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Always Read the Label

A butcher shop specializing in horse meat in P...
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Eating local food and drinking local wine or beer is as inseparable a part of the holiday experience for me as sending postcards, without which no holiday is complete.  When abroad, I steer a wide berth of any cafes offering an English style menu.

In my mission to eat local, I’m aided by a daughter with an unusual aversion to the staple foods of most eight year olds.  Not for her the ubiquitous chicken nuggets, fish fingers or burgers. But give her a crepe nd she’s happy.

I’m torn the other way by a husband who equates holidays – wherever they are – with Full English Breakfasts. I still remember the look of horror on his face when presented on a Greek beachside taverna with a supposed English fry-up garnished with cucumber.  “Cucumber?  For breakfast!?”

On our French odyssey, I’m particular keen to eat native because one of my holiday reading books is  Julia Child‘s autobiographical “My Life In France” – a highly enjoyable account of the American chef’s love affair with French cookery.

So we hit the patisserie to start each day.  Croissants for Laura, pains au raisins for the grown-ups, plus the occasional chausson de pommes for good measure.  For lunch, we combine the inevitable baguette with charcuterie, salad and fruit bought from local markets or local producer’s roadside stalls.

Evening meals are compromised by my desire to minimise the use of gas and water, both of which are in limited supply in our van.  Quick cook pasta, never used at home, makes a frequent appearance on any camper van trip, as does bread in all its forms.  Canned food and ready meals are a godsend.  And here in France I must make judicious use of the tin opener, with the proviso that any product used must be of French manufacture.  I don’t think Julia would approve .

Early on in the trip, we find ourselves parked in a layby just south of Montdidier in Picardy, enjoying an unbroken view of rolling farmland hills.  To reflect our position on the edge of French Flanders, a tin of that popular Flemish dish, Carbonnade Flamande is on the menu.  We once enjoyed this in a restaurant in Ypres.  A hearty stew, it’s more of a winter dish, but we’ve burnt off a lot of energy with an afternoon at Montdidier’s municipal pool and my appetite is keen.

With two diabetics to cater for, I’m an inveterate reader of labels.  From force of habit.  I’m scanning the ingredients of the tin when an unexpected animal catches my eye.  “Viande de cheval.”  Horsemeat.  My hunger is instantly abated.  I edge up to my husband, mouth silently “This is made of horse” and await his reaction.

“Mmm, great!” he replies, licking his lips.”I could eat a horse!”

My daughter – a newly converted vegetarian, due to her love of animals – must not find out.  I hope she won’t notice as she tucks into her omelette that I’m having only potatoes and haricots verts while Daddy lays into the stew.

At the next hypermarket stop, I’m more cautious.  I check out the fresh meat counter for a ready-prepared local dish that lacks an equestrian theme.  I opt for a comforting, beefy looking package that shows some kind of tidy-looking meatball with mushrooms in a sauce Madere.  They look smooth and shiny and there’s something vaguely familiar about them.  There’s a clear mention of boeuf as the creature of origin, and it’s only when I’m warming the pack later that I realise what these sleek knobs of lean meat are. They are rognons.  The boeuf has kindly provided its kidneys.  Oh well, I suppose it could have been very much worse.

For the rest of the holiday, I’m awfully careful to make sure I always read the label.  And I’m very glad that I know that the French word for tripe is tripe.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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