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. A cassoulet. 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.
'k' is not a very French letter. Most words beginning in 'K' are foreign like le kimono, le kookaburra, and le kangourou. In fact, half of the words in the kid’s dictionary I use are from the other side of the planet from France. Peut-etre, ‘K’ is just a foreign concept like… me.
A friend once called me an ‘inside-outsider’ here in Southwest France. Having lived here afloat along the Canal de Garonne for nearly 20 years, I am accepted by neighbors and friends as being, well, just Kate. No “Madame this” or “Madame that.” Whereas my friend Vétou has called her neighbor Madame Auch as they morning coffee together for 30 years , my rather formal widow-neighbor Mme. Dupuy, calls me just “Kate”. And always has. Not very French to call someone by their first name! And me, a ‘woman of a certain age’ even. Perhaps it’s because neither of my names sounds French. Kate doesn’t conjure up Kathryn or even Kathy to le francais and “Hill” comes out 'eel/ill'-- with a bit of a hiccup.
“Just Kate” also means I have crossed the formidable line between vous and tu; you can’t vous-voyez someone you call by their first name! Or maybe it is as John Berger described in Pig Earth, these villagers see me in my rural inexperience much like a child. I had to be taught the ways of their country's life, French country life, from planting a garden to putting up pigs.
This week the advertising flyers arriving in the mail from Intermarché, Géant Casino and Carrefour all say the same thing ---la Foire de PORC! I realized for the first time in all these years, that I didn’t need my neighbors to hold my hand. I could if I wanted to, like a good suburban French woman, go to the hypermarché and buy all the makings for home-made sausage, pate or even ham from salt to canning jars. Closer to homeport here at Camont I use the local farm store, Terre du Sud, selling knives, gauze bags, salt, jars, boilers, labels etc.-- one stop shopping. Everything but the pig!
The PIG! Since I didn’t order a pig earlier in the year from my farm neighbors, the Sabadini’s, I can go to the neighboring village butchers who have extra shoulders, hocks and trotters available as pig fever starts to take over. But best of all is that tomorrow, at the Saturday market in Nerac, if I go early enough, the Chapolard Brothers will have a true nose-to tail selection of their high-quality, lovingly raised Gascon/Great White pork in their market wagon case. Marc Chapolard or his much-mustachioed and bereted frere offers every week a whole beast, in bits, for the weekend pig blogging that goes on all winter here. A ‘green’ ham to boil? A shoulder to roll into coppa? A fresh liver to mix with lard and potatoes for a peppery paté de foie? A sack of ears to cook crisply and serve with a winter salad? The beret or stomach? The couenne/skin rolled for adding to cassoulets? If you are more inclined to eat than cook, then you can walk away with fresh boudin, saucissons, perfectly seasoned terrines, confited pork chops and ham, ham and ham. Three different kinds.
I leave my pig blogging post a surprise, even to me. It’s what I like best about shopping at the markets. I am confident enough that I have a great supply of delicious and carefully-raised pork from which to choose. Every ‘insider’ has her sources, secret or not, and being an insider in Gascony has its delicious rewards. If K is not a very French letter, for a not-French-at-all outsider, then K stands for …just Kate.
If you are struggling with what do do to celebrate the feast day of San Antonio Abate on Jan 17th, then join Diva Judy and I for our first ever blogging event- the Some Pig Weekend Blogging Feast held this Sat & Sun on www.goingwholehog.blogspot.com ! We'll do a virtual Blessing of the Pig on the 17th on this site.
You can cook, can, grind, roast, grill, preserve, stuff in jars, guts, bags, and sacks or just remember the best damn bits of pig you can find. Judy in Tuscany, Me in Gascony and the rest of you--all according to Fergus Henderson in his 'Nose to Tail' book "making the most of the whole beast." If anyone needs help, just ask for it- there are lot's of bacon-loving pork-rearing experts listening in!
And if you need another good reason to savor this whole hog one piece at a time, just Google three-legged pig.
When is a pig not a pig? When it is a green chicken.
Dog walking days along the driveways of France, those thin white lines on the Michelin map that are township roads, numbered C11, D 2, D296. At Chez Franny in Francescas, Dupont leads us past a field of dew sparkled Savoy cabbages now frost-sweetened in the field. The photograph I took recalled the painting Franny made, which made me think of the very rural regional dishes like a Poule Verte or Green Chicken that Vetou first taught me when I came to this Long Village.
So what does this have to do with the Some Pig Blogging Weekend and my Gascon alphabet? Don’t worry, everything is connected here in the Long Village; rivulets of thoughts lead to streams of consciousness, to raging rivers of words and tidal surges of estuarial action!
This all-important pig... The queen cut of the pig is, of course, the ham—the piece for which we wait the longest: the most expensive, the saltiest, sweetest, most flavorful morsel. Pig butchery time is just around the corner, last year’s pig is mostly gone, and already I am at the ‘J’ word. Jambon. I’ll have to do what we do here in Gascony and make a simple cabbage dish with just the end bits left from last year’s ham or a piece of ventrèche (rolled salted pork belly/bacon). This stuffed ham-scented whole cabbage takes the place of the hen in the traditional poule-au-pot – Good King Henri the 4th’s favorite dish. There are days, even now, when there isn’t a chicken in every pot!
Vetou Pompèle told me how to make this dish many years ago in front of her French kitchen fireplace. She would assume that you would have all the basic ingredients at hand: a fat Savoy cabbage, some carrots, leeks, courgettes, onions, shallots, and garlic; good farm eggs and sturdy bread, duck fat, milk, and fresh herbs like thyme and parsley, sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper and some nutmeg. That’s the basic pantry. Now add a chunk of old ham, (a little rancid ham fat is often used to flavor a soup) or some ventrèche, lardons, or bacon.
