Plum Village near Bordeaux is home to Europe’s largest Buddhist monastery, home to the late Thich Nhat Hanh, a global spiritual leader and Buddhist monk. “Many of us have been running all our lives. Practice stopping,” was one of the many lessons he taught.
Plum Village consists of four hamlets in idyllic French countryside. Each hamlet is unique in its own right, but they all serve the same purpose: meditate, reflect and practice the core principles in the Buddhist tradition.
The village gets its name because during peak plum season the fruit is so abundant that the fields and rolling hills turn various hues of purple. I was lucky enough to stay during the plum harvest and joined monks and visitors on a mission to collect the ripe fruits. We filled our bicycle baskets to the brim and when we took a break, the elder monk invited us to sit down for a breather as he regaled us with stories about the importance of plums in the cultural history of France.
Plums really came into their own in the Middle Ages when pilgrims brought them back from Damascus. And during the French Renaissance, plums made it into the spotlight as one particular variety, the “Reine-Claude” (greengage), took the name of the wife of King François, who adored the fruits.
With our baskets overflowing we headed back to the monastery’s minimalist kitchen to prepare three of France’s most popular dishes: plum tart, cold plum soup and batches of plum preserves.
We made fresh cold plum soup and then plum preserve, the perfect combination of tart and sweet. We added a few sprigs of lavender that we gathered from a nearby field. The final dish was a plum tart with fresh rosemary. After enjoying these fine delicacies, we retreated to our rooms in the chateau for an evening of quiet meditation, reflection and prayers of gratitude.
At the end of my stay, I took the train back to Bordeaux, sure that one day I would return to this peaceful place, Plum Village.
By Holly Ricciuti, who currently works as an English and Humanities professor at Miami Dade College.10
How to make Tarte Reine-Claude