Alchemy! Butter, Sugar, & Eggs, Oh My!
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With our new laying flock at Camont getting up to full summer speed, I am gathering 5-7 eggs a day. Yes! that's 35-50 eggs a week; 3 to 4 dozen a week. Dozen's of fresh farm eggs from very free range and well fed hens. Friends benefit, students get lots of practice, and mostly I am inspired every day to make something with eggs. From herbed omelettes to poached eggs at breakfast; golden yolky pain perdu or French toast and clafoutis with fruits for Sunday; Spanish tortillas and Italian frittatas for supper. But best of all they are one of the solid bases of our special French trilogy for pastry. 

Think of all the wonderful pastries we make in France- from choux puffs and eclairs, to crème patisserie filled tartes, to sugary egg washes on my rough puff croustades. Quatre-quarts or pound cakes leaven and glow golden; a foaming eggy Sabayon to ladle over soft fruits; and even simple lacy crepes owe their special flavor and color to our deep golden yoked eggs. 

When pastry chef Molly Wilkinson of Toffee Bits & Chocolate Chips came for a visit this spring, she fell in love with our fresh produce at Camont and we hatched a little plan to share her skills and creative take on Classic French Pastries. You can read more about a Weekend Pastry Adventures with Molly here in the Kitchen at Camont here! 

 Here's Molly whipping up some more sweet treats at Camont! Take a look and join us in August 17-19 at Camont.

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Kate Hill
Quatre-Quarts Gateau or Pound Cake Perfection
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Spring attacks in Gascony like no other season. There is no smooth slide from summer days to chill autumn nights; no gradual winterizing of hearth and home preparing for a brief and damp dormant season. Rather, Spring pounces then retreats, sautés a skillet of plum blossoms across the land, before dumping buckets of nourishing rain across the orchards and fields, vineyards and market gardens. The giboulées de Mars whirls the winds overhead and hail, rain and sun cycle through the days. At Camont, the green explosion is so loud the grass can be heard growing under the top song of small nesting birds.

Spring food is also green; the deep orange pumpkins and squash have run their course. The mornings still require a fire in the kitchen stove but by afternoon, I am looking at the potager squares and plotting summer salads and outside cooking. The first asparagus arrives with great fanfare near Easter; artichokes are sweet and meaty to be eaten out of hand with creamy chilled butter smeared on each leaf, painstakingly slow and delicious. Spring food might be just a reference to the end of winter deprivation as baskets of tawny eggs overspill at market stalls and generous custardy dishes like clafoutis or sabayon grace our convivial tables. 

Spring is a celebration not of weather but of table. Fresh farm eggs in many forms announce the rebirth of spring: Oeufs Mimosa, a classic Eggs Benedict made fresh with wild garlic or asparagus and doused with a golden-hued Hollandaise sauce, or a simple golden eggy cake- a 'Quatre-Quarts' made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs, of course. A thick buttery slice can be fancy dressed with the first local strawberries and crème frâiche or eaten plain with a cup of coffee, this classic farmhouse sweet is a tribute to Spring's abundance of eggs and butter and can take a place of honor on a spring table.

I've researched dozens of recipes and made this my favorite version. The key is the best ingredients with something this simple. So very fresh farm eggs, great salted butter, and freshly milled flour are essential. I've used a small hand mixer for ease, but you can whisk this together by hand as well. Weighing the ingredients is also essential, and whether you use ounces or grams, the results will be consistent.

Quatre-Quarts or a French Pound Cake

The basis of this classic cake is equal parts of the four ingredients-eggs, flour, sugar, butter. If you want to make a larger cake, use more eggs and weigh the other ingredients accordingly. I used a deep terracotta dish that comfortable held the 1000 grams of batter with plenty of room for it to rise. 

Turn Oven to 180'C or 350'F

  • 4 eggs weigh them in their shells. Mine weighed just about 250 grams.
  • 250 grams sugar
  • 250 grams flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 250 grams salted butter, melted (I put a 250 gram block of butter in a pan in the preheating oven)
  • lemon zest (from one small lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water 

After weighing the eggs in their shells, break the eggs into a mixing bowl. Set the bowl on a scale and tare or zero the scale and weigh the same amount of sugar into the bowl. Using a hand electric beater or a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar together until the sugar has melted and the mixture is light and golden. Return the bowl to the scale, tare and weigh in the flour and baking powder. Mix with the beater until well blended. Add the melted butter, lemon zest and orange flower water into the batter and mix well.

