A collective sigh of relief rose up in the Dordogne over the last ten days - the cèpes had come after all! Prolonged cold, wet weather had worked on everyone's spirits. Doom mongers predicted that if no warm weather came soon, there would be no cèpes. But they always come, it is just the quantity that varies.
Actually I have little sympathy with this attitude, mostly because I am not overly fond of cèpes, however prepared, and am dubious about other proposed delicacies such as the couloumelle (lepiote) or oronge (amanita caesarea). This latter looks like a boiled egg with the white peeled back from the yoke. A delicacy, it is said.
But we duly had a few days of sunshine and all was well. There the cèpes were, by the box-load, all a little battered and unprepossessing.
It was only when I first found cèpes at La Chaise that I began to enjoy them for I could pick the very young ones that had not yet become food for slugs. Indeed in very good years I could almost restrict myself to the cèpe de Bordeaux, the black capped, stronger flavoured variety.
There are only so many omelettes aux cèpes that one can eat, so much of pommes de terre sarladaises that can be presented as garnish to a variety of meats. So the question is, what to do with the rest? My first instinct is to let other people have them. In the past Michelle and Arnold have always been enthusiastic about them. Michelle has an uncanny talent for discovering cèpes. And now that Audrey and Alexandre have joined us I no longer need feel guilty about not conserving them.
|A satisfying addition to the store cupboard|
But I do feel guilty at not wholly sharing my neighbours' enthusiasm for this autumn bounty. So this year, after reading various recipes, I tried a simple way of conserving them in oil – as follows:
Throw away the stalks and neatly carve out any marks of slug feeding;
slice the caps thinly, remove the spores if not liked – they come away easily;
poach in a light white wine and herb bouillon and drain after about three minutes;
fill small Kilner jars ¾ full, add one small piece of garlic, one twig of thyme, one of chervil, a few peppercorns and a few juniper berries if you have them;
cover with best quality oil to the mark in the jar and close.
To use, drain and fry as if they were fresh though some people say you can serve them cold as a condiment with meat. The thought of that squishy consistency, to me, is quite repellent. I wish I had a means of drying them, for cèpes are still best when dried, then crumbled into rich meat stews – all the flavour, none of the dreadful consistency.