Welcome to the Where the Wild Cherries Grow blog tour! Check out an exclusive extract below!
I closed my eyes as I tried to pick apart every flavour, because nothing had ever tasted so good before. It was like tasting for the first time. Like discovering colour . . .
It is 1919 and the war is over, but for Emeline Vane the cold Norfolk fens only are haunted by memories of those she has lost. In a moment of grief, she recklessly boards a train and runs from it all.
Her journey leads her far away, to a tiny seaside village in the South of France. Taken in by cafe owner Maman and her twenty-year-old son, Emeline discovers a world completely new to her: of oranges, olives and wild herbs, the raw, rich tastes of the land.
But when a love affair develops, as passionate as the flavours of the village, secrets from home begin blowing in on the sea wides. Fifty years later, a young solictor on his first case finds Emeline’s diary, and begins to trace a story of betrayal, love and bittersweet secrets that will send him on a journey to discover the truth…
For the second time that day, a scent pulled me out of sleep. At first I was confused in the darkness, but it found me again, impossible to ignore: onions, frying fish, spices that hovered at the edge of recognition. I pushed myself up on to my elbows and sniffed. I had no notion of how much time had passed, or even what day it was. All I knew was that I was ravenous.
I crawled from the blankets. Tiredness clung to me as I found the wooden shutters and pulled them open. Outside, it was dark. Carefully, I shunted open the frame, too. The noise of the sea rushed up to greet me. I had no idea it was so close. I could smell it, mingling with the scent of cooking from below.
And there were voices, many voices, talking, laughing. Light spilled from the ground floor of the Fourniers’ house, stretching across a dirt road and down on to what looked like a beach. Occasionally, a wave would catch the edge of the light.
I crept down the creaking staircase, like a child at a party. The smell grew stronger, the heat of cooking wafted up to greet me and my stomach growled. My body had definite ideas about what it wanted and that was food, and drink – and soon. I stepped into the kitchen.
Clémence stood at the stove. It dominated the space, a huge black range fuelled by wood, which added its irresistible scent to the cooking. Dozens of pots and pans and skillets hung from the walls, blackened from use. Shelves on either side held jars and tins, bunches of dried herbs, bottles of liquid. A shallow bowl sat near Clémence’s elbow, filled to the brim with glistening sea salt.
She was tending to three pans at once. In two, chunks of white fish were frying, a coating of flour turning them crisp and golden. In the third, I could see onions and herbs bubbling in oil. A heavy thud from the table made me jump and I turned to see Aaró, a mallet in his hand, crushing something on a wooden board.
‘It smells wonderful,’ I called over the sizzling. ‘What are you cooking?’
Clémence flipped the fish deftly with one hand, reaching for a tin with the other.
I watched, fascinated, as she shook a bright red powder into the onions. Immediately a scent rose, sweet and smoky, turning everything in the pan a deep crimson. Swiftly, she added the fish, a slosh of wine from an unmarked bottle, a ladleful of broth from a pan at the back of the stove.
I’d never seen anything like it. No weights or measures or hesitancy. She cooked by instinct, moved like lightning, as if her hands knew what to do on their own. At my cooking classes, we had been taught to work slowly and prudently, in pinches and thimbles and tiny slivers.
She slurped a bit of the bubbling sauce from a wooden spoon, nodded once and pushed it to a cooler part of the stove.
‘If you want to help,’ she said over her shoulder as she glugged oil into a new pan, ‘ask Aaró.’
The young man was still using the mallet to crush something up, making noises to himself that I knew he couldn’t hear. It was garlic, I saw, two entire heads of it. The smell was intense; it made my eyes and my mouth water at the same time. We had never used garlic at my classes. The teacher had deemed it ‘too coarse’ a flavour for the palate of young ladies. She would’ve swooned at the sight of this. I smiled and Aaró looked up, with his bright grey eyes.
‘Can I help?’ I pointed to the garlic and to me, hoping that Clémence would step in and translate, but she was busy slapping another half-dozen pieces of fish into a pan. Aaró frowned, looking down at the garlic, not understanding. I tried again, pointing to me, then him, then a bowl, to no avail.
Perhaps it was my useless expression, but abruptly he glanced at his mother, clanging away at the stove, and his face lit up with realization. He beckoned me forward.
He dumped the pulverized garlic cloves into a huge pestle and mortar that stood beside him, threw in a handful of rough salt, and began to mash it all into a paste. He had strong hands, I saw, as tanned as his face and callused across the fingers. I had never known a man who could cook, but Aaró moved like his mother, swift and comfortable. It was wonderful to watch.
He waved his hand before my face to get my attention. I nodded to show I was watching. He took up a tin can with a long, thin spout and dropped a tiny amount of golden-green oil into the garlic. He worked it in, slowly and methodically, then added another few drops, before handing over the tin to me.
We worked that way, heads close, until the mortar was magically filled with a smooth, cre
amy, yellow substance. Smiling to himself, Aaró stuck his little
finger into it and tasted before indicating that I should do the same.
The flavour exploded on my tongue. It was like nothing I had ever eaten, strong and rich and sweet all at once. Forgetting myself, I reached out again, only to find my hand slapped away by Aaró. We smiled at each other, and once again I felt that strange urge to step closer, to study his face.
But Clémence called me over. She was pouring the steaming stew into two enormous serving bowls.
‘Take these if you want to help.’ She shoved several loaves of crusty bread into my arms and pointed to a tray. I was so preoccupied with hunger and cooking with Aaró that I had forgotten the sound of voices from the front of the house, didn’t even consider it until I stepped through a curtained doorway and was confronted by the sight of two-dozen strangers.
Where the Wild Cherries Grow is absolutely fantastic, publishing June 15th from Black Swan. Make sure to check out the other stops on the tour, and stop by later today for a review of this gorgeous book!