Friday, 29 January 2010

Cherry Burgers

It's not uncommon to add fruit to meat dishes – it's popular in Moroccan cuisine for example and in those of the Far East. In Medieval Britain you would have found fruit and meat in your pies. In the USA cherry burgers have found their way on to school dinner menus and even on to the Oprah Show. Ray Pleva, a butcher in Michigan, has been selling cherry-meat products since February 1988.

Traverse City, Michigan, claims to be the "Cherry Capital of the World", hosting a National Cherry Festival and making the world's largest cherry pie. Cherry trees were brought to America by ship with early settlers in the 1600s and were grown in the gardens of French settlers as they established such cities as Detroit, Vincennes, and other Midwestern settlements. The USA is the second largest producer of cherries in the world. Turkey is the first, which is rather appropriate as it's thought that we get the name “cherry” (in French cerise) from the ancient town of Cerasus in Turkey, from which the Romans first exported the cherry to Europe.

North West Cherries, representing cherry growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana, has a feast of unusual and savoury cherry recipes on their web pages, including this one for Cherry Burgers:

1 lb lean mince beef
1 cup pitted and chopped fresh sweet cherries
¼ cup chopped shallots
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Cherries from Céret

The oldest written record of cherry growing in Roussillon dates to 1394 when a community at Saint Jacques in Perpignan were permitted to emblazon a cherry tree on their crest. The region is famous for its fruit and the medieval town of Céret, nestling under the Pyrénées, is renowned for having the earliest harvest. The first of the season's pick are, by local tradition, sent to France's President.

Céret is also known as the birthplace of Cubism and the town was the popular retreat of artists - Chagall, Dali, Matisse and Picasso all lived here and their works hang in the Modern Art Museum. There are also works by Juan Gris, Maillol, and Dufy. The Café Pablo in the town is dedicated to Picasso and The Grand Café, still operating today, was a meeting place for many famous artists in the early part of the 20th century.

Céret holds a cherry festival each year to celebrate the harvest with such oddities as cherry beer and cherry burgers - and a cherry stone spitting competition! This year it is planned for the weekend of the 29th - 30th May 2010.

I must admit to be fascinated by the idea of cherry burgers – I know that cherries often pair well with game dishes but the idea of turning them into burgers is a new one to me!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Poire Belle Helene

The French dessert Poire Belle-Hélène was created around 1870 by the famous chef Auguste Escoffier. The classic recipe is made from poached pears served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and crystallized violets. Escoffier named it after the operetta La Belle Hélène by Offenbach. The Hélène in question is the legendary Helen of Troy. The operetta was first performed in Paris in 1864 and starred Hortense Schneider in the leading role. Hortense was born in Bordeaux and was one of the greatest operetta stars in the 19th century.

A simpler version of Poire Belle Hélène uses canned pears and sliced almonds instead of the crystallized violets.

4 pears
½ lemon
70 g sugar
25 cl water
8 scoops of vanilla ice cream
200 g dark chocolate
2 tbsps sour cream

Peel and core the pears. Rub them with the lemon to keep them from browning. Pour the water, sugar, and the juice of the lemon into a saucepan, mix together and bring to the boil; let simmer for 3 minutes, then put the pears in, cover with a lid and poach for 5 minutes, turning them upside down once or twice. Strain (but keep the juice) them and let them cool down. Place one pear in each of the dessert dishes.

Cut the chocolate in small squares and place in a saucepan with 4 spoons of the pear juice from cooking. Melt over a low heat, stirring until smooth. When the chocolate is ready, quickly put 2 balls of vanilla ice-cream on each pear. Add the sour cream to the chocolate. Pour it evenly on top of ice-cream in each dish and serve.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Poire William

Poire William is a French colourless Eau de Vie (brandy) made with the Williams' Bon Chrétien pear which is nowadays commonly called the Williams pear, or Bartlett pear. The Williams pear is thought to date from 1765 to 1770 from the yard of an Aldermaston, England schoolmaster – it may have been related to the older French pear the Bon Chrétian. A nurseryman named Williams later acquired the variety, and after introducing it to the rest of England, the pear took his name.

