Here I sit looking over the Luberon yet another glorious day, my eyes scan the valley and onto the hills on the south side. This part of Provence is east of Avignon and the more mountainous rustic part of what is termed Provence. I have been here many times and it is a celebrated spot. Yet what is it about the place that makes it so special, especially without the Mediterranean beaches or modern manmade amusements? Of course, there is the food associated with the land and its bounty, but if you can go anywhere why do many people return here and why have I been here so many times?
My friend Laura, who responded to a classified ad in The New York Times 23 years ago, has rented a house here for a month every summer since. She is onto her third house and has made summers in Provence an important part of her life. It is the connection with the people who are real and the land which is wild and earthy yet amazingly bountiful that continues to capture her attention. Her weekly ritual is to drive 20 minutes to the Saturday market in Apt, a large market town and then go to closer central to the Sunday market in Coustellet which seems like the great grandmother of an American farmers market. Farmers and producers bring the most beautiful products to the market which call out to be photographed every which way; the buying and bringing home and sharing with friends too is an addictively nurturing experience making you feel ever so rooted, with the terror, vitality and rejuvenation. Yes there are tourist attractions beyond exploring the little villages, but the simplicity of just being here in tune with your senses and nurturing your soul is the draw.
The French, with their appreciation for the finer things in life adds to the place when you get “inside” and layers onto life a romantic nuance. Yet it is the wildness with the rugged land and its bounty that I think has an affect of making people live in the moment away from the distractions of the big city, connected with their livelihood and sustenance that makes this a simply sophisticated place.
A favorite recipe of mine that is from my grandmother and is made for the peaches, apricots, plums and cherries of this land is Merbatick or a German sweet cookie pastry that is easier than pie and best served with whipped cream.
2 sticks of sweet butter
4 cups of flour
2 extra large eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
Soften butter to room temperature, mix all ingredients together, knead till well combined and form into two balls, wrap and store overnight in the refrigerator. leave out for one hour to warm to room temperature, press into a tart form, line with fruit, bake at 350 degrees for 40 – 60 minutes, depending on the size and the fruit. Sprinkle with sugar, fresh out of the oven and cool. Do not make more than one day in advance. Enjoy.