By Emma Condon (‘20)
I spent many summers in France. My mother is from a small town, Marchenoir, just two hours outside of Paris. The village has only a few notable buildings: the church, a single restaurant, a bakery, the butcher. There is a graveyard as well. With the exception of the occasional weary traveler, coming from one of the nearby chateaus, every face is familiar.
The roads are unpaved and engulfed in rows of lavender and irises. Only 700 people live in the town, and it seems to be stuck in the past, never growing, never changing, halted in a time where grocery stores don’t yet exist. You buy your baguette from the baker and your sausage from the butcher. Your grandfather is the mayor and your uncle the priest. When you visit the graveyard, you know every name, whether they be friend, family, or foe.
Those summers have faded from my memory. All the details are foggy and distant. The only thing that truly stands out to me is the food.
My window in my family’s home looked out on the garden. Uncle Bert took me through the field and down the rows of fruit trees and herbs and flowers. After I ate a pale pink raspberry off one of the bushes, he reminded me, “The best berries are underneath. To find the reddest, juiciest fruit requires a little more diligence.”
One afternoon, when the sun was golden and brightened even the dullest faces, the family gathered around a large white iron table. I kneeled down to be eye-level with the food. Every square inch was occupied. There were loaves of bread, plates of cheese, fresh strawberries.
There was nothing particularly unique about a spread like this. My mornings were filled with chocolate croissants and my nights with coq au vin or raclette.
In France, life is built around the table, after all.
Before the meal, we ate the hors d’oeuvres. Plates were passed between us along with smiles and laughter. My brother and I, being unable to speak French, only observed and smiled back.
My mother passed me a plate. Noticing my upturned nose and furrowed eyebrows, she glared. “Don’t be so quick to judge, this was my favorite food as a child.”
It was an unusual pairing, the melon balls, and prosciutto, but it was perfect. The world of food, for me, had long been occupied by buttered pasta, chicken nuggets, and steamed broccoli. I was never starving as a child, I was always fed, satiated, but this was a new kind of hunger. The sweetness and saltiness. The fat and fruit, the colors, the textures. Foods from two opposing worlds merged in harmony. It was spiritual. I realized that food wasn’t intended to fill, but actually to starve you. Good food makes you desperate for more, makes you ravenous. Eating could be one of the greatest pleasures in the world and anybody who thought otherwise, I concluded, wasn’t living.
The melon and prosciutto pairing was like art. It was a painting and the plate was a canvas. The colors blended and created something even more magnificent. It was more delicious than even the most perfect pancake.