Family holidays in Provence. Those were the days. Not always without incident. The first time I ever drove abroad was an eerie 3am hire car trundle along Nice’s Promenade des Anglais after horrendous flight delays. Two tots in the back too tired to even attempt: “Are we nearly there yet?” ‘There’ was the hilltop village of Haut de Cagnes, a maze of cobbled passages, at the top of which lay our holiday ‘villa’ or ‘near hovel’.
In those innocent pre-internet days we’d booked it via the small ads of The Lady magazine. It had apparently served as the wartime Gestapo HQ before falling into the hands of a retired Daily Express stringer. It dated back to the 13th century and so, it seemed, did its plumbing.
Fortunately when the gas boiler conked out on day two there was a resourceful local Monsieur Fixit on hand. He and his partner also babysat our spotty kids – both of whom had succumbed to la varicelle (chickenpox) – allowing us to chill at the local bistro. Fine meal there, but the best of the holiday came from our own primitive stove. I cooked the classic Daube à la Provencale.
It was the product of a vibrant local market, the village’s best attraction alongside the artist Renoir’s house and the Chateau Grimaldi. Ingredients? Boeuf biologique, lard salé, olive oil, fleur de sel, onions and garlic, garrigue herbs and a bottle of equally herby red, a second bottle of which we consumed with the slow-braised beef. Of course, we didn’t have one of those traditional claypot daubières to cook it in, but it still turned out sublime.
Attempts since have never quite matched that daube debut. It didn’t help that I flipped between different recipes. Yet all along on my bookshelves lay the solution. It took the death of Lulu Peyraud in 2020 and a lockdown trawl out of curiosity through A Provençal Table to reignite my quest. Eureka!
Her version is the fruit of a lifetime’s cooking (she died aged 102) in the kitchens of her family’s vineyard in the Bandol appellation 200km west of Nice. Her friend and disciple Richard Olney, expatriate American bon viveur, assembled all the book’s terroir-driven recipes under the subtitle The Exuberant Food and Wine from Domaine Tempier.
Olney’s magnum opus, Simple Food, offers a daube recipe that is more daunting, not quite as intricate as his two takes on cassoulet but you get my drift. Introducing her to America’s West Coast culinary elite (Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters wrote the foreword to A Provençal Table), the faux rustique Olney built up an almost mythical image of Lulu (née Lucie, winemaker husband Lucien).
Alongside acting as an ambassador for the Tempier wines, she just loved cooking and entertaining. Up early in the morning to meet the fishing boats and buy the pick of their catch, or to the market for fruit and vegetables, she would go home and cook for large parties for lunch or dinner several times a week.
A role model for me? Yet all that back story was enough to put me off when, a few years on from La Varicele, we had our next Southern French holiday. ‘Play with the vigneron’s dog’ we told the kids as we sampled delicious reds and rosés made from the Mourvedre grape at various vineyards in the hills above the Med. But Tempier was a stop-off too far. I made do with buying the book. Here is the quiet wonder you’ll find on page 179 of my 1995 Pavilion edition…
Lulu’s Daube à la Provencale
4lb chuck steak, cut into 3oz pieces, 4oz lean, streaky salt bacon, in a single slice, cut across into ⅓ inch-thick lardon; ½ cups peeled, thinly sliced carrots; ½ lb onions; 3 branches of thyme, 2 bay leaves, parsley stems; one strip dried orange peel; 1tbsp olive oil; bottle of deep red wine; coarse sea salt; bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, orange peel, celery stalk, parsley).
In a large bowl, intermingle the meats, vegetable, herbs and orange peel, sprinkle over the olive oil, and pour over red wine to cover. Maria, covered, fo several hours or overnight, turning the contents of the bowl around two or three times. Strain the marinade into another bowl. Discard the carrots, onions, herbs and orange peel. In a heavy pot (preferably a daubière) layer the meats, sprinkling with salt, and place the bouquet garni between layers. Pour over the marinade and bring slowly to the boil. Then maintain a slight simmer for six hours. Lift off as much floating fat from the surface as possible. Discard the bouquet garni
Serve with macaroni and parmesan. I didn’t. And I added garlic and basil. Sacrilege. Plus a pig’s trotter so I could serve the left-overs cold en gelée. Inspired. I’m sure Lulu (and Richard) would have approved.
Main image of Haut de Cagnes by Renaud d’Avout d’Auerstaedt