December 12, 2001
- Winter Foods
Winter foods evoke the strongest memories.
The weather drives everyone inside but it is food that bonds
them together. When I wrote about Steak and Kidney Pudding, some
English friends wrote back about the memories that the recipe
brought them. Here is what Virginia Harding wrote:
I always enjoy receiving your Tales from
the Loir, but am moved particularly on this occasion to comment
on one thing lacking from the Steak and Kidney Pudding! My
very English mother used to wrap a clean linen napkin round the
bowl or 'pudding basin' she made it in, and secure it with pins
or safety pins, before taking it to the table. This manages
to make the dish even more English than it is already! Also
she always had a jug of spare liquid or 'gravy' beside her when
she served it, as if there is a lot of steak and kidney in it,
you need to pour in more liquid as you serve and stir within
the suet crust! Yum yum, I do miss her!
Then my friend Bob Dart brought back some
memories for me by writing about the old custom in the South
of eating cornbread, turnip greens and black-eyed peas on New
Years day. Here is what he wrote:
Shredded suet? Ox kidney? Can you get
those at the IGA on St. Simons? I cooked a huge pot of turnip
greens and roots and chopped up ham and the ham hock last week
and I'm looking forward to black-eyed peas and rice and chopped
raw onions while watching bowl games on new year's day. I think
about you whenever I read about the search for bin laden in the
Living in France creates a whole new set
of memories for the holidays. While helping Aprille setup a display
of her sculptures in the garage of Gaston Cottenceaux for the
annual village Christmas market, we were invited for an aperitif
in Gaston's basement bar and 12th century wine cellar. He had
a roaring fire in the fireplace with a large turkey spinning
from the mantel in front of the fire. A pan underneath was catching
the dripping fat to be used later with chestnuts to make a sauce.
I have not seen a turkey cooked like this before but chickens
and leg of lamb are an everyday event in the caves of Lavardin.
Cooking meat a string in the fireplace is an old tradition here
and it works so well that I often wonder why other regions have
not adopted it.
The Christmas market also generates its
own traditions. I have attended Christmas markets in Munich,
Germany, and was impressed with the hundreds of artisans selling
handmade Christmas tree ornaments. The streets were full of people
shopping until late in the evening for the special tree ornaments
found only in that area of the world. Hot-spiced wine was very
popular but food was not a big part of the German markets.
Lavardin's Christmas market is different
from the ones in Munich. There are a few stands selling some
Christmas ornaments and decorations but the emphasis of this
market is on food and wine. It takes place during the second
weekend in December and it is usually cold but the crowds of
people flocking to our picturesque village are not deterred.
Just in front of Aprille's stand, the winemakers, Vincent and
Sylvie Norguet have a table for tasting their new vintages. Next
door is a stand for the fresh, salty oysters from the Charente-Maritime
coast of France. This is a strategic location for me because
everyone passes by to take a glass of the dry, tangy chenin vintage
with the first dozen. All day long I hear the magic words, "Tu
veut un verre?" as friends and neighbors pass by. If
one tires of oysters the neighboring stands offer goat cheese,
various meats, pates and terrines of ostrich meat, charcutier
of every description and honey from the farm of our new Mayor,
The wine is too cold for Aprille so I
go down to the center of town where vin chaud spiced with
cinnamon is offered along with roasted chestnuts, mergeuez
sausages, French fries, and crepes. There is also a boulanger,
a patissier and a confiseur for bread, pastries
and chocolates. I purchase a coffee for Aprille and a cornet
of roasted chestnuts for myself. The cold weather makes us hungry
but a dinner at the Caveau Restaurant is planned for after the
market so we skip the sausages and French fries.
At nine o'clock we close our stand and
walk down to the Caveau for a dinner of choucroute garni.
Choucroute is the Alsatian specialty that we call sauerkraut
but in France it is much more than shredded cabbage when the
garni word is used. It is a virtual feast of pork, ham,
bacon, and various sausages placed on a bed of choucroute. An
occasional potato is thrown on to represent the carbohydrate
food group and sometimes carrots add a little color. The sauerkraut
itself is cooked in Champagne or Alsatian wine and has a sour/sweet
taste that compliments the pork products. It is usually served
with beer or a dry white wine from the Alsace. Choucroute is
unique as the only French dish where beer is tolerated. However,
most French opt for the white wine. I tried both and can report
that they both work well. Here is a recipe for Choucroute garni
Recipe Courtesy of David Rosengarten
5 pounds fresh sauerkraut
1/3 cup chopped bacon
4 squares of bacon rind, 1 1/2-inches each (optional)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 bottle dry white wine
2 tablespoons juniper berries
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
12 ounce chunk of unsmoked bacon
4 each of 4 different sausages (frankfurter, bratwurst, knockwurst,
1 smoked veal tongue
Immerse the sauerkraut in a large bowl
filled with cold water, and soak for 15 minutes.
While sauerkraut is soaking, place the
chopped bacon and the optional bacon rind in a heavy, oven proof
pot over high heat. Saute for 1 minute. Turn heat to medium-low,
add the garlic and saute for another minute.
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
Squeeze the sauerkraut dry, reserving
1 cup of the soaking water and add the sauerkraut to the pot.
Stir well to blend with bacon. Add the reserved cup of soaking
water, the white wine, the juniper berries, the peppercorns and
the cloves. Bring to boil on top of stove and boil until the
liquid has almost evaporated (about 20-30 minutes).
Imbed the meats in the sauerkraut, cover
the pot and cook in the oven until the meats are hot, about 30
minutes. Serve on a large platter.