Well after my Norman Night (see previous blog post), which was quite a lot about apples from Normandy, I went to France for a week. So when a local friend asked me if I wanted to go apple picking with them at a beautiful chateau, I thought, why not?
Well, I can tell you the French certainly have not lost their apple heritage. There were about 10 different types of apple being grown there, some of which I had never heard of. I was planning to pick a few "Golden" (delicious, but they never add that bit of the name), since I know what on earth it is, to experiment with new methods of Tarte Tatin making; I was thinking around a dozen or so.
First of all, I was informed by my "apple guide", Eveline, that the best apple for Tarte Tatin was Reinette. Having now tried it, I don't disagree, as it has a nice tartness (excuse pun) that offsets the sweetness of the caramel. Anyway, I wasn't in any position to disagree since she was the nice lady who drove me there so we duly marched off to the Reinette section and started picking apples. Of course, we did it the wrong way round. We started at the beginning of the row, like everyone else, and the apples were small and very high up, necessitating the use of the very clever thingy they had given us. Let me share a tip with you - the most useful French word you will ever learn is the word "le truc" - thingy. It can be used to replace a million other words that you just don't know (that Thingy there = ce truc-la). Well this particular thingy was a cross between a wheelbarrow, a supermarket trolley and a stepladder. Who knows what on earth it was called, Truc would do. So we could wheel it on its one front wheel, put our apples in or on it, and climb up the steps on one side.
Needless to say, climbing steps to reach one or two apples at a time was not the most productive exercise and it took us quite a while to even get 20 apples, and they were all a bit weedy-sized. I was prey to apple-envy, because there were some big juicy ready-picked ones on the stand where we had come in that were easily 3x the size of these ones we had. I had also underestimated the quantity of apples Eveline wanted - which turned out to be around 30kgs... these real French people, they store them in their cellars for the whole winter, and DON'T BUY THEM FROM THE SUPERMARKET....
Anyway, this was beginning to look a long-drawn out process (and I hadn't even started on my dozen yet), but as we progressed down the row, we discovered more and more easily accessible ones on each tree (what a surprise). So we picked away and I fell prey to the "oh look! there's another even BIGGER one!" syndrome. When we eventually got closer to filling her boxes, I started to fill my bag, which was unfortunately too large for my purpose. So, I ended up with 4kgs of apples. 4kgs of apples to use in 5 more days. Hmm.
Thus started the apple-wars. We were 3 with a surfeit of apples. They came to mine, I cooked Tarte Tatin. (And yes, I did work out a better way of doing it, involving the microwave). I tried to give them the left-overs, they were too wily. So I gave left-overs to another un-appled neighbour. They cooked apple tart, apple sauce (quite nice with Fromage Frais, I discovered). I cooked more Tarte Tatin (which at least we all agreed continued to improve with my further development of microwave technique). I gave more left-overs to other unsuspecting neighbours. They had a secret weapon - the apple slicer/corer/peeler machine (which is WONDERFUL! buy one today!!). I was peeling and coring by hand, a distinct disadvantage in the race to get rid of 4kgs of apples. Eve's Pudding - now THERE's a recipe to use up apples, and the French never even heard of it!! We used to get it at school. Actually the French have never experienced anything quite like a proper English pudding - there's something we do very well - and I have developed big fans of steamed Golden Syrup (specially imported by moi of course) pudding with Bird's Custard, and now Eve's pudding... :-)
Well, I think I can say that I have truly perfected the simplified (but just as tasty) Tarte Tatin recipe. Since I've been home, I've already ordered 2 apple slicer/peeler/corer machines (one as a pressie!!) and I've also already cooked another Tarte Tatin for an unsuspecting friend. Well, it does count as one of your 5-a-day! ;-) In the absence of the lovely Reinettes, I made it with Granny Smiths (Grannys in France, they dispense with the Smith bit, they probably can't pronounce it, Smisf), and it was pretty good, better than Goldens...
Oh and yes, I did never manage to finish those 4kgs of apples. I gave them another un-appled neighbour, who was delighted.
I'm off to Syria tonight and the next supper club is Syrian night on the 16th... anyone want to join?