Compote de pommes et cultures

Hiking trail toward Dieppe summit at Gault Nature ReserveIt occurred to me this morning while I was sitting at breakfast enjoying the “compote de pommes” that I had just “confectionné” that the annual pilgrimage that Carol and I made to the Gault Nature Reserve in St. Hilaire on Tuesday this week really made a nice melding of our parents family culture / the Ted Carol family culture / and the Québec culture.  If you like a good hike I encourage you to plan an outing to the Gault Nature reserve.  “Plan” this year means buying your tickets online before you get in your car and go as they are limiting the number of people in this large park known for its hiking trails by only allowing entry by reservation.  We arrived on a Tuesday at about 12:45pm and learned of this new policy but, fortunately there were still openings in the online ticket availability at 2pm.  So, I suggested to Carol that we take a leisurely lunch (I packed one to eat at the Dieppe trail summit) and return to do our hike at 2pm.   Pulling out of the entry to Gault, I turned left (not the usual right) and was happy to re-find my favourite spot for a “cueillette des pommes” on the side of the road with the orchards and only an apple’s throw away from Gault.  There, lined up against the driving shed wall were a half-dozen crates (bushel-size) of apples that had fallen to the grass-carpeted ground in perfect ripeness and were ready to be sold to country boys like me for $8.  The owner was busy somewhere else so I laid out my 10 $ bill inside the shed and took to gathering my crate’s worth into bags. Before I had much more than a large bag’s worth socked away in the car trunk the “vergière ” showed up and verified that, yes these apples were almost all Macintosh, because they mature earliest and her orchard is made up mostly of Macs and, no, it isn’t the best apple-pie apple because, well, they rather melt down into a compote texture with very little cooking.  But two things in my philosophy kept me gathering my bushel into bags: $8 for a bushel is a very good deal and the maxim, when life gives you lemons… yes, in this case make compote de pommes (apple sauce).

We had an apple tree in our backyard that snuggled in close behind the garage and every second year produced rather early in the summer an abundance of apples that were only good for applesauce .  So, before much of anything but strawberries were ready for harvesting our household set to work making applesauce.  Mom had an applesauce colander which allowed her to just quarter the apples, boil them skin on, seeds, cores and all and then run them through this colander, reversing the direction of the crank when the waste matter had built up too thickly, throwing the waste away allowing the sauce to continue flowing unimpeded by the skins.  When I got home from the hike at St. Hilaire I looked for this colander but it had been stored elsewhere as I had last used it 20 years ago.  So I peeled the apples with bruises (the ones that will be first to go bad), removed cores and set the fruit to steaming.  As my vergière friend had suggested, it only takes 3 or 4 minutes of good steam to soften a Mac to optimum compote conditions.  Compotedepommes_fabriqueI dumped the steamer basket into a flat bottomed bowl and mashed the apples with my potato masher, sprinkling in a modicum of cinnamon.  Result: best applesauce that I have ever tasted!  The Macs are more tangy than my parent’s apples (which never pretended to be anything but an applesauce apple) and with the simplicity of making it, and the lack of hockey these days to make the first slice of apple pie special I may take my apple fix in a new way.

While I remember that my father had a sweet tooth that he indulged with candy in my childhood years, in his retirement years the candy dish was always ready to offer to the grandkids, but Dad’s nightly snack was nothing but an apple, and he took great pleasure in these.  My brother, Greg and I, when we had the occasion to be in Kitchener of a Saturday morning would encourage my father in his apple-love by going to market early, while the selection was at its best and choose a bushel of apples to split with Dad.  My father-in-law, in his Jamaica Mandeville home, was pleased that his daughter, Carol, had found a good-hearted, sensible man who knew that the only thing that Mr. Bernard really desired that his Jamaican soil could not produce for him was an apple pie made from good Canadian apples.  One of the only times I have ever fudged a customs declaration upon entry to Jamaica was when I imported a ready-made pie and the apples with which to make another.  In the days to come, when God brings forth a new heaven and a new earth I shall hike to the Dieppe summit at Gault with my two fathers and tell stories of the roads we have walked in this world.  As we sit down on the rock face overlooking a re-created Beloeil and watch the mist rise from the Richelieu river we will, the three of us – father, son and beau-père crunch down on a tangy Macintosh.  God is good!

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Me and the food business

This week at my 5 à 7 group (Bible study and prayer group meeting in a home), I received a compliment on my cooking, featured weekly in this venue.  “You should start a restaurant, Ted.”

