David L. & Vetou P. preserving foie gras
My inspiration for tonight’s Pig Blogging Sunday Supper menu came as it often does—from the immediate, close-at-hand good friends and neighbors in my homeport ‘hood in my Long Village.
Last night I sought help at chez Pompèle in the tiny riparian hamlet of Lamarque near Tonneins. My god-daughter’s birthday was the occasion; the pre-teen dinner built on special requests- pizza, a gratin de pâtes (macaroni and cheese!) and chocolate cake. Not even coming close to the kind of inspiration I was hoping to find until grand-mere showed up.
Mémé Vetou Pompèle is a natural. Her palate, honed by thousands of family meals, is sure and subtle. She can taste the black pepper missing in a pâté de foie or sniff out the armagnac added to a tourtière. So as the ‘tweens ate and chatted while watching French pop stars, Vetou and I drank champagne and talked pork. How she came to be so sure about all things kitcheny. I call her my French kitchen godmother, but she has been my teacher for fifteen years. she even teaches my friends when they are really nice to me.
“The Fête de St. Porc is ritual born out of necessity. Maybe the mysticism built around the slaughter, the curing and preserving of meats comes because it is important to work carefully and not waste a year of tending the meat by being sloppy. As well as honoring the poor bête!”
So this pig killing ritual imparts structure and lends moral and logistical support.
Vetou’s thoughts ran as fast back over 40 years as she could talk:
• I married into Claude’s Italian family; I was coming from a Breton/Italian mix.
• My Italian mother was a seamstress; skilled with needle and scissors but hopeless in the kitchen!
• The Pompèles were tenant farmers with four growing sons and a daughter- with nothing spare to waste.
• In the Garonne Valley the Italians brought the savoir faire of charcuterie that my Breton family lacked.
• In Brittany the entire pig is salted, right down to the tail- kig ha farz is an example of a Breton salted pork dish.
• My belle-mere was the expert boudin taster- now I am the one that makes the decisions: how much salt, how much pepper…
So back to that pepper- Vetou’s own secret. Four times as much pepper as my other neighbors use in their saucisses, saucissons and pâté! Black pepper infuses the flavor of Southwest France like a seawind carried across the years from the spice age. Think of those Indian ships docked in Bordeaux’s port de la demi-lune heavy with peppercorns, worth their weight in gold as now we thoughtlessly sprinkle a bit of dusty afterthought on today’s pale table. Poor pepper. I keep an old coffee mill grinder on the kitchen couner filled with peppercorns like Vetou taught me. The fast turning friction of the metal gears release the pungeunt oils- what a difference from the few crank, crank crank of a table top shaker.
We talked about the local Jambon de Tonneins, a protected secret recipe shared by four butchers in this little riverside not-much-of-anything town. Once I was allowed into the ‘laboratoire’ at chez PONTHEREAU and spotted a bucket of peeled garlic cloves. “5 kilos for 5 jambons…” I heard the maitre charcutier mutter before he abruptly stopped. The jambon is pulled apart once it has cooked in an autoclave with the vegetables, spices, black pepper. Sold cold, geléed in a glass jar or can, it is eaten cold like a pate or heated over boiled potatoes.
Jambon de Tonneins
We talk of Roulades. Roti de Porc aux Pruneaux.
“Come on Vetou! I need help to decide what to cook tomorrow for this pig thing I am doing on the internet…it’s sort of a game” I explained. Blog has not entered her vocabulary yet.
“Bon, une roulade, a poitrine rolled around a stuffing and cooked.
A nice soup aux chou with a morsel of ventreche.
An estouffade of Pork with Onions and Madera and Armagnac."
We were getting closer but it was late and I needed to go home. Late to be driving the black pitch narrow roads over the river and through the fields… I kiss everyone four times (20 kisses not counting the dog) and as I reach the door, someone says… “Kate, do you want a pied de porc? And some boudin?”
Last minute reprieve. Merci, my dear generous Gascon friends, who always have what I need and never hesitate to share. Especially their good food. That last-minute parting gift became the inspiration for my
Pig Blogging Weekend Sunday Supper Menu-
Soup aux Deux Celeri et Bacon- Kate Hill
Boudin, Pomme de Terres et Pomme de l’air- Paula Wolfort
Pig’s trotter and Chicken- Fergus Henderson
as Ol' Hannah’s say--gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer.