My winter love affair has come to an abrupt end. The reason is the unseasonable heat. Here we are, in the last week of March and afternoon temperatures are in the mid twenties centigrade. Not even the most besotted cook is going to keep her beloved wood-fired range alight in those temperatures.
Electricity is an inadequate substitute. Every year I have to switch cooking styles to suit the heat source, which puts a considerable strain on my temper. There is a gap in my hospitality whilst I relearn summer habits, summer recipes. But the summer vegetables are not here, at least not ones that can be locally sourced. We are still in the leeks, carrots, cabbage, onion, phase. (I shall skip all mention of the root vegetables more usually fed to cattle.)
There is no sign of a break in the warm weather though Meteo France is indicating rain showers starting Sunday – April 1st, should one take that seriously? If one goes by Chaucer, the answer would be yes:
'Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote,
the droght of March hath perced to the rote..'
Some piercing to the root would be beneficial to all the plants that were brutalised by the February snow and frost. A few herb plants are beginning to revive but I shall have to replace the sage and the rosemary bushes. The blossom has come rather early on the fruit trees, possibly the first to show was the peche de vigne, dark pink blossom that will be followed by a lovely red-skinned peach with white flesh. The apple, pear and wild plum trees are just coming into flower.
But, of course, there are problems ahead. The first is the lune rousse which is the first lunar month after Easter. It is said that it brings clear skies and so cold days with the possibility of light frosts. This could arrive any time in the last three weeks of April. The frosts might just nip the tips of new plants, turning them red...hence rousse.
Even when April is finished, our difficulties are not over. Beware the saints de glace. They are Saint Mamet on 11th May, once archbishop of Vienna, died 777; Saint Pancrace on 12th May, martyred aged 14 in Rome, date unspecified; and Saint Servais on 13th May, a bishop who died a martyr in 384. (I know, it does seem odd to have years with only three numbers..) These saints are popularly supposed to create a cold snap. Locally there is much muttering in the month of May, shall we or shall we not take notice of the Ice Saints? An attempt has been made to reduce the influence of two by pairing them with female saints, so Saint Mamert is joined by Saint Estelle, Saint Servais's friend is Saint Rolande.
Beware if you do not observe the first three saints, for you could just be caught out by Saint Urbain, a pope (the first of his name) who died in 230. His name day is May 25th. Well, it was – now his day has been allocated to Saint Sophie. May her influence be warm.
Ah well, perhaps my love affair is not over, perhaps we are just taking time off or out, whatever the current fashionable phrase is, perhaps we shall get together again for April and May, my wood fired range and me.