The sun is beating down on the stone walls that surround the 12th century chapel of Notre Dame du Mai. Yellow mimosas bloom around it and down below, the Mediterranean shimmers aqua blue.
Exactly two weeks ago, my husband, Jim, and I were hiking on the trail that climbs to the small church. We do this about every year: rent a gîte (small rural accommodation) in this town in southern France and then once, here, make the pilgrimage up to the top. We always have to gear ourselves up to go: it takes about four hours to get there and back, and the hike there is up all the way with at least one portion where you have to pretend you’re a mountain goat. But the views as we rise above the tree line and scale the ridge are always worth it, even when the hard Mistral wind is blowing.
The trail starts in the small town of Le Brusc where the path skirts the sea. Leaving the fishing boats behind, we slowly climb surrounded mostly by twisted cork trees, cacti and scrubby pines. Along the way, we cross various other walkers: one large group on a walking tour, a family of four, an older couple trudging slowly, a fashionable young couple, several families with picnic supplies. As we reach the top, we see more people carrying bags. Curious, I ask them what they are looking for. “Mushrooms and wild asparagus,” they tell me as they open their bags and let me peek in. Spring has arrived!
We rest and enjoy the view from the chapel. The town is now just another landmass jutting out into that blue, blue water. As we head back down, we start to look for the lacy ferns of the wild asparagus. All of a sudden, we see them everywhere. And sure enough, we find enough to add to our ingredients for supper.
Our tired feet carry us back to town. We catch the brilliant sunset on the water before turning into the lane where our home away from home sits back by the olive trees. We close our shutters and tuck ourselves into our cottage for the night. And then we make and enjoy a great omelette, using those wild asparagus shoots.
Now that I’m back in northern Indiana, those deep blue skies and sunny warm days of French spring seem like a dream. But just yesterday, I walked into the woods at Ox Bow Park and found the first carpet of yellow spring flowers. The pussy willows have silver tips and nature’s colours are gradually changing. The wild asparagus can’t be far behind. I can’t wait until it appears at the farmers market.
Cream of Asparagus Soup
- 1 c. chopped onions
- 3 leeks, washed and sliced
- 1 t. salt
- 2 t. dried tarragon
- 2 T. canola oil
- 2 pounds fresh asparagus
- 4 c. water
- 1/2 c. butter
- 1/2 c. flour
- 4 c. 1% milk
- 4 c. collard greens,
- loosely packed salt and pepper to taste
- In a soup pot, sauté onions, leeks, salt and tarragon in oil until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.
- While above mixture cooks, chop asparagus. Add chopped asparagus and water to the soup pot. Cover and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer until the asparagus is tender.
- In another small saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour, stirring a few minutes. Whisk in milk and stir until thickened. Add to the soup pot.
- Steam the collard greens until tender. Add to the soup pot.
- Heat slowly until hot. Blend with handheld blender.