Poire Williams is generally served chilled as an after-dinner drink and many producers include an entire pear inside each bottle – this is sometimes known as Poire Prisonnière (Prisoner Pear). This is achieved by attaching the bottle to a budding pear tree so that the pear will grow inside it. This is a technique going back hundreds of years in which the bottle is placed over the developing fruit bud on the tree. The neck of the bottle is hung downwards to prevent rainwater from running into it. The pear grows and ripens and is harvested, complete with bottle, between late August and early September. The bottles are are then filled with brandy for the fruit to absorb with the brandy being topped up till the pear is saturated. The bottle is then filled with eau de vie de Poire William without any risk of seeing the level drop through absorption by the fruit.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Peach Melba

There is a famous dessert that was invented by a famous French chef after a famous soprano – the Peach Melba. It was invented in 1892 or 1893 by the French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel, London to honour the Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba. It combines two favourite summer fruits: peaches and raspberry sauce accompanying vanilla ice cream.

In 1892, Nellie Melba was performing in Wagner's opera Lohengrin at Covent Garden. The Duke of Orléans gave a dinner party to celebrate her triumph. For the occasion, Escoffier created a new dessert, and to display it, he used an ice sculpture of a swan, which is featured in the opera. The swan carried peaches which rested on a bed of vanilla ice cream and which were topped with spun sugar.

In 1900, Escoffier created a new version of the dessert. For the occasion of the opening of the Carlton hotel, where he was head chef, Escoffier omitted the ice swan and topped the peaches with raspberry purée.

2 large ripe peaches
4 scoops of good quality vanilla ice cream
100ml double cream
30g caster sugar
2-3 drops of vanilla essence

For the Melba sauce
150g caster sugar
150g raspberries
3tbsp water

First make the sauce. Put 50g of the raspberries in a pan with the sugar and water, bring to the boil and cook on a medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for about 10 minutes. Blend the cooked raspberries and syrup with the uncooked raspberries in a liquidiser until smooth then strain through and fine mesh sieve. If the peaches are ripe bring a pan of water to the boil, drop them in and simmer for 50-60 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into cold water. Now peel off the skins. They should come away easily; if not give them a little more time in the water. Halve them with a knife and carefully remove the stone.

Languedoc Roussillon – Pears

The Languedoc is one of the main pear producing regions in France and the 19th century pear Angélique de Languedoc takes its name from the area. Pears were grown in France during Charlemagne's time and remained a royal favourite. Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, developed extensive orchards and the Court Gardener planted 6 Caillou pear trees in her gardens in 1262. The court accounts of Henry III record pears shipped from Rochelle and presented to the King by the Sheriffs of London. Eleanor of Castille, wife of Edward I, was a keen gardener and had several varieties planted. The French names of pears grown in English medieval gardens suggests that their reputation, at the least, was French; a favoured variety in the accounts was named for Saint Rule.

A pear craze started in France in the 17th century, similar to that of the Victorian one for tulips here in the UK. France that did more than most to develop the pear and the Sun King, Louis XIV (1638-1715) appointed La Quintinie, a passionate gardener, as “Intendant général des jardins fruitiers et potagers de toutes les maisons royales.” Under La Quintinie's direction over 50 different varieties of pear were grown for the tables of Versailles. He wrote prolifically about pears and listed more than 200 varieties, recommending above all, the winter “Bon Chrétien d'Hyve” (the Winter Good Christian). According to La Quintinie Bon Chrétien was the fabled pear that the Romans called Crustumium or Volemum mentioned by Pliny the Elder 1500 years earlier.

La Quintinie grew pears that weighed as much as 2lb in weight and these were probably the Belle Angevine. In England these large pears were called Pound Pears and were baked whole, wrapped in pastry crusts. They had to be baked as they were tough and coarse if eaten raw. They kept well which meant that they could be used throughout the sparse winter months.

