Sunday, May 12, 2013

May - the month of strawberries and alcohol

May is strawberry time in the Dordogne which prides itself on producing the first, and best, strawberries in all of France. Sadly the May weather has not been at all propitious for this delicious fruit, temperatures way below seasonal averages – or at least below memories of temperatures in previous months of May. 

The earliest strawberry is usually the 'Gariguette' a long, narrow pointy fruit which is supposed to have the best flavour. This is then followed by the 'Clery' which is larger and rounder. In fact, I think the strawberries have been getting larger over the past few years to the detriment of their flavour. I would serve individual bowls of, say, Gariguettes, with cream and sugar – to be eaten with a teaspoon. Now I find I am having to slice the fruit to get it on the teaspoon!

So different from the little wild strawberries in the woods, rarer and rarer.
Shortly after having purchased La Chaise, and 'sold' a number of large oak trees to the local saw mill, we had a mega harvest of wild strawberries. The little plants profited from the sudden light. JP picked 4 kg – yes, four kilos – which we ate with four friends in one greedy evening. We have never had so many since.
At the moment the strawberries cost about 3.50€ for a barquette of 250 grammes and greed makes one forget the price. For the moment, only quality fruit is on offer but very soon certain quantities of sub-standard fruits will be offered pour la confiture. Making strawberry jam is not easy as the fruit tends to collapse when cooked, has virtually no pectine to help it to 'jell' so many lemons, or sugars with added pectine, have to be used. But it does look so pretty in its pots....

However, the genuinely providential Dordogne housewife, the one who despises most commerรงants, is busy making her own aperitif liqueurs, namely
vin de noyer, vin de pecher, vin de cerisier, depending on which is the favourite in her household. These have to be made in the month of May with the very young leaves of the relevant trees. The walnut leaves must be barely unfurled, the peach leaves picked before the 'cloque' has attacked them, and the cherry leaves before the green fruits are visible.

The recipe is the same in each case: first acquire some decent, farm made – most likely illegally distilled – eau de vie that is at least 40 degrees proof. Then a collection of 1.5 litre bottles, shape and colour indifferent. Another collection of 75 cl bottles of attractive shape and dark colour. Into the first put a good handful of washed, dried, leaves, a wine glass of white crystal sugar and a wine glass of eau de vie. Add a bottle of good red Bergerac from your cellar. Put in a dark place and wait. After about a week – you must wait at least that long – filter the resulting mixture and bottle in the interesting bottles. Cork and put away until the summer. 
I insist, leave it to mature until the first summer visitors. Then you can produce it, in sherry like quantities and glasses, murmuring - a little something I made myself. Guests will be very impressed, fall over with appreciation – or the
alcohol content of your home made drink.

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