Using any butter remaining from the melted butter pan, butter and then sugar the baking dish. You can use a loaf pan, a bundt pan, or any shape. I used a heavy terracotta deep gratin pan. Pour the heavy batter into the buttered and sugared pan and place in hot oven for approximately 45 minutes. The size of your pan will dictate the time it takes to cook through. The top should be nicely browned and spring back when pressed gently with your fingertips. remove from oven. This cake is sweet with butter and has a medium crumb, dense enough to hold up to the first strawberries of the season or a drizzle of rum and cream. 

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Kate HillComment
Little Pies- Pork Duck Bacon
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It doesn't take much to please some of the people some of the time, but when I teach my Camp Charcuterie students to make these little pies, everyone is happy. I teach them as a way to use the trim, the little bits of pork, or a spare duck breast by wrapping them in a sturdy and delicious hot water crust. Crusty, steaming, golden with an egg wash with juices flowing over the edges, my pies are deliberating home-made looking. Perfection is for shops. I want mine to look like grand-mères kitchen. So don't be nervous, take the plunge and make a few pies today, you'll be happy at lunch tomorrow. 

This Hot Water Crust is a good all around recipe for all kinds of savory pies. It absorbs some added fat from the meat, goes crisp and crusty on the outside, holds up to staying safely in the refrigerator after it's baked.

Hot Water Crust- 

  • 500 g all-purpose flour  (100%)
  • 200 g fat ( 100% lard or 50% butter & 50% lard)  (40%)
  • 150g very hot water  (30%)
  • pinch of salt
  • one egg for egg wash 

Measure the flour into a bowl. Measure the fat and salt into a bowl. Pour hot water onto fat and stir until melted. Add the water/fat to the flour and mix together. Knead a few minutes until smooth. Set aside to cool while making the filling. I usually don't refrigerate. Makes enough for several small pies

Pie Filling

  • 1000 g meat trimmed and cut into small pieces for the grinder ( 70-30 lean to fatty ratio as in lean pork and belly or duck breast and pork belly)
  • 100 g onion peeled and quarter
  • 100 g liver 
  • 20 g salt
  • 3 g black pepper 
  • 1 egg
  • 50 g cream 

Weigh and measure the first 5 ingredients (meat, onion, liver, salt and pepper) and mix together. Grind on a 6-8mm plate. Add the egg and cream and mix together well until very sticky. I used small ramekins and mini-terrines here all holding about 250g of mixture. 

Roll out the Goldilocks pastry, not too thin, not too thick, and line the terrines pressing the pastry into the bottom corners. Reserve enough pastry for the tops. Fill plumply with meat, brush the edges with egg wash and place the pastry lid on the top. Seal the edges well by pressing with your fingers or a fork, making a steam vent in the center. I use a chopstick! Finally, brush the top with egg wash.

Bake at 200'C/ 410'C for 1.5 hour and make sure the crust is deep golden brown all over- the bottom, too. Internal temperature must reach 75'C/ 165'F for at least 10 minutes. However, a large terrine or pie might take 2 hours. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes, remove from the terrines, then wrap in parchment or other paper and place in the refrigerator until needed. These little plumb pies also freeze well and can be taken on a picnic and eaten at room temperature or reheated.

Kate Hill
Making Soup
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Soup. Souper. Supper. When the gray days linger too long and we are all getting a bit SAD, it’s either travel south or make soup. The Ultimate Winter Food.

Years ago a well-meaning friend dubbed this Gloomy Gascony, and although our weather is winter mild with sunny summers, gorgeous springs and gentle autumns- there is that dreaded three weeks of extreme gloom that settles into the Garonne River Valley about now. We are nearly through it, but it’s still taxes my spirit and even with a book to write, classes to teach and travel to plan, I feel myself succumbing to the lowering sky. This is when my magic soup pot comes to the rescue!

Recently, my soup making life got so much easier. No, I don’t have an Instant Pot but I do have a very wonderful and typically European modern pressure cooker. It steams, boils, and pressure cooks about everything. Although I love the slow and gentle heat of hours on the back of the stove in an old enameled cast iron pot, my cocotte-minute has transformed my soup making into a bright and happy forty-five minute kitchen dance. Put on some music and let's go! The best results are those done when I am multi-tasking- arranging spices, cleaning out drawers, polishing silver, posting on Instagram. I am partial to the Bee-gees. Whether it's Barry Gibbs or the pressure cooker, I have a lighter touch making soup. I use just a few key ingredients; I improvise more. My soups have jumped a big bright notch from overcooked to exquisite.

