In England I live in concrete in the inner city, where a single weed sprouting up through a crack in the pavement makes me rejoice. Anarchy and rebellion flourish despite the best efforts of the council to stamp out those thrusting green nonconformists. In the country, it's a different matter. Arriving back in France after only a ten-day absence, I searched for my vegetable patch, which had turned into a wild-flower meadow. The weeds were knee-high. The dandelions whose leaves I'd nibbled were now blowing clocks everywhere. The nettles whose tips I'd turned into soup were almost in flower, the leaves much too coarse to eat. Among the cowslips, bluebells, buttercups and chickweed I found, eventually, a clump of sorrel struggling up. The tarragon I planted a month ago was doing well in among the foxgloves. Snails trailed peacefully around. Yvette hadn't been over for a while and so nobody was trying to eat them. Instead they could get on with munching the veg.
I wanted to cook something good for Dominique and Adrien, who had arrived to give me some help in taming the garden. They looked a bit nervous. Are you going to give us pudding, or haggis, or fish and chips?
With the sorrel, beautifully sharp and sweet, I made a cold purée to accompany poached mackerel. These oily fish taste exquisite, and not too rich, if you let them swim for a bit in a white-wine bouillon flavoured with bay leaves and whatever herbs you can find under the dock leaves. Let them cool in the liquid, skin and de-bone them, then douse them with green sorrel. Or you can put the sorrel into a green mayonnaise, and add chives and tarragon, too. A green mayonnaise feels more springlike, somehow, than a plain yellow one.
For the main course I made a pork dish from Tours (a recipe that Henry James writes about and Elizabeth David quotes). The production of non-Mayennais food is the cue for some of my neighbours to mutter: "Oh, foreign muck." Yvette prods with her fork and asks severely: "What's this?" They do like winding me up. Dominique and Adrien merely watched, aperitif in hand, as I sautéed pork chops until golden on both sides, then added half a bottle of white wine in which prunes had been soaking all morning. The chops simmered while we drank our kirs and ate the mackerel. Then I added a big spoonful of redcurrant jelly and a dollop of thick cream to the sauce, and let it all boil up for five minutes. I served it on a big platter, each chop piled with prunes and scattered with finely chopped parsley. The colours were as festive as the garden: pink, brown, red, white, black, green.
Dominique and Adrien ate in silence. Finally they nodded: yes, that was foreign, but it was good.