A year ago my mother gave up her home of more than 40 years to move to residential care. Whilst recognising the sacrifice of the passing of independence, she has been very happy at Chestnuts and it was time to arrange for her to have a short holiday in our French home.
So it was that my sister Liz brought her to Godalming on Sunday for a passage across the English Channel on Monday. We boarded the Mont St Michel at midday for a 6-hour crossing. We sat in the lounge on Deck 9, drinking tea, reading newspapers, magazines and when the main Restaurant opened we took Mum up for dinner. We had a table by a window and looked out onto the windy deck with its steamer chairs, people in fleeces seated round tables and beyond, to the sea where from time to time we could see gannets diving and then circling around the stern before diving again. Were these the same gannets, following the ferry, or maybe hitching a ride with us with a view to fishing from time to time?
The house is always welcoming because Daniel switches the hot water on and opens up the shutters. Mum is delighted to be back after a year’s absence and we install her in the little boudoir which is the mauve room. An inspection of the garden reveals that the foxgloves and Dutch iris are in full swing, the Allium schubertii are bearing huge globe flower heads on short stalks and other Allium are blooming also. Some of the delphiniums are doing their bluest best, others are waiting in the wings.
As for produce, the strawberry plants have large numbers of green fruits, the mange tout and broad beans are holding their own and there are GLOBE ARTICHOKES to pick! I select the largest on the leading shoot and cut it. It is not far short of 20cm in diameter and more than enough for the three of use to share as an entrée.
I boiled it for 30 minutes, drained it well and laid it on a plate. We then stripped the ‘petals’ and dipped them in vinaigrette and butter and sucked the fleshy bases. Bit by bit we got to the heart of the matter. You cut off the whiskery thistly choke then cut into the small soft core. The taste and texture are unique and Mums loves it all.
It is her first globe artichocke experience and I have enjoyed introducing her to a new food. She is still adventurous with food and I think I have her to thank for my willingness to try almost anything once. As a post-war baby I was fed on a diet based on restricted commodities and those that were plentiful. One of the latter was the humble herring – surely one of the boniest fish to tackle. But my mother taught me how to find my way round one when I was three or four years old and fish bones have never held any fear for me since!
Talking of fish, during her visit we are to enjoy a variety: we have Raie a la Crème with Riz at the Debarcadere one lunch-time. However the ultimate piscatorial experience is reached on our last day in St Vaast when, thanks to Nick who takes Aroona out fishing on Thursday, she is served grilled Mackerel fillets on her breakfast tray, Beignets of Whiting with courgettes for lunch, and rolls of Dover Sole with Brittany vegetables for dinner on the ferry. This latter being preceded by a platter of crevettes roses, langoustines, poached and smoked salmon. Surely the pinnacle of piscivory.