Francis lived happily close beside his tree...
They have roamed the planet, from South Africa to Tasmania, Chili to Kerala India and Brazil to California "where I saw the world's largest fig plantation – a single plot spanning 2,470 acres". The passion of Francis and his wife Jacqueline prompted them to cultivate – literally and figuratively – the fine art of the fig... Inhabitants of Graveson, the couple are still as enthusiastic as ever: "We set up home here with my father in 1962, said Francis. I was 20 years old. Everyone was growing apples and pears at the time, but I wanted to go against the grain, so I planted figs". Driven by a love for this Mediterranean fruit "abandoned by everyone around Tarascon and Valabrègues", Francis Honoré gradually fostered his collection. "We have 30 acres of figs, which represents about 3,500 trees. The main varieties are the Dauphine, Noire de Caromb and Bourjasotte", explains the now 73 year-old farmer. "The rest of the collection – around 100 varieties - is planted in an orchard". A passion for figs comparable to that of Louis XIV, which prompted Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie to plant 700 fig trees in the royal kitchen garden at Versailles!
"We'll have time to kill a donkey by throwing figs at it before he makes his mind up"
Figs aren't fussy, but they do like to be looked after and they produce fruit according to the season, weather and size of the tree... A multitude of parameters that can make the harvest vary wildly. "Some varieties like to be alone and some like being near their colleagues", says Francis Honoré. "One of our trees has 100 square metres all to itself! They say that figs like water, but that depends on the variety too: some dig their roots down into crevices in the limestone rock, while others like well-irrigated land with plenty of alluvions".
Savvy gourmets all agree on one thing: fig jam is the business. Use about 30% of brown sugar and 70% fresh figs, naturally rich in pectin. White and black figs are the best for jam-making. Figs make excellent chutneys and mustards too, and are perfect served with dried fruit such as walnuts and almonds. "I love a fresh fig tart", says Francis Honoré hungrily. "A fig chutney served with foie gras is delicious too!" Picked ripe from the tree, figs are simply to die for. They can also be scattered on trays and left to dry in the sun for 3 days: "That's the best way to keep your figs all winter – we serve figs at Christmas as one of Provence's famous 13 Desserts," smiles Jacqueline Honoré.
Always opt for organic figs or those guaranteed grown with a minimum amount of products, so you can leave the skin on. Duck, rabbit and guinea fowl are best friends with this delicious fruit, equally good served in a sweet or savoury dish.
The sun is setting over the orchard of Francis and Jacqueline Honoré and the conversation deepens: "I've been passionate about this tree for the last 53 years. Maybe it's nostalgia for the fig trees of North Africa? I've been tirelessly building and maintaining my collection since 1965. We welcome visitors and as I love talking, I can spend hours telling them about the mysteries and curiosities of this fruit", chuckles Francis, In the little shop next to the farm, pots of jam, mustards, chutneys and crates of seasonal fruit are piled high… Perfect gourmet souvenirs, the products are all made on site. "Don't speak to me about retirement", says Francis. "I'm still working at 73 and proud of it! Brassens lived happily close beside his tree and I intend to die beside mine!"
Le Grand Pastis offers a picture-postcard portrait of gourmet Provence. Pierre Psaltis shares his conception of gastronomy, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, presents his tasted-and-approved recipes, uncorks the finest vintages and invites you out to dinner... A concentrate of news, spiked with the inimitable local accent.
Whether it's served hot with a salad, used to crown a cheese platter, or savoured fresh with honey or olive oil, goat's cheese is an absolute culinary must. Provence's dry, sunny climate is perfect for goat breeding -and that's lucky for us!
A gourmet treat…
Provence has been famed for its candied fruit from time immemorial. In the early 16th century, the region was fairly impoverished. Fruit grew here in abundance, but much of it was lost every year.
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As yellow as sunshine and as warm as a winter fireplace... The quince isn't very pretty, but the people of Provence love it. You could even say that a passion has been born between this irregular-shaped fruit, somewhat resembling a dented, rustic pear and our lovers of jams, jellies and pastes.
When we talk about the South of France, what's the first thing we think of? The MEDITERRANEAN SEA! (and the sun of course – it's all part of the package).