While I always appreciate the intent of this comment, I am never tempted in this direction for these particular reasons:  1) To make outstanding food it takes hours of prep work.  No restauranteur simply buys the best of Costco prepared foods and warms them up for their customers.  Working with the best ingredients you create within a culinary tradition – French cooking with lots of butter, Italian with attention to the vegetables.  Without a doubt the tradition that I would draw on would involve meat.  There are a half dozen meat dishes that I do well and then there are a bunch of casserole, one-dish comfort foods that mostly draw on my smoked sausage as a star ingredient.  If you start with the best ingredients and you don’t mess it up along the way somehow then the result will please the palate.  All of my cooking is a labour of love, which starts at the fact that I like eating this kind of food.  But would I cook to earn a living?  Unqualified no.  2) Montreal is a city of so many good restaurants and yet on any given night you can visit one and find only one or two tables occupied.  I always do the math if I’m eating in an empty restaurant.  Is my $40 or $50 restaurant bill enough to pay the rent in this place, let alone earn a living for the owner?  I’m afraid the answer to that is another “no”.  My restaurant would undoubtedly be one of these that fails to make ends meet.

One of my favourite supermarkets in Montreal featured grain-fed capons in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.  I was fortunate to buy one and bring it home, where Carol set to Googling to find if that bird was a small turkey or a large chicken (yes, to the latter).  Then, as I so often do these days, I went to the internet and came across a restaurant recipe for cooking the capon that I thought made a lot of sense.  In fact, this chef-owned restaurant in Manhattan had produced an entire 400 page cookbook that may possibly cover everything that an aspiring copy-cat restaurant owner would need to put on their menu to have a restaurant serving outstanding food.  The chef owner, Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune Restaurant, also wrote an autobiography which I recently finished reading (see my Goodreads for a few of my comments).  This afternoon I set to browsing through the Prune restaurant cookbook and by the time I completed this I was psychically exhausted from all the detail of running an outstanding restaurant.  I’d counsel anyone who would have their own restaurant to read these two books authored by Gabrielle Hamilton. At one point in her life Gabrielle pursued an education in writing as a way out of the cooking business.  While it turned out that this was not to be her calling, she put her writing skills to work in describing her own life and the result is an education in food and its preparation (and much more).

The pictures in today’s Sunday blog are some self portraits that I happen to like, taken in mid-December 2008.  The equipment is all washed up and I am bundled up against the cold, as it was my preference, for the good of food I was preparing, to work in a chilly shop – just above 0 degrees Celsius.  I’m nostalgic for those days, but it’s a comfortable sort of nostalgia that knows I’ll never be going back down that road of having my own shop.

Pain ressusciter

Ce matin pour ma fête, j’ai voulu commencer avec un petitPain_ressuscite_vector déjeuner fabriqué des aliments que j’ai déjà en main. Donc, s’il me reste un pain italien bien sec, des oeufs et du lait avec la date d’expiration demain, c’est bien evident l’affaire que je peux facilement confectionner. Le pain perdu!

J’ai cherché mon blogue avec le tag ‘breakfast’ parce que j’ai déjà une simple recette pour pain perdu (French toast) écrite dans la série “17 Favourite breakfasts” (mes dix-sept petits déjeuners préférés).  Après avoir fouetté un oeuf dans un quart de tasse de lait, j’ai gratté (rapé?) dedans un petit peu de noix de muscade et j’ai saupoudré légèrement mon affaire de la cannelle.

Il me reste du gras d’un rôti de porc cuisiné hier.  J’ai eu peur que le pain va goûter de l’ail mais, finalement ce n’était pas le cas.  Le pain bien sec a ‘gobber’ le mélange oeuf-lait comme un éponge. Le pain perdu n’était pas cause perdu (lost cause?) mais un réussite total!

Donc, je suggère humblement que les Larousse et les Roberts du monde francophone ajoutent au lexique ‘pain ressusciter’.

Garden Stew

stew contents
stew contents – fresh from the market or rescued from the fridge

I was able to finish up work soon after 1pm today, which usually means that I’ll stop somewhere on the way home.  Very near to the sausage plant in Laval is the Marché 440.  I don’t know if it is the only market in Laval but it is an excellent place to buy fruits, vegetables, honey and much more.  Wanting to make it quick – just needed a flat of raspberries while they are in season locally – I transacted for the fruit at the closest vendor, one of the best – but since I had to pay across the aisle where they have an extensive selection of vegetables, I quickly added a cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, carrots, string beans, tomatoes and new potatoes to my bill.  And then I stopped at my favourite supermarket on Avenue du Parc  where I have learned to speedshop. 50 cents of metred parking only buys me 10 minutes. Let’s just say that I didn’t have to use any of my time today in the produce section.

The original idea was to make raspberry jam when I got home, but since neither Carol nor I had had any lunch and I was bringing home some freshly smoked sausage from work, I knew I had all the ingredients on hand for a hearty lunch on a rainy day.  Put the berries on ice and pulled out some cooking pots (des casseroles, comme on dit ici).  I think I have a garden stew recipe posted on my original personal website. Yes, still there at:

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