Let’s make soup while I get the kitchen in order for this weekend’s Charcuterie Foundation classes. There might even be a new recipe developed as I take stock of what’s in the vegetable baskets: 4 turnips, celery leaf, cabbage, leeks. Sounds like a good start for a hot and sour warming broth with a bit of charcuterie for flavor. Perfect to pair with a melting Mont d’Or cheese and those crispy fresh pickles we like. And all that goes well with a Cote de Gascogne white wine. Ok, that’s wasn’t so hard.

This is what I put in my Winter Soup pot. 

  • 2 liters of cold water
  • 4 large turnips, peeled and cubed
  • a large handful of chopped celery leaves
  • a small cabbage (I used a Savoy but a Napa would be nice) cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 large leek sliced and well washed
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced 
  • a chunk of ventreche or pancetta
  • a delicious roasted ham hock and all of its juices
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • several black peppercorns
  • 6 whole cloves
  • the juice of one whole lemon
  • a ladle of homemade red wine vinegar

Everything went into the pot starting with the water. Then I added things as I chopped them into the pot. By the time I was finished, and added the lemon juice and vinegar, it was steaming hot. I clamped the lid on and let it continue to cook for about 20 minutes more under pressure. a total of about 40 minutes. After letting it cool enough to open the lid, I tasted and adjusted the seasoning-a bit more salt and lashing of walnut oil on serving. Hot, sour, and cabbage sweet. Just right on this not so gloomy now day at Camont. No go forth and make soup!





 

Leftover duck... Parmentier de Canard
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Time to cook seems to be the most sought after ingredient in most people's pantry.  I balance the daily grind (yes, there is one, even at Camont!) by cooking once for twice- or at least making enough food for two meals from one recipe. Mostly I like having good food on hand ready to be transformed into a hot comforting 'instant' dish on my table. Thus the Parmentier de Canard becomes a staple lunch or supper dish here when friends arrive. 

After writing about my own ducky experiences this month- 'A Flock of One's Own' for Saveur Magazine, I wanted to explore some other great local duck-based recipes. You can start with leftovers like I did (from a braised duck and mashed potatoes) or cook a Parmentier with a jar of confit, and some quickly made pommes de terre purée. Twenty minutes in prepping and another twenty-five in the oven and you still have time to make a salad. Pour a glass of wine. Sit down. Think of something you want to plant in the garden. All of this in the same time as it takes to watch a mediocre TV show on Netflix.

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RECIPE:  Parmentier de Canard

For 4 people

Time 45 Minutes- I begin with putting the potatoes on to cook. While they are cooking, I prepare the duck and set aside. And then return to the potatoes, make the purée and assemble the dish. 

For the duck layer: 

  • Using approx 2 cups cooked duck: from the breast and wing meat from a braised duck or confited duck leg meat taken off the bone
  • 1 tablespoon duck fat
  • 1 onion or 2 shallots, peeled, chopped coarsely
  • 1 cup pan juices from the braised duck or white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bay leaf and thyme
  • A handful of mushrooms, sliced thinly.

For the Parmentier part- the purée

  • 4 large potatoes- a floury baking potato like a russet or yukon gold
  • 2-3 Bay leaves
  • 1/2 onion peeled
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Nutmeg to taste
  1. Prepare the duck, by shredding or chopping the cooked meat. If you use confit de canard, make sure to adjust the season for the more salty meat.
  2. Melt the duck fat in a saute pan and add onions or shallots. Saute until they are soft.
  3. Add the meat and heat thoroughly and until the skin is slightly crispy.
  4. Add the pan juices and water and bring to a hard simmer, just starting to bubble.
  5. Mix the flour and butter together to make a beurre manié. Add half of the beurre manie to the bubbling pan and stir it until the sauce starts to thicken. Add more beurre manié if necessary.
  6. Remove from heat.
  7. Next prepare the potatoes by cooking peeled cubed potatoes in salted water, add the bay leaves and onion. When cooked thoroughly (not just for texture but for taste) drain, remove bay leaves and onion.
  8. Break up the potatoes with a fork adding milk and butter, and mix. You can make as smooth as you like or leave the fork-smashed chunks. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. 
  9. Assemble in an ovenproof gratin pan. Butter the gratin pan or use duck fat and arrange the mushroom slices on the bottom.
  10. Place the duck and sauce on top of the mushrooms and then spoon the potato puree over the top. I made quenelles (an egg-shaped spoonful made with two tablespoons) but you can make an even layer and rough up the surface with a fork. generously sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.
  11. Bake in a hot oven 200’C/ 400’F for 25’ min until golden brown on the surface. 
  12. Serve warm with a green salad or other cooked garlicky greens.

