When I moved from Paris to the French countryside two years ago, I knew I would miss things from the city- I just didn’t know exactly what those things would be. I was certain that country life would be enriching and come with added benefits; more space, a slower pace of life, fresh air, a nightly view of the starry sky, but I had no way of knowing that I would miss so much about my city life.
After the first few months living in the Loire Valley, it became more clear what I had left behind when I moved away from Paris. I missed new bars and restaurants, the excitement of city living, the variety of food shops within walking distance of my home. But what I really ached for was my female friends.
When I moved to the countryside, I was welcomed into a community that included passionate winemakers. Thanks to them I began to learn about natural winemaking, foraging the flora of my new home, and much about making the most out of country life. As grateful as I was to have this new community, which was mostly male, nothing was a replacement for my Parisian female friends.
But luckilyI wouldn’t lack ladies for long. With time, I began meeting more women in the village thanks to community events like the Fête des Voisins and my getting to know the partners of local winemakers. Their impressive knowledge of how to live sustainably and harmoniously with their environment- from preserving foods, growing plants, to preparing dinner with simple, local ingredients-were fascinating to me, as someone who wasused to being able to buy whatever I wanted to eat from a restaurant or specialty food shop. These skills, in modern times, are a kind of superpower- one that could go extinct if not shared and continued by younger generations of home chefs, foragers, and interested foodies.
Throughout history, especially in rural regions, women have mainly kept culinary and even agricultural traditions alive because things like cooking and gardening have historically fallen into the category of “women’s work”.Women were even the original brewers, tasked with making batches of beer to serve to thirsty farmhands during the harvest season.
Other key jobs also fell to women, such as the preservation of food to ensure a stocked pantry throughout the winter. Women developed andadapted techniques for pickling, conserving, curing, smoking, drying, and later, freezing enough food to get their family through times when fresh vegetables and meat were scarce. These techniquesare still used today, and I know this because mylady neighbors employ these methods throughout the year with their homegrown fruits and vegetables.
I constantly learn life lessons from my new countryside friends. My recently retired neighbor, Maire-Claude,is always happy to share a recipe or tip for jam making with me. I have her to thank for showing me where to find wild thyme in the field by my house as well as recipes for homemade canned tomato sauce, stuffed grape leaves using leaves from her own vines, and Acacia beignets using flowers from her trees.
Most recently, I met Régine who lives a few houses down from me in a charming, tucked away cottage that I never would have noticed if she hadn’t invited me over to visit. She took me on a tour of her garden one afternoon, explaining the origin story of every plant. Not one bud or blossom came from a store bought plant. Many plants were gifts, but most were obtained through tactical grifting. Not afraid to pull over or trespass in order to get a sprig of a coveted plant, Régine explained to me how to fill a garden with gleaned growth from side streets and front yards, thereby surrounding yourself with flowers.
Every time I learn something new thanks to my countryside lady neighbors and friends, I realize what I’ve gained by moving to this special place. More important than the seeds I’ve planted in my potager are the growth they’ve inspired in me- to become closer to my environment, to cultivate it, to not just live with it, but get life from it. While I still miss Paris at times, I realize some things remain the same- I can always count on the knowledge and support of the women around me to get me through each year.