Friday, 22 October 2010

Halloween, Bobbing Apples, Calvados and a Ghost Story

Now the children are older we don't do Bobbing Apples at Halloween any more – but it used to be a lot of fun. Apart from the fact that apples are in season at this time of year they have been associated with Halloween for centuries due to their association with immortality, resurrection, and knowledge. One reason for this is that if an apple is cut through its equator, it will reveal a five-pointed star outlined at the centre of each hemisphere. This was a pentagram -- a Goddess symbol among the Roma (Gypsies), ancient Celts, ancient Egyptians, modern-day Wiccans, etc.

An old superstition that we used to follow when I was a girl was to peel an apple and throw the unbroken peel over your shoulder – it was supposed to fall and show the initial of the boy's name that you were going to marry. A lot of these Halloween apple myths seem concerned with marriage – the first person to take a bite out of an apple whilst Bobbing Apples was believed to be the next to marry and peeling an apple in front of a candle-lit mirror was believed to produce the image of one's future spouse.

Apples around us in the orchards here mean cider and although you all will know by now that Bordeaux wine rules my heart, I am also partialed to a glass of cider. Well, why not? I live in cider making country. The fields around me are bristling with a heavy crop of apples, so much so that some of the branches are falling off the more derelict varieties under the weight of the fruit.

Cider apples are quite deceptive. They cluster on the tree in an inviting manner but try tasting one! They are mouth blisteringly bitter and have the cheek puckering effect of making your eye balls want to jump out. It is only when they’ve been pressed and fermented that they show their true virtue. There are Cider Barons here who have been making Scrumpy for centuries and generations of locals have discovered its more lethal qualities when their legs fail underneath them.

French Cider makers, however, make a more wine-like style of cider. Their Ciders are often lower in alcohol and less sweet than their British counterparts, with fruitier flavours, a lighter texture, and higher acidity. Texturally they often resemble Champagne, and in fact they bottle their Ciders in Champagne bottles, with cages and corks. Rather up market don’t you think? We normally get our Cider delivered in an old pop bottle and with a wink.

Cider’s French home is Normandy, where apple orchards and brewers are mentioned as far back as the 8th century by Charlemagne. Normandy is also the home of Calvados - this is Apple Brandy French style and it is delicious. When the phylloxera outbreak in the last quarter of the 19th century devastated the vineyards of France, Calvados experienced a "golden age". During World War I cider brandy was requisitioned for use in armaments due to its alcohol content!

Calvados is the basis of the tradition of le trou Normand, or "the Norman hole". This is a small drink of Calvados taken between courses in a very long meal, sometimes with apple sorbet, supposed to re-awaken the appetite. I don't have an apple sorbet recipe but I do have one for Gambas au feu de pommes (Apple Flamed Prawns). I am always looking to find new and different dishes to help use up our gluts come harvest time and this one is lovely . . .12 to 16 prawns, depending on their size

130 g salted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bunch regular parsley
100 ml (6 tbsp) Calvados

Season the prawns with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt half the butter in the olive oil; heat; add the prawns and cook for 6-8 minutes. Pour in the Calvados; add the thyme and flambé. Add the remaining butter and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately. The mouth watering strawberry and redcurrant flavoured Chateau Ballan Larquette would go well with this as would the gold medal winning Clairet du Chateau des Lisennes with its intense raspberry and blackberry aromas.

I also have a Halloween ghost story to tell you about that originated in Calvados – it's well documented but it took some research to track down the actual chateau and family concerned. The story goes back to an account in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques in 1893 by M. J. Morice but he was requested by the family concerned not to reveal their identity or the location of the chateau. The ghostly disturbances took place over a number of years in the 1860s. The master of the chateau recorded them on a daily basis from October 12th 1875, to January 30th 1876 and the supernatural phenomena were witnessed by the family, their friends, servants and clergy brought in to assist.

It turns out that the Chateau in question was the Château des Noyers du Tourneur at the village of Le Tourneur in Calvados. The chateau had been owned by the Baudre Noyers family but had fallen into ruin and decay. A new chateau was built 150 yards away from the derelict one in 1835 and after the death of Leon Baudre in 1867 the Maneville family inherited the estate. It was Mr Manville who recorded the events in his diary. The phenomena seems to have been mainly poltergeist activity which rampaged for months on end. Banging, screaming, the moving of furniture, smashing of plates, upending of beds and music coming from the locked organ terrorized the chateau's household.

The parish priest was invited to come to the castle and spend the night, he recalled the next day that he had heard the heavy footsteps of what must have been a giant of a man descending the stairs in the early morning. He believed that events at the castle were of a supernatural nature, and left the castle with great haste. A Canon, sent there by the Bishop seemed to quieten things down for a while but the haunting began again. On the night of January 26th, the parish priest arrived to conduct the rites of exorcism. He had also arranged for a Novena of Masses to be said at Lourdes that would coincide with his performance of the ancient ritual of putting a spirit to rest. This appeared to work but several days after the exorcisms had been performed the poltergeist was back.

The family sold the chateau for a pittance and moved out. It was bought by Mr Decaen, who already owned the Chateau Soubressin – which interestingly also once belonged to the Baudres family. No more was heard of the hauntings but Chateau des Noyers du Tourneur mysteriously burnt to the ground in 1984. Today the village holds a scary evening at the fire scarred ruins with a light show and storytelling based on the school notebooks of Celine Bisson who was a servant girl there when the supernatural events took place.

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