 

Kate Hill
A Pantry Christmas: Beef Bouillon.

We talked a lot about the pantry over the holidays; how it was begging to be plundered and used to its French fullest. This is how the simple foods for Christmas Day started with a dozen Le Parfait jars, a flurry of forgotten freezer treats, and a hanging ham from the charcuterie closet. We ate, drank, and made merry while I reduced the creative culinary clutter by ...a little. My friend Elaine declared it a Vide Pantry- like a flea market but more delicious.

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Normally my pantry fluctuates through the abundant seasons-too many summer confitures, too little foie gras-but there is always a shelf of Spanish tins, mostly seafood-squid ink, anchovies, razor clams, mussel pateéé, and anchovy stuffed olives. This is souvenir booty from my Spanish Hooky days when I hit the supermarket at the border on the way home.

Another shelf features goods from the Basquelandia Road Trips-a supply of Pyrenean smoked trout, piment d’Espelette, finely ground cornmeal for taloak, and my favorite boudin from Banka. The cave gains a bottle of Grassa clementine eau-de-vie and a case or two of bright cider to share.

Last summer’s garden at Camont produced just enough tomatoes to squeak through this month with a tomato rich duck ragu that I made with the carcasses of the last foie gras classes, a few jars of asparagus to velouté into a winter soup, and shavings of ham to float on a classic bean and cabbage garbure. The pork paté shelf is still full and there are enough black-peppered noix de jambon to last through the next Camp Charcuterie course.

I dip into my under the staircase pantry and out comes… a tobacco brown Virginia-style ham I made three years ago. It is a classic American recipe cured with sugar and salt, pepper and heavily smoked. I let it cure and dry over that year. Now was the right time to soak it, boil it, bake it, and share with friends. Little ham sliders were a hit as slivers of salty goodness on some homemade biscuits that Maurine brought to the Christmas feast from her own freezer pantry.  

I managed to reduce my stock of dried fruit: sour cherries, cranberries (Thanks Donna and Bob!), figs, candied mandarins, and prunes as well as chocolate from Chiapas, pine nuts and hazelnuts. All thanks to an easy and delicious panforte recipe from my Italian sister- Judy over at DivinaCucina.com.

The gingerbread cookies elaine made helped to empty the old from the pantry, but because I hadn’t taken a good inventory before we went shopping, we accidently bought more molasses and powdered sugar- enough for next year. But we did use the old first. Even the butter hoarded in the freezer when we all thought there was going to be crise de beurre here went into Stresscake’s Christmas basic butter cookie.

Of all the other great things we ate and shared with friends, my favorite this year might be the simple beef bouillon I served after we brunched all around the kitchen table; after we sat in the little piggery salon and rested while reading a Child’s Christmas in Wales to each other; and when we decided it was time to sit at the dining table and eat just a little bit more of something hot and nourishing and along with some fresh green and bright tasting summer rolls that This Piglet made with the packages of rice wrappers found on a bottom shelf of the pantry. The Bouillon was made when I cooked the beef tongue and oxtail for the Christmas Eve tamales two days before. I squirreled away a couple liters and then just heated it up, added salt and served with slice of baguette and some grated emmental cheese. A sort of French onion soup without the onions. You can make it with any bits of beef and bone you might want to cook for another meal, just reserve some broth and set aside. This is how I made my Christmas bouillon.

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Recipe: Beef Bouillon for a Simple Winter Supper

Because I was cooking a beef tongue, I decided to also add an oxtail to enrich the broth with the bones, cartilage and collagen rich meat. I knew this would add another dimension to my broth and the byproduct would be a beefy warming broth. In France, these cuts are considered abats or offal and are sold only at triperies or butchers specializing in tripe and other fifth quarter bits like the stall at the Nerac farmer market.

