The oleanders and hibiscus on my terrace provide the perfect backdrop for lazy afternoons and steamy nights. And last week we had a little visitor who was thoroughly taken in by the façade and looked as if he’d dropped straight out of an Attenborough documentary.
We were lingering over a late breakfast, about to pour a little more coffee, when our visitor announced himself with a distinct plopping sound. I turned round and there on a slender branch of the big hibiscus tree, a little wobbly but very much at home, was a bright green frog. I looked at him and he looked at me and we agreed between us that he was a very smart fellow, whereupon he froggily doffed his cap and set off on an exploration of his new surroundings. He was obviously an expert in the branches and very soon came to the conclusion that our potted hibiscus wasn’t really much of a place. He wobbled back to the outskirts and was poised for a giant leap of faith. The beloved, on the ball as usual, whipped out his equipment and our visitor obligingly posed for his portrait, before surrendering to force majeure and allowing himself to be liberated on the other side of the road beneath the vast bay tree that overhangs the ancient village wall. One hop and he melted away into the canopy. We returned to the coffee and researched him. He was a European (or possibly Mediterranean, the jury is out) Tree Frog. A rare and delightful amphibian with a penchant for breakfast conversation – or maybe it was just my dazzling façade.
If August is the month of the oleander and hibiscus, it’s also the month of the sunflower, and they are everywhere. The countryside marches with untold legions of them, every outside table is decorated with a jug of them, and every market has at least one stall selling bunches of them. Their sunny faces perfectly reflecting the weather, as we are currently enjoying the hottest, driest summer since 2003. Of course sunflowers are not the only crop that bursts onto the scene at this time of year. The ubiquitous haricot vert has reached its zenith and mountainous piles of them appear in every market, they’re consumed in vast numbers on a daily basis.
The tomato too has reached its flamboyant best and some of those I now buy in the markets weigh almost a kilo each. One delicious, sugary fruit feeds four for lunch! But of all the August produce the star of the show has to be the peach. Huge juicy globes flushed a deep dark red, blushing as they showcase their opulent charms. The white ones have the finest flavour if you’re going to eat them raw, yellow fleshed peaches are best for cooking and preserving. You have to be a little choosy with peaches, tomatoes are ripe if they look ripe, but peaches can hide an unyielding flesh beneath a deep velvet skin. If you’re not allowed to touch, ask for peaches to be eaten now, and if they don’t give under your touch when you’re handed the bag – hand it back. I bought four kilos of the very best in Cahors market on Wednesday. A lot for a small family, but they disappear with alarming promptitude. Eating these sumptuous summer treats should perhaps be a private pleasure, but whatever you do, don’t deny yourself.
Sublime, scented, sensual and undeniably good for you, what more could you ask of a fruit?