I read about this combination first in Caroline Craig’s book, Provence, and then in Diana Henry’s Salt, Sugar and Smoke. It’s a delicious and romantic pairing which evokes Provence and its infamous lavender fields. The lavender adds a surprising and almost savoury musk to the tart and floral apricots.
When I arrived in Sardinia 3 years ago with a single suitcase it didn’t occur to me how attached I was to so many of the (material) things I’d left behind. Having deluded myself that I was not a person who needed 'things', I discovered I was, in fact, just as material as the next person. Clothes were unimportant, I could collect new ones for a few euros from the weekly second-hand market, and Luca’s mum gave me many of her 80’s cast-offs (shoulder-pads galore). What I really missed were my books, and my kitchen objects, both of which I’d spent a lifetime collecting. And - somewhat surprisingly - my duvet, because for some reason duvets do not seem to exist in Sardinian culture, and if they do, you have to spend a fortune on them. I have a handful of old duvets at home in England, inherited from grandparents and parents and God-knows-where, and there was no way parsimonious me was going to buy a new one with all of those nice camel-coloured ones sitting around stuffed in cupboards just waiting for a good home.
I also missed having a car. As I grew up in the middle of nowhere I learned to drive as soon as I legally could, and having a car (usually inherited from my brothers once they got new ones) was important, essential to maintain any kind of life away from home. Similarly, life in Oristano without a car is fairly difficult. Especially if you don’t live in the city. Public transport is erratic. Cars here are incredibly expensive so it seemed to make sense, instead, to bring my old one over from England. It also seemed to make sense to fill it with all the things I really missed from England, since we were driving it anyway.
So, in the winter of 2018, after 18 months of duvet-less, pedestrian days, I found a cheap flight to the UK for the outbound journey, then a cheaper Eurostar and ferry from Toulon to Porto Torres for the return. I planned two stops, in two different places in France, to break up the journey, and then three days of driving. As with every journey I have ever made, the programme revolved around my edible and olfactory preferences. The first stop was Lyon, where I hoped to eat lots of pig offal, and the second was Aix-en-Provence, so that we could spend a morning inhaling lavender and exploring the town before catching our ferry.
We left England with a car full of old duvets, books and Yorkshire tea bags. It was November, and the first stop in Lyon was grim. I booked a cheap place for our night there, and we arrived in pouring rain to discover a dark room with a brown carpet and bed sheets strewn with anonymous hairs. We dumped our things and headed out into the rain immediately. I found a restaurant which looked suitably rustic, with cheerful clay pigs everywhere and red gingham tablecloths, just like in my imagination. We ordered badly, and ate two plates of very strange and sad pig-based fare, before heading sullenly back to our hirsute hotel room. Luca, being used to Italian standards of cleanliness and hygiene, refused to sleep in those sheets, and slept solemnly on a towel instead.
The second night I don’t remember, but I do remember the following day in Aix-en-Provence. It was a sunny, crisp autumnal morning, and we wandered around the beautiful town, filled with fountains and scented with the sweet smells of patisserie, soap and lavender. It wasn’t the time for the lavender fields, but there was a Christmas market selling little sachets of Provencal lavender to tourists, and I, being a trite tourist, bought a few.
I’d like to go back, to see those hackneyed and hallowed lavender fields. I’d like to explore more of Provence, beyond the lavender fields too. But now, what with a global pandemic and economic chaos, travel seems even more of a luxury than it ever was. So, in the meantime, I’ll capture a bit of Provence in this jam, and hug my cosmopolitan, coffee-coloured duvet close.
Apricot & Lavender Jam
Makes 2 jars
Juice of 1 lemon
1 sprig of lavender
(again, I don’t sterilise my jars for this – see previous jam-making posts, but if you want to keep this jam for a long time, you can of course do so)
Place a couple of saucers in the fridge.
Cut the apricots in half and remove their stones. (dry these and save them for later).
Squeeze the lemon juice over the apricots and then pour over the sugar. Place the whole lot in a jam pan with the lavender sprig and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for around 20 minutes, then test the set on a cold saucer (dribble some jam on the saucer, wait a few seconds, then push the liquid with your finger. If wrinkles appear then you have reached setting point). Continue cooking if setting point has not been reached.
Pick out the lavender stalk and pot in jars. Keep in the fridge and eat with toast and butter, with toast and ricotta, with yoghurt or with pancakes.