Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column


December 12, 2001 - Winter Foods

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 caves.

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, Gerard Allaire.

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 in English.

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
4 cloves
12 ounce chunk of unsmoked bacon
4 each of 4 different sausages (frankfurter, bratwurst, knockwurst, etc.)
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.

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 December 5, 2001 - Steak and Kidney Pudding
 November 28, 2001 - Pigs III
 November 21, 2001 - Pigs II
 November 14, 2001 - Pigs
 October 31, 2001 - The Ghost of Chateau Chevre
 October 25 - Battle of Poitiers
 August 22, 2001 - Confrerie
 August 15, 2001 - Liberation
 August 8, 2001 - Le Cyclop
 August 1, 2001 - The Finger
July 25, 2001 - La Resistance
July 18, 2001 - System D
July 11, 2001 - The Accident
July 4, 2001 - Ange Pitou
June 27, 2001 - Feu de Saint Jean
June 20, 2001 - Geoffroy Martel
June 13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
June 6, 2001 - Escapade dans le Berry
May 30, 2001 - Learning French
May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny
May 16, 2001 - Les Journees des Aubepines
May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
Archive of Weekly Columns Jan-Apr 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000


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