Mother Chef in the Tarn

Ladies and gentleman – may I introduce the lady who made all of this possible: my mummy.

Not only my mother and undoubtedly my biggest supporter, she’s also the greatest source of cooking knowledge throughout my life and a humbling reminder that no catering challenge is too much (who else can single-handedly throw a gourmet birthday party for 110 without batting an eyelid?)

In addition to being a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen (not to mention other talents), she’d give Apollo a run for his money in the sun-worshipping department and, on her first morning here at Le Manoir de Raynaudes, she had turned towards the sun and stripped down to a bikini before I could utter “Piz Buin”.  Between murmers of “Uh!  It’s heavenly here” and “Ooh, my wine seems to have gone down rather quickly” (and this from a supposed lightweight), we did manage to fit in a bit of culture (Albi, Cordes, Najac – you know the drill – plus Puycelsi, St Antonin and St Martin-Laguépie) and some lovely food, including a loooooooong supper at our local, Auberge Occitane.

After six glorious days, she was gone, leaving Peter and Orlando in awe of my brilliant mother and me missing her hugely.  I climbed one of our cherry trees the morning she left and, as I remembered the kilos and kilos of cherries she’d stoned for me while she was here and I looked out across the fields towards the Pyrenees, I thought of her oft-used phrase: “It’s not a bad life, really.”  So true.  Come back soon, Mummy.  You fit perfectly into my idyllic little Raynaudes existence.

Country tales

My day off ended in our local bastide town, Monestiès, built in Medieval times and complete with a castle, an old stone bridge over the River Cérou and the Saint Jacques chapel, which used to be a stop-off for pilgrims on the way to Compostela.  It’s not exactly bustling on a Sunday evening, but I wandered into  the Auberge Occitane for an apératif and was greeted by its owner, Davide – a coffee balanced in one hand and his 6-month old baby daughter, Clara, on his hip.  One of the great things about living in the country is that the owners of the local restaurants and shops recognise and greet you – and seeing a new face provokes enough interest here that people make sure they get to know you if they didn’t already.  After going for a stroll round the town, I bumped into our local shopkeeper, Bernard, who is president of the local football team, in the middle of celebrating a victorious final match of the season.  Reassuringly, 11 drunk, French football players really aren’t that different from the ones back home…




The sun was setting as I drove past a local farm – it’s nothing special to look at, but it has a great story…  Many years ago, the farmer’s wife decided that she’d had enough of clearing up after her husband and three doltish sons, so shipped over a servant from the island of Réunion to do all the housework.  The young servant possessed a dangerous combination of beauty, grace and brains.  It took her under two years to pick out the most promising of the three brothers (not a great selection, admittedly, but she had to work with what was available) – and married him.  She then became the new chatelaine and they had a son, Francis, who now runs the farm with great success.  But as for her two brothers-in-law?  Well, our neighbour Mauricette (source of all the best local gossip) tells us they have never married or left the farm and still sleep in the barn with their 200 cattle…