November Flyway Song
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.