Burton’s brand new novel The Muse (so different from The Miniaturist, but with the same complex characters and yet another character based twist I honestly should have seen coming), and Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume I taught me so much about how all the vegetables I cook with are grown.
We drunk an awful lot of French wine, both at home and when we went out for lunch. I’d gone off rosé slightly before we went, but there is just something about an ice cold bottle of Côtes de Provence that makes it exactly what you both want and need when it is too hot to do anything else other than drink. On the one day we did manage to put together a proper lunch, we had big red peppers, halved, stuffed with tomatoes and finished with olive oil, salt, pepper and anchovies before being slow roasted. There is nothing better to enjoy on a summers day with crusty bread and a glass or three of cold wine.
We barbecued practically every evening. After our usual veal steaks (something that I will forever wish British supermarkets and high street butchers would start selling without a special order) we replaced the pit of a couple of peaches with a little brown sugar, brandy and unsalted butter before wrapping them in the foil and resting them in the coals to roast. Haagen Dazs’s local salted caramel flavour, made with French cream and toffee pieces really hit the spot scooped on top. Handily, they also sell chocolate coated salted caramel ice cream bars. Just don’t eat them in 35 degrees or they’ll collapse on you!
Sunday lunchtime found us under the 200 year old wisteria outside Hôtel Restaurant du Château in Combourg. We had another bottle of Côtes de Provence, and because I had one of the set menu’s I was treated to a rather unique amuse-bouche: a sweet, crisp macaron, studded with poppy seeds and filled with a savoury salmon mousse, and a crunchy mixture of delicately cubed carrot and cucumber on top of a sharp yuzu sorbet.
I had a plate full of Cancale oysters, and then we all had the special of the day: an entrecôte steak, salad and beautifully crisp and fluffy chips. Entrecôte is a simply divine cut of steak that we don’t really have in the UK but is ubiquitous in France, and has to be my favourite steak out there. It is especially good when it has been barbecued (most restaurants in the area have a coal grill or open fire for this reason) and holds up really well to everyones favourite different ways to have their steak cooked.
I could take or leave the fancy, strawberry and poppy dessert my set menu gave me (in the fancy dessert stakes, I feel Chateau de la Treyne has ruined me for life!), but their potted dark chocolate mousse from the main menu, with chocolate syrup and honeycomb crunch was simply perfect.
One of my favourite place to explore in the area, which we had not been to since the year I finished school is Fougères, home to a magnificent Medieval castle, battlements and beautiful gardens up by the church in the new town. It was terribly hot, so we just stayed in the old town, deciding to take a turn around some of the ruins the public gardens are crafted around, before heading back into the square in front of the castle and retreating underneath a parasole for lunch. Get there early to guarantee a spot in the shade!
We had traditional Brittany buckwheat pancakes (galettes) stuffed with scallops, leeks and cream (my favourite filling), and crepes with local butter and sugar, or house made salted Brittany caramel at Crêperie La Duchesse Anne. We’ve eaten there several times before, while they are nowhere near to serving up the best galettes and crepes in the area, they are consistent, quick, have a lot of choice and serve the second best chips in the area (La Cour du Temple in Combourg, incidentally, has the best chips, galletes and crepes).
When we got back to the house, while my phone told me it was 35 degrees, the thermometer on the wall said 40, so after vegging out under the tree with my book for a good few hours, all we could manage for dinner was bread, local pate and cheese, and some crudités (black olives, some frankly delicious cold local potatoes, and tomatoes, cucumber and radishes we’d grown at home in England).
Now, I am still morally opposed to spiralizers. However, what I have found that I do enjoy is strips of courgette made with one of those cheap metal julienne peelers, steamed lightly in the microwave or blanched in a pan of salted water, before being finished with salt and pepper as a barbecue side. It is the perfect thing to do with the glut of courgettes we grow every year; no special equipment required!
On the last evening I enjoyed another plate of Cancale oysters and a crisp glass of Touraine, before returning to the madness back home (well actually, we just missed everyone else’s French getaway nightmares we’ve seen this weekend) and I was back in the office next day. A low key holiday this year, but I feel this year is the year I’ve been taking time to explore a bit more of France properly.
Where have you all been/ are you off to this summer on your adventures? I’m going to stay in England and bounce between Kent and London for the rest of the summer, enjoying the best both places have to offer, and catching up with some of my friends who are still studying things like law and medicine, and tend to have a bit more free time over the summer months.