The King's Kitchen Garden (Le Potager du Roi) still exists and is reintroducing many of La Quintinie's plants and trees which is a valuable source for heirloom varieties.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - White Peaches

The Languedoc Roussillon is renowned for its luscious white peaches. These white-fleshed fruits have been cultivated for hundreds of years and have occurred in nature for thousands. Records of white-fleshed peach varieties can be traced to the mid-1600s and Pavie de Pampone and Gross Mignonne are two heritage varieties that are still grown in France. They were a favourite fruit of Louis XIV: he had thirty-three different varieties grown in his orchard at Versailles.

The word peach (French word pêche) comes from an early European belief that peaches were native to Persia (now Iran). The modern botanical consensus is that they originate in China, and were introduced to Persia and the Mediterranean region along the Silk Road before Christian times. Cultivated peaches are divided into cling stones and free stones, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not. In France you will find peaches of the cling stone variety referred to as "Pavia". The word, which appeared in the language in 1560, is borrowed from Pavia, a town of Gers, famous for its peaches via the Silk Road.

There are also Pêches de Vigne (literally peaches of the grapevine), which are small red-fleshed peaches grown in vineyards. They are covered with greyish down, but the flavour is superb and not likely to be found outside markets in France. This ancient variety of peach has traditionally been planted among the grapevines as an indicator plant. As peaches are even more susceptible than grapes to the same diseases, the appearance of disease on the peach signals the immediate need to treat the grapevines before disease spreads.

In spite of its humble position as a sacrificial lamb to the noble grape, the Pêche de Vigne is one of the most sumptuous. Pêche de Vigne is basically a white peach, but its flesh is stained a deep red almost all the way to the pit. This heirloom peach is richly perfumed and tastes like a cross between a ripe and juicy white peach and a succulent raspberry.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Apricots

Roussillon in particular is well known for its apricot orchards and there is even an apricot named after the area – the Rouge de Roussillon. Apricots originated in North China but were given the Latin name of Prunus Armeniaca by Linnaeus in 1753 as they were thought to have come from Armenia. The apricot made its way down into Europe via the Silk Roads and then by Alexander the Great and the Romans. The first mention of cultivating apricots in France is in the 16th century and apricot trees were planted in the gardens of Versailles in 1626.

The only apricot that is native to Europe – the Briançon Apricot – can be found in south east France. The fruit resembles a golden cherry tomato, tastes like a plum, and botanists class it as a fuzz-less little apricot. The main apricot varieties grown around the Languedoc Roussillon are Canino (Bulida du Roussillon), Mariem and Helena du Roussillon. Apricots are eaten fresh, made into the liqueur Eau de Noyaux (prepared from bitter apricot kernels), turned into conserves and used in a myriad of desserts.

Apricot Clafoutis is a delicious dessert and takes its name from the Occitan clafotís, meaning "to fill up". This recipe is from Jennifer Greco's blog based in the Languedoc Roussillon ChezLouLou - if you are interested in fantastic food and rural France check it out!

Apricot Clafoutis

12oz fresh apricots, pitted and cut in half
1 cup minus 2 tbsp sifted flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces

Pre-heat oven to 450ºF. Butter and lightly flour a 9½ inch round tart pan or baking dish with deep sides. Place the apricots, cut side down, in the tart pan,Combine the flour and the salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Add 1 cup of the milk and whisk until completely smooth, then add the eggs, one by one, whisking briefly after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla sugar, the vanilla extract and the remaining 1 cup of milk. Pour the batter over the apricots and dot with the butter pieces.Place in the centre of the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Let cool completely before serving.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Languedoc-Roussillon – Olives

The Languedoc is the olive capital of France and there an impressive variety: lucques, picholine (best known as a cocktail olive), verdale de l’Hérault , bouteillan, negrette, rougette and aglandau are some of the names you will come across. In Greek and Roman times the coastal colonies of Languedoc produced olives, wine and salt but nowadays you can find them grown in the Uzège, the extensive scrubby woodlands which extend north of Uzès.

Nîmes now has an Olive AOC - the famous French stamp of quality relating to a particular geography that dictates the types of olive employed, the degree of acidity, and so on. Nîmes also hosts annually its "Journées Méditéranéennes de l'Olivier" - the largest olive oil market in France. This is held in April on the main square (Esplanade Charles-de Gaulle) with conferences and about 60 professional participants.