I used one beef tongue and one oxtail cut into pieces by the butcher. Place the meat and bones into a stock pot just big enough to hold them, some vegetables, and enough water for the soup- 4 liters of finished broth or about 16 cups of soup is enough for 8 people.  So a 8 liter or quart stock pot is just right. Add enough cold water to cover the meat, about 5 liters or so. Then bring to a boil without adding anything else. Salt and seasonings come later.  Skim off the foam that is produce and discard. this will keep the broth clear.

Now add the vegetables that will give flavor and more nutrients to the bouillion. I used two peeled whole carrots, one peeled whole onion studded with 4 cloves, and one large leek, washed and cut into half. Then I took some fresh herbs to make a bouquet garni: 4 bay leaves, celery leaf, parsley, and thyme, tied them with the string, and added it to the pot. I use fresh herbs mostly because my garden at Camont doesn't freeze over and there is always something aromatic growing.

Finish by seasoning- a tablespoon of coarse salt and some black peppercorns is enough to bring up the beefy flavor. Don't over add spices, let the meat and vegetables produce the dominant flavor. Once everything is added, you can cover, turn down the heat, and let simmer for a couple of hours. I used my pressure cooker and let it cook for 45 minutes- the tongue was tender, the meat falling off the bones, and the flavors of the vegetables and herbs were well infused in the stock. 

Remove the meat and vegetables fo other use and then strain the broth through a fine sieve decanting into a few large jars. Refrigerate. When ready to eat, reheat and adjust seasoning tasting for more salt or pepper. Serve in warm bowls with a toasted piece of bread and a handful of grated Emmental cheese on top. 

Une Pamplemousse Party!

My motto could be “Opportunistic Living Rules.” It’s a curse and a gift to seize the adventures that pop up on a regular basis, if you keep your eyes open. Opportunistic cooking in the kitchen at Camont is an easy game to play. This is what you can do with one grapefruit.

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A grapefruit. Neither local nor cheap. But definitely in season as the imported citrus from Texas or Florida or Israel start to show up in French local supermarkets. I chose two hefty pink grapefruits for morning treats and some fat lemons and two bergamots. After breakfast on Friday where we split one, I told my sister, “don’t throw away the grapefruit rind!”

I cut the fruit into quarters and, not bothering to remove the leftover pulp or membrane, I placed the pieces in a small saucepan, and buried them with a cup of sugar. The next morning, the sugar had melted and I added a cup of water to the pan (1 cup sugar to 1 cup water is a simple syrup) and placed it over a low flame to cook while I made café au lait. Once the juices had bubbled and boiled and started to thicken, I turned off the heat and left the pan to sit all day.

This morning, the peels had absorb most of the syrup, and I removed the softened interior membrane with a spoon before cutting the quarters into strips. After squeezing the pulp with a juicer or press back into the saucepan, add a 1/4 cup of orange blossom honey from Catalunya that was languishing in the bottom of a big jar. I refuse to throw these small bits away, instead I popped the jar into a pan of hot water until it liquefied. Then return this new syrup to the fire, bring to a boil, and reduce slightly.

Now drop the peel strips back into the syrup and let them cool. I was going to just chop up these bits for some fruitcake or other treats but have decided to make some chocolate covered candied peels, too. Pamplemoussettes! But first the candied peels must dry so they are in the oven with the light bulb and fan turning- no heat.

It's not all whole carcass or giant vats of confit around Camont, all the time. Like making a micro-batch of confiture, or a half a recipe of scones, some small fooling around in the kitchen is often enough to keep your creative spirits soaring while other opportunities knock on the kitchen door.

Lazy Fondue or O, Mon Mont d'Or!
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Special little gatherings pepper these winter months and, like freshly ground black pepper, liven our appetite for sharing life with our friends. Take a cue from my own Birthday dinner this week- a table with three delicious plates, doused with a glass of wine and shared with friends and family. My favorite was a most simple presentation of a favored cheese, studded with garlic, dampened with wine, baked, and served warm with toasted bread. We all fell under it's magical spell at our neighborhood gathering spot, Gueuleton in Nerac-Mont d’Or or Vacherin du Haut-Doubs. It's no coincidence that the owner, Benjamin Munoz's father is an expert affineur and cheese monger.

