Sunday, November 18, 2012

Celebrating new wine and chestnuts.

   A couple of hours ago, we came home from a community event that lasted most of the day. Billed as castanhas e vin novèl  ("chestnuts and new wine" in the Occitan language) and announced by leaflets hand-delivered to our post-boxes, it was organized by L'Amicale des Léranais (the Association of people who live in Léran) whose goal is to gather together Léranais and their friends to share memories, experiences, local culture and--inevitably--good food and wine. If you read French, you can follow our adventures at
   Shortly after the church bells rang ten o'clock, we met up in the Salle des Tilleuls (one of our village halls) for a quick coffee before we set off on a balade. More amble or saunter than serious hike, this one took us along the river bank and up to the little road that runs from the crossroads just beyond the chateau.
     I'm always delighted by how deeply many Léranais are immersed in their village's history. We learning that grapes have grown locally for over a thousand years. Some people revealed that they remembered wine being made around here too.
    Even though the day was cloudy, as we ambled down through the forest and back to the village, we still had excellent views of the Pyrenees and the glorious autumn colours. Love those russets and browns against the blue-greys.

    By 12:30 or so, we were back at the Salle des Tilleuls where a table was already set with bottles and snacks (including the lethally good fritons, basically unctuous morsels of deep-fried duck skin sprinkled with salt). We all set out the food we'd brought--chestnut inclusion was a good idea, we'd heard--and got stuck into the aperos.

    I'd brought along a pork, chestnut and apple pie that I'd made yesterday. The recipe's so easy that I'll give it to you right now: 250 g each of ground pork, crumbled cooked chestnuts and finely chopped apple plus a beaten egg, 100 ml of Madeira, salt and pepper. Mix that all together and pat it into a 24 or 25 cm flan tin that you've previously buttered and lined with pastry (that you've pricked with a fork). Dollop in the pork mixture, top with another circle of pastry, crimp the edges and brush with beaten egg. Cut a small hole in the middle and bake at 190°C/375°F for 45 minutes. The recipe said to serve it warm but it was fine cold, with curried apple chutney.
    Platters were passed up and down the table. Chicken with squash and chestnuts, chestnut and pork patties, a chicken recipe that originated in the French island of Réunion, endive leaves filled with creamed Roquefort, and much, much, much, much more. Many bottles of "new" wine were opened. Everyone shared everything. At some point, an oozingly ripe Brie was passed around, then chestnut cake, marrons glacés, clementines....and finally coffee.

    The age range spanned single figures to mid-80s. There was dancing, singing and, at some point, someone brought out a small trampoline from another room and jumped on it. It was that kind of afternoon.
    And let's not forget the poetry. Going back to that initial also included an invitation to contribute a poem or story. So, when I phoned Mauricette (one of the organizers) to RSVP, I added that I would bring a French.
     And I did. "Châtaigne" is another word for "chestnut."

Elle est belle, elle est ronde, elle est bonne à manger
Avec un verre de vin ou un verre de Champagne
Elle est si delicieuse, ce beau fruit d’hiver
Je parle naturellement de la châtaigne

On peux faire un farce pour un poulet ou un dinde
On peux faire une bonne tarte pour la famille
On peux l’utiliser dans une daube ou une soupe
Je parle naturellement de la châtaigne

Elle commence avec une fleur de printemps
Qui décore l’arbre comme une chandelle
Et après elle porte un manteau verte
Toujours la châtaigne est belle

Mais la châtaigne est une mixe des humeurs
A l’exterieur elle est dure, épineuse
Mais apprendre à la connaitre et vous decouvrez
A sa coeur, elle est douce, delicieuse

Quand il fait froid en hiver, en Decembre
C’est plaisant de s’asseoir au coin du feu sain
Et là, de rotir les belles fruits du saison
Je parle naturellement des châtaignes.

   It fills me with pride to boast that this was judged adequate enough to win me a lovely bar of soap.      What a thoroughly pleasurable day.

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