Olive tapenade is one of the specialities of the region in the Languedoc and is made from an olive paste, mixed with garlic and anchovies. It is delicious on bread as part of a starter, or as an aperitif to go with Kir, Pastis, or a lightly chilled Rosé from the region or a beautiful glass of smooth Languedoc red.


2 cloves of garlic
20 olives (either green or black)
3 fillets of anchovies in olive oil

Mix or crush the garlic with the anchovies in a mortar with their oil, and then add the olives without the stones and crush to a fine pulp.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010


As we have 5 wines from the Languedoc Roussillon at the Wine Shop (the newest being a Syrah Rosé) I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at the regional fayre and cuisine of the region.

Languedoc-Roussillon is made up of 5 departments: Aude, Gard, Hérault, Lozère and Pyrénées-Orientales. Montpellier is the region’s capital and Languedoc-Roussillon is bordered by the region of Auvergne, to the north, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, to the east, the Mediterranean to the south east, Spain to the south, and the region of Midi-Pyrénées to the west.

Ancient Roussillon is a small region of Languedoc, forming the Pyrénées Orientales département. Prior to the Treaty of the Pyrénées in 1659, most of the present department was part of the former Principality of Catalonia, under Spanish control within the Crown of Aragon, so the majority of it has historically been Catalan-speaking, and it is still sometimes referred to as Northern Catalonia.

Roussillon derived its name from Ruscino, a small fortified place near modern-day Perpignan where Gaulish chieftains met to consider Hannibal's request for a conference. In 218 BC Hannibal assembled a Carthaginian army with 12,000 horse and 37 elephants, to attack the Romans on their own Territory. Despite losing vast numbers of his men he crossed the Pyrénées and marched through what is now the Languedoc, recruiting reinforcements from Celtic tribes as he went.

The Languedoc-Roussillon is rich in history and its countryside is full of mountains, rivers and lakes, ancient cities, thermal springs (Perrier Water comes from this area), abbeys, and cathedrals, châteaux and castles, notably the famous mountain fortresses popularly known as Cathar Castles.
You can't miss the mark the Romans made on the region, the Via Domitia (the road built in 118 BC to connect Spain with Italy) runs through the countryside. You can see part of it in Narbonne, a major port in Roman Gaul before the town's harbour silted up in the 14th century.

Nîmes has a splendid Roman amphitheatre which is in better condition than the one in nearby Arles, and is the setting for bullfighting and open-air concerts. An impressive feat of Roman engineering is the Pont du Gard, the three-tiered aqueduct that spans the Gardon river in the east of the region, near Uzès. Although much of it had to be restored during the 18th and 19th centuries, there is enough of the original Roman construction for it to be a Unesco World Heritage Site, and one of France's top-five tourist attractions.

The food and cuisine of the Languedoc-Roussillon, as you can imagine, has Catalan influences from Spain and the Middle East as well as the Mediterranean and Provence. Languedoc cuisine relies heavily on local produce: olive oil, tomato sauces, herbs from the wild garrigue landscapes of the region such as thyme, rosemary and sorrel – with spices from the East such as cinnamon and saffron.

If you’re expecting rich sauces laden with cream and calories then think again. It’s rare to find sheep and cattle grazing in the fields in this part of France, hence dairy products are often absent from menus. The Languedoc is the olive capital of France and they are used in countless dishes. It's well known for its tomatoes, apricots, oysters from the Etangs, beef and rice from the Camargue, figs, fish from the coast – especially anchovies, snails, cheeses, Pardailhan turnips and wild mushrooms from the mountains such as girolles. Generally the phrase à la Languedocienne means garnished with garlic, tomatoes, aubergines and cèpes (mushrooms), à la Catalan indicates a rich tomato sauce!

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year

Over the years we have toasted the New Year in with Champagne . . . following the footsteps of Napoleon Bonaparte, Madame de Pompadour, Coco Chanel and Champagne Charlie.

In fact Champagne has been one of the most favourite topics - and drinks! - that we have written about over the years . . . from Champagne in fashion, gemstones, perfumes, romance, roses and even marmite! So it seems very appropriate to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year with our own favourite: Philippe Seconde's Vintage Brut Millesimes