Excerpt from Chapter
X I Think I'm Losing
"...It was a very satisfying afternoon
but we still have another dinner to attend at seven o'clock.
We spend a couple of hours relaxing and trying to decide if we
will appear too anxious if we show up at seven o'clock. A lot
of our French friends seem to always be late and we have heard
advice that you should never be on time. We are going to try
to be a little late but when seven o'clock arrives we are too
nervous about being late so we start down the hill. As we reach
the bottom of the hill there is Maurice, Monsieur Jean and Christine
on their way to come get us because it is quarter after seven
and we had not arrived yet. I think that we will just try to
be on time all the time now. The pressure of being cool is too
much for us.
We are escorted to the door of Maurice's home.
We enter through the kitchen but take an immediate left into
a large cavern that Maurice has carved into the mountain. This
large room which is attached to his kitchen is a passage way
to one of his other caves where an old pressoir like ours is
hanging from the ceiling. Maurice says that he is planning to
make a bar from these caves. He has a good start with the alcohol.
There are two large ten gallon canisters sitting at the makeshift
bar. Maurice invites us to sniff. It is eau-de-vie that
he has made from apples. To the left are two large fifty gallon
drums that are filled with fermenting apples for the next batch.
Maurice unlatches one of the barrels and a gush of air escapes
from the pressurized container. The smell of apples is strong.
The barrels are full of fermenting apples that have turned brown
and commenced to change into the firewater called eau-de-vie.
There is a large fireplace toward the front
of the cavern that Maurice carved out of the wall. Hanging from
the mantel of the fireplace by strings are two large haunches
of meat. They are spinning slowly to evenly cook the meat. Once
the string completely tightens in one direction, it automatically
starts to spin in the other direction. Occasionally the string
runs out of energy and has to be pushed a little to start the
spinning again. The meat is leg of lamb and is called ficelle
gigot de Lavardin. It is the town specialty. We have seen
it cooking in the fireplace at Le Caveau but we have never tasted
As we watch the meat spin over the fire we
are offered an apéritif. One of our choices is
pousse d'épine. We accept the offer to try this
new apéritif. We learn that this spicy, sweet red
liqueur was fabricated by Maurice. Here is the formula if you
decided to mix up some at home. You put three liters of red wine
and one liter of eau-de-vie in a barrel. Around the first
of May you go into the woods and pick the leaves from the épine
saplings that are pushing out of the ground. You add the épine
leaves and sugar to the barrel of liquid and allow it to
ferment. The result is this potent little red devil.
As we are standing around discussing nose,
legs and bouquets, Maurice is showing Aprille how he carved out
this cavern. Some parts of the cave walls are wet and chalky.
Maurice points out that when digging caves, you occasionally
hit sections that are not tuffeau. Part of this cave was cut
through a chalky limestone type rock which does not harden when
exposed to air like the tuffeau does.
As usual everyone is good-naturedly teasing
Maurice, verbally and physically. Teasing Maurice is the specialty
of Monsieur Jean who is constantly setting up the next joke.
By the time we all sit down at the large banquet table set up
in the middle of the cavern, everyone is grinning from ear to
ear from the wine and the humor, mostly at Maurice's expense.
It is time for Maurice to get his revenge. Maurice walks up behind
Monsieur Jean who is sitting at the table. Maurice places his
left hand over Monsieur Jean's mouth, bends him over backwards
and gives the back of his hand a long wet kiss. It looks like
he is really kissing him because you can't see his hand over
his mouth. The room erupts in laughter and a ruffled looking
Monsieur Jean is beet red with embarrassment. Maurice always
comes back in the bottom of the ninth.
Maurice and Simone return to the fire where
fresh trout is baking in butter, onions and spices over the fire.
Each plate is served with this entrée. An entrée
in the U. S. is the main course but in France the entrée
is a preliminary dish. The trout is perfect. A white wine is
served with the trout. It is a vin doux blanc from the
region next to Vouvray. The wine and fish are a perfect match.
We could stop here and claim a food memory but we are just beginning.
The second course is the gigot ficelle served with white
beans. Maurice unties the haunches of meat and takes them to
the end of the table where he begins carving off slices onto
a plate. The plate is passed around and everyone takes a slice.
I see that there is something in the meat and I ask Christine
what it is. She tells me that whole petals of garlic are inserted
into the meat before it is cooked. Here I go again. This is one
of the best tasting meats that I have ever had. The garlic, French
oak and lamb dance on the palate. I ask Maurice how to cook the
gigot ficelle. Maurice says to cut into the meat with
a knife and insert the garlic. Then use salt and pepper and oil
on the meat to make it brown. It has to cook for about an hour
or an hour and one-half. Monsieur Jean who has recovered from
his kiss pours us a Chinon with the gigot ficelle. I take
my time and savor the combinations of tastes and the wine. To
make sure that I really like it, I accept seconds. Monsieur Jean
pours a cabernet franc from the Cher river region with the cheese
and salad course. More and more we see cheese and salad served
together. It is an excellent combination. For dessert we have
a choice of tarte aux pommes or tarte aux poires. I
try each for purposes of comparison. The apple pie was outstanding
but the pear pie was the best that I have ever had. We had a
vin doux blanc with dessert. When I asked the name of
the vin doux blanc, I was told that is was from the Anjou
region and that it was called Layon. I believe that this is the
same wine that Gilbert stocks in his cellar. I would dearly love
to find the source and put some in my cellar. With my second
piece of pie, Maurice poured a vin pétillant from
Vouvray. By this time everybody is getting unsober. Aprille is
leading the group singing La Marseillaise. She doesn't
really know the words but the melody is enough to get it started.
Marchons, Marchons. It doesn't have the same effect as
Victor Lazlo leading the band in Casablanca, but, nevertheless,
I have la chair de poule. Aprille rarely drinks alcohol
and it doesn't take much for her to start grinning. I am a little
surprised at how much she drank tonight. As we walked home Aprille
is singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat and helicoptering her arms
like a paddle wheel on the Mississippi. I have no idea what time
it is. "