Put a big pot of salted water on and when it comes to a boil, blanch the whole cabbage for 5 minutes then drain. While the cabbage is cooking and then cooling, make the stuffing by sautéing until golden a large handful of chopped vegetables like onion, celery and shallots in some duck fat (This IS Southwest France!); tear up enough old bread to make 2-3 cups; moisten this dry bread with some milk, water or wine and squeeze the bread until it is crumbly; add the cooked vegetables, chopped parsley and fresh thyme and roughly chopped up salty pig parts; crack one or two fresh eggs into the mixture, and add salt, nutmeg and pepper- a lot. Now get your hands in and squish the stuffing until it is well mixed. Taste it. Adjust the seasoning. None of this is precise. It’s about making do.
Put another big pot of water on to boil and add the soup vegetables, peeled and cut into big chunks or left whole- carrots, leeks, potatoes, courgettes, some summer-canned tomatoes, etc., add a bouquet garni, salt and a few peppercorns and bring to a simmer.
While the soup starts to simmer, take the cooled cabbage and peel back the leaves gently, until you get to the ‘heart’ – the size of the amount of stuffing you made. Remove this core with a knife or by twisting it out and you will have a hollow whole cabbage. Stuff the hollow with the farce you’ve just made and pull the leaves back over the core, reconstructing the cabbage. Here, I’d use an old gauze ham bag (used to age the ham in the barn) to bundle the cabbage up, but a piece of cheese cloth, an old kitchen towel or even several wraps of kitchen twine will work. Now lower the ‘green chicken’ into the simmering soup and cook until the vegetables are tender and the soup is flavorful. Around 45 minutes. Taste. Often. It’s fun.
When done, serve the soup like a first course with some crusty bread rubbed with garlic floating in the tureen. Then as the main course, serve the stuffed cabbage cut into wedges with the cooked vegetables. I often make a capery-tomato sauce to serve with this though some people just use cornichons, or mustard to offset the sweet vegetables.
There you go, Adam. A very regional winter dish duplicated across France’s most practical agricultural areas using the best of the last bits of that ham that we are about to make all over again…next week. In anticipation and appreciation…‘J’ is for Jambon- le Prince de Janvier!
J will be for Jambon later--a tribute to le prince de Janvier.
Once upon a time… there was a Diva living in Italy and a Barge Queen afloat on the French canals who, thanks to the sometimes miracle of rural internet connectivity, shout, pout and raise some delicious ideas—separately and together. The latest idea launched was to submit a seminar on a subject near and dear to their hearts- the preserving of artisan food traditions, especially those that preserve food while preserving culture. Thus was born “Saints Preserve us!-a pig’s tale of three cultures” to be presented on March 30 at the 2006 IACP conference in Seattle.
Judy collects holy cards and breaks butcher’s hearts like nobody’s business; Kate kills pigs down on the Gascon farm every winter. They asked Fergus Henderson of St. John’s Restaurant in London to complete their European trio of pig-loving cooks and share his ‘nose to tail’ ever-so-wry take on British cookery: from Farm to Butcher shop to the Table. Fergus said yes, “my love of things cured and porky” so the Slow Pig race is off and running.
March 30 is a not far off and to booster the events to take place (including the conference presentation with tastings, an auction package of Pigs-in-a-Basket, lunch at Salumi’s, and a ferry ride with pig snacks- a barge queen’s tradition) we decided to launch a virtual Blessing of the Pig in honor of the Patron Saint of farmyard animals—San Antonio Abate whose feast day is on January 17th.
You, too, can participate! In anticipation of celebrating le prince de Janvier a SOME PIG Blogging Weekend is dedicated to the bacon loving, sausage making, boudin nibbling, charcuterie mavens amongst you. Devote some or all of the weekend of Jan 14-15 to preserving, preparing, photographing or just writing about a favorite dish featuring the other white meat, send us the link to your porky post by Sunday night the 15th and we’ll post the participants on Jan 17th in honor of San Antonio Abate day. Since we all like getting presents, we’ll offer our favorite post (meaning there will be two at least!) a fabulous basket of Italian and French pork doctoring products: fennel pollen, épice rabelais, prune salt, etc…
With the flush of new books on charcuterie, salumi, and artisan butchery let alone all the great pig-prone blogs out there…there should be no shortage of good food being cooked. Of course, we’ll be talking about Piggy things from here out and Judy has proposed Fridays with Fergus on the new www.goingwholehog.blogspot.com site while preparing one of his succulent and homespun meals from “Nose-to-Tail” just to get you in the mood.
Don't forget January 14-15- SLOW PIG Blogging Weekend celebrating the bounty of the barnyard! Encouraging bloggers everywhere to eat their favorite pigs, one piece at a time.
Ste. Colombe-en-Bruilhois, Lot-et-Garonne, Gascony, France
I learned to cook from the ground up in Gascony—from the potager, orchard, river, and field. Barns and silos join Michelin-starred restaurants as treasured culinary destinations. The weekly umbrella-ed gatherings huddled on Saturday mornings, rain or shine, are my ‘meet’ market and a source of some of the best cooks in France, the farmers and artisan food producers. My Kitchen-at-Camont is a beacon of good cooking in a long hungry village.
Kate Hill teaches professional and amateur cooks in the close-to-the-bone atmosphere of Southwest France. Long term study, weekend workshops, day classes and private consulting are available year-round at the French Kitchen in Gascony. Contact: Kate@thefrenchkitchen.com