This is the simplest of winter dishes-not even a recipe really-when you are too lazy to cook but crave a warming, rich and satisfying supper.  Mais fais gaffe! This is one of those deceptively easy recipes. ‘Easy’ because there is only one really ingredient- the cheese. ‘Deceptive’ because you must buy a VERY good cheese. Here that means a Mont d’Or or Vacherin du Haut-Doubs- a French raw milk cheese which is near impossible to find outside of France. The Swiss-version Vacherin is made from heat-treated milk on the other side of the border and is exported to speciality shops. Vacherins from both sides of the border are made from winter milk only, with cows fed on hay and before they are turned out to summer Alpine pastures. Sold only between September and May the heyday for a Baked Mont d’Or is these chilly winter evenings when a hot runny cheese, a crispy baguette and a glass of good wine is enough to satisfy even the most demanding gourmand. It made total sense why I love these cheeses when  I realised that in summer they make Comte and Gruyere, respectively, from these same cow’s grass enriched milk. But since there are great local and regional cheeses being made all over the world now, why not find the best local version you can and give this simple winter treat a try. Then when you are in France on some cold winter vacation, you can try the original version.

Baked Mont d’Or

Serves 4

Time 30 minutes total; hot oven at 200’C or 425’F

Ingredients:

  • One 350gr Mont d’Or or Vacherin cheese
  • One or two cloves of garlic, peeled and split in half
  • One half glass of white wine
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • One baguette, sliced and toasted
  1. Place the Mont d’Or in it’s wooden box on a piece of parchment on a baking tin or in a clay gratin dish.
  2. Remove the lid and pierce the top several times with a knife. Push the garlic pieces into some of the holes.
  3. Pour the wine over the cheese and let it absorb into the holes.
  4. Place the pan in the hot oven at 200’C or 425’F for 20-25 minutes.
  5. Remove and place the cheese in its box onto a serving dish.
  6. Serve while very hot with the toasted bread.


 

Facades

November 27 2017

 Marché Couverte Agen 1884-1970

Marché Couverte Agen 1884-1970

This autumn week is always abundantly oversaturated with food, friends, family, fetes… It’s like the new year really begins here-one very busy year ending and one yet to be born arriving. Beautiful food haunts the fleeting Insta-photograph feeds as millions of my fellow Americans set tables, arrange flowers and autumn leaves, bake endless pies to the moon, and sit down to eat together, at last. It happens once a year near my birthday (but never on it) and the hoopla and feasting is a joyous thing to witness. I just wished it was more often. Really. More a normal thing for all these folks. Maybe not a ‘too much to eat’ dinner, but a ‘let’s share some food once a week or once a month’ sort of thing. Could we start a new movement?

I don’t mean to preach. At least, not too much. The life I chose to make here in France has been one continuous long feast. But like many, I, too, need an occasional reminder and social media heads-up to be grateful. A special day to say ‘Merci’ for all the blessings of friends and family, plenty and diversity, and all the small comings and goings of a gastronomic life. I always said Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday: the extra efforts, the long-distance travel to table, the gathering of the clans. Now, I think I’d swap it for the weekly suppers with French neighbors and friends, the monthly ex-pat Spicy Cravings Club Potlucks, and the occasional lunches out in a charming village cafe with girlfriends. We all need reminding more often. We all need gratitude and cooking on a daily basis. I hope I can inspire some of you here, cajole a bit or just give you a solid recipe to try out. Shopping would be where I start. Always.

Look at this old postcard. The photograph is of the original Marche Couverte in Agen, the covered market hall. What a nostalgic reminder of when beauty and food were a daily occurrence! Inseparable. Concrete evidence that food (and thus cooking and eating) was valued so highly that a glass and iron temple was erected to its honor. It doesn’t look like that now. Demolished in 1970 by the army of young revolutionaries looking to upgrade and modernize France, a modern concrete parking structure squats over a truncated market hall with barely two dozen vendors. When built in 1884, there were 184 stalls selling locally produced food.

So why do I still shop there? To touch the past; to buy the best beef and imported charcuterie from the Pineau Freres; to celebrate the oyster season at Poisonnerie Gibaux and find foie gras and a rare truffle or two at Chez Maria; to share a glass at Gueuleton’s wine bar; to support the experienced butchers, charcuteries, cheese and fishmongers; and especially to keep the future market options varied and abundant.

