Lamb. This morning waiting for me in my inbox was an Easter greeting from my dear friend living in France, dashed off before she hopped on her bike and cycled across the French countryside for a lamb dinner. I do love lamb. She is taunting us.
My husband, son and I are just back from a short visit with her family in Provence. Fin’s unique take on France was to climb as many French trees as he could, while Cam and I experienced it through our bellies: baguette and croissant spread with locally made preserves; a delectable and complex variety of cheeses made from ewe, goat or cow’s milk; olives from a neighbour’s trees; wines from nearby vineyards and of course lamb.
One market day for little more than the price of one large leg at our butcher shop at home, we purchased half a lamb cut into ribs, chops and a leg roast. That night Cam prepared a feast for a large gathering of our hosts’ new French friends. He marinated every last bit of the lamb it in olive oil, garlic, shallots, fresh rosemary from the garden, and wild thyme gleaned from surrounding hills and then grilled it to perfection. For the non-meat eaters Cam baked chicken in a marinade comprised of chopped olives, orange juice and toasted cumin seed.
It was a most memorable evening for many reasons. For me the most enduring image is of Cam as he served his fare and shared recipes with the crowd hovering in the kitchen. He speaks almost no French, yet never missed a beat explaining flavours from the south of France to the French.
It’s not the first time of course, but over café au lait the following morning I shared with him some of the many similar moments I had cooking in Antarctic. I’m happy he has experienced first hand the way a shared meal can find its way through a language barrier.
It’s a shame there were no French bases on King George Island. Walking into a kitchen full of scents and flavours that transport one to the south of France (or anywhere in France) is good for the soul; and I would have liked to see what essentials of French cuisine the cooks brought with them.
On Charcot’s expedition in 1903-1905 the cook made fresh bread on Friday, served rolls made with butter on Sundays and surprised the team with pastries from time to time. At 4 heures each day tea and butter and bread and milk were served —an expedition menu detail that only became meaningful to me after our visit to France when a rousing game of hide and seek stopped precisely at 4:00pm and children gathered for le goûter (tea and sweets). Evidently it’s a tradition that has been around for a while and it’s not hard to imagine the comfort observing it would bring to expeditioners in Antarctica.
Terroir really takes on a new meaning in Antarctica. A meal of seal meat that finishes with French pastries just might take the sting out of a night that lasts for months. No mention of lamb in the archive though— poor guys!