Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Pass the Whipped Cream, Les Gariguettes sont Arrivées!

Ahhh... Spring in the South of France...  

Just about the time the Mimosa have stopped  propelling pollen everywhere, coating everything in a fine yellow dust and sending everyone to the Pharmacie for allergy meds, Les Gariguettes are making their first appearance on the scene.  Rejoice!

Today was my first heavenly taste of this season's Gariguette de Plougastel from Plougastel-Daoulas in Brittany.  I remember the first time I ate them.  I couldn't believe my mouth, it being accustomed to the hardy Canadian, Spanish or American varieties.  It was a revelation at the time, as though someone turned up an invisible strawberry flavour knob.

I've been buying them for years from the Place d'Armes Market in Monaco and my regular vendeuse smiles knowingly when I approach, euro in my hand like an addict seeking a fix.  "Ah, oui, les Gariguettes"... she purrs, placing them gently into a crinkly paper bag.  Sometimes they never make it as far as home.

In France, strawberries aren't just strawberries, they have names, and deservedly so.  My three favourite are the Gariguette, which appear from March until June, the Ciflorette which straddle the Gariguette season and linger until July, and the sweet little Mara des Bois which hit the scene in April and May and are available into October. Many French producers now use greenhouses to manipulate the growing season and to ensure reliable growing conditions and thank goodness for that!

The Gariguette are a balanced mix of sweet and sour with a slightly perfumed finish and a soft texture that yields in the mouth.  In fact you can eat them by using only your tongue to break them up.  This brings me comfort because when I am really, really old and have no teeth I'll still be able to enjoy them. 

Worth the price

Years ago, I passed bowls of Gariguette as hors d'oeuvres at a cocktail party  with only whipped cream as an accompaniment and friends are still talking about them to this day.

How do you tell a Gariguette apart from the others?  First is the price.  At 32 per kilo or about €5-6 per pint when they first appear it's a bit of a shock to the system but thankfully they become cheaper later in the season.  Not that I wouldn't think twice about paying full pop for them and eat them all like a little piggy.

Some of the best Gariguette are often sold individually so you can buy as many as you can afford.  I like the ones I buy in the outdoor markets with in little pint sized wooden baskets lined with pink tissue.  Peel back the tissue and voila! There they are, slightly elongated, orange-red, and very shiny.  Each berry is conveniently topped with a calyx that stands straight up like a little hat, so you can pinch it like a handle and bite the fruit into your mouth.

You can often find Gariguettes by larger producers such as  Rougeline in your local supermarket.   Just look for the proud producer's face on the box, eating strawberries, making you jealous.

It's rare to find these strawberries outside of France because they're so fragile and not meant to be shipped any distance.  This way the French get to keep them all to themselves.  How lucky are they?

They're best served at room temperature, all by themselves or with something creamy and simple like lightly sweetened whipped cream or fresh ricotta.

If you do ever find them where you live, buy them, run home, call your friends, and share them.  That is, of course, if you don't eat them all yourself.

They'll thank you.  

And if you didn't eat them all yourself, here are some recipes:


Lost in Provence said...

Ooh, I missed this post but can I just say that you would have been shocked, shocked by the miniscule, not even ripe gariguettes on sale at the Arles market yesterday. What on earth! I didn't buy any. :( I did get my first stalks of asparagus though and Remi made his mayoey-hollandaisey sauce that makes me swoon! :)

PS? Those skinny shrimp strawberries were the same price as yours...

Gustia said...

No good Gariguette and no buttermilk? Thank god you have asparagus. That makes up for a lot.