In 2019, the current Marche Couverte will get a much needed face lift. A new glass facade will be imprinted with this old postcard image and the main entrance to the market will be restored to its rightful place facing the Place des Laitiers- the ancient Roman forum. Looking through these transparent layers from past to the future is part of learning the France game. Each year, I delve a bit deeper and uncover a golden nugget that helps me understand how we hold onto the past enough to enrich the future. When America makes more of its shopping experiences less like Costco and more like a French farmer’s market, maybe then I can inspire some of you to spend a bit more time shopping for a bit more beautiful cooking and eating experience. As I said once, “Shopping is Cooking!” 

So your first task- support your local, farmer, producer, CSA, or whatever food is actually bought from a real person. Keep your food money close to home. Encourage your raw milk neighbors to keep those few cows freshened. Buy small batch cheese. Bring home warm bread from the bakery. Each small thing that you do that touches another is a reward in itself. This week I bought the following at the weekend fete and market: fresh grape juice and grapes, hazelnut flour and oil, walnuts and their oil, spelt bread, prunes, cheese, chicken, carrots, apples, eggs.  I'll be making some holiday treats with these and sharing those recipes here. 

 

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November Flyway Song
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November 17 2017

Remember those sweet plaintive cries from far overhead of wide wingspan birds- geese, cranes, and storks? They haunt my many November souvenirs of France. Each fall I would write about their comings and goings as a bell that tolls the passing hours. First October. Then November. Next, deep dark December.

Camont sits on the most important European flyway that guides thousands of migrations from northern Europe to southern Spain across the Pyrenees and over the water to African winter feeding grounds. Each November I’d wake to hundreds of calling birds overhead and be stricken blue as they seemed to herald the coming cold, the darkening days. Damn that November and its foggy days.

Oh, what a little change in perspective can bring. this year I missed the migration while traveling and teaching in the US.  It was only now that I consider that the melancholia might be mine only at the end of long year and that the far above calls might be instead whoops of joy and daring aerial challenges. “ I’m taking the lead boys, move aside!” Or “Last one to Africa is a rotten egg!”

While November does end one long season of teaching, touring, and workshopping, so it begins another--a new season of planning, festivity, and gathering in at Camont. Throw in an expat Thanksgiving, a Champagne birthday feast, a Cassoulet Cooking Class or two, and a local celebration of fruit trees and orchards and you’ll see why I am changing my perspective on looking forward at the flyway instead of regretting the miles left behind. P.S. You needn’t pause in mid-flight to change your point of view.

So, I am no longer looking back on the thousands of miles of words written on this blog. You’ll notice the archives and their recipes have ‘disappeared’ to be gently replaced by new thoughts and stories here. From time to time, you, too, can fly down this new path with me as I upcycle many of those classic Gascon recipes for “The Big Cookbook Project”. Working along with Tim Clinch, photographic cohort who has been documenting Camont for nearly 20 years now, I am also looking at the past with a fresh eye for how we shop and cook now, who really cooks, how I still make the time. When I lack inspiration, I need only look at the Camont’s Windfall Harvest that Tim shot a few November’s ago. It speaks volumes of winter dishes I long to cook now- a deep ruby caramelized quince and duck stew, some tart crabapple vinegar to splash over bitter greens, and buttery apple croustades with bright sugar snow drifts across the egg-washed pastry top.

So while you think that November food might climax with turkey and stuffing, pumpkin pies and groaning tables in America, I look forward, too. To my Australian friends like Annie Smithers for Spring hope as their gardens just begin to sprout. I'll watch southern orchards blossom as I prune this year’s French winter branches back. While looking behind, it’s not such a bad idea to look a little more forward after all. Last one to 2018 is a rotten egg!

Truc*: to Caramelize Quince

Quarter and core a few unpeeled quinces, place in a terracotta dish or cast iron pan with a tight-fitting lid, add an inch of water in the bottom of the pan, heavily douse with raw sugar- about 1/2 cup per quince, place the lid on and bake at a low temperature (150'C/ 325'F) for 1- 2 hours. DO NOT STIR! The quince will turn deep red, the sugar will melt and caramelize across the fruit, the syrup from the juices will reduce and be wonderfully sticky. remove from heat, let cool and then gently lift the fruit out into a jar. Reserve any excess syrup for drinks or desserts. 

* A truc is a little trick or a tip that I learned along the way. Sometimes learned by accident, sometimes a generous gift from a Gascon cook.