We have had several barbecues since we got to France six weeks ago, just because we can and because the opportunities for it are so rare in the UK - especially in September.
When we were kids we only ate outdoors if it was a family picnic. Then it would be sandwiches from a biscuit tin lined with greaseproof paper, buns from another, all washed down with flasks of tea or bottles of pop. No alcohol was involved unless we stopped at the pub on the way home; parents, aunts and uncles sipping respectively pints of beer and Babycham outside at wooden benches while kids and cousins waited in the car, satisfied with more pop and a bag of crisps. It was the 1950's and 60's and "al fresco" was a term we were yet to hear.
In my twenties I only ate outdoors if there was a barbecue. Munching crozzled sausages and burgers in buns before they got too cold, scarves and cardigans handy as the air grew chilly. I was 28 when I got my first British Visitor's Passport from the Post Office in order to go to Paris for a long weekend. That was the first time I actually ate a proper meal outdoors, served by waiters at a table on the pavement.
The vendage (grape harvest) has come early this year, starting as soon as the last week of August in some vineyards to the north of us. To our delight so has le brame - the rutting of the deer. A week ago we were finishing our meal outdoors, thinking of donning our jumpers, listening to the crickets and the foxes in the surrounding fields. It was a full moon and we heard the first call not long after the sun had gone down and the moon still rising. It's an unmistakable, deep and mournful mooing noise.
The very first time I heard it was a few years ago, on moving to our house in the middle of a field, the noise woke me up at about two in the morning. My first thought that there were no cows anywhere near us but soon more deer joined in, the noise coming from all sides, from every bit of forest surrounding us. It took me a few sleepy minutes to work out what it was. It went on for hours and we climbed out of the bedroom window in our pyjamas onto the roof of the well house to hear it properly and see the shadowy shape of a stag moving about in the moonlight. Magical stuff.
For this outdoor meal I rustled up a quick plum pie. A couple of days before I had baked in the oven some nectarines and a few odd plums of all colours that were left over and past their best, rather than throw them on the compost heap. I used a pack of ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry (pâte brisée) to line a deep Pyrex pie dish, spread the plums into it and topped it with a quick, all-in-one sponge made with 4ozs flour and 2 eggs. Delicious.