Sunday, 18 September 2011


This weekend was not conducive to doing anything outdoors. Very cool, wet and windy. JC and I were going to see Chartres and its cathedral lit up at night, animations, entertainments but it was too wet to even leave home. What a shame. Instead JC introduced me to ch√Ętaignes (sweet chestnuts). We’d think of them as a fruit or nut from a tree. The French don’t call anything that isn’t a Walnut, a nut.The prickly outer shell was nowhere to be seen when JC bought them from the supermarket. I’d seen them before but ignored them through my lack of knowledge and experience.

They can be eaten raw, roasted or preserved. They can be made into some sort of cream, flour, icecream. JC peeled one and gave me a piece to eat. It didn’t seem very appetising. It wasn’t. It’s edible but seemed like a very uninteresting attempt at being coconut. I couldn’t see the point of eating it, but apparently in the past it has been a diet staple for more mountainous areas of France, Ardeche etc- poor people’s food. Remember those old stories about people roasting chestnuts around an open fire? It still happens, but not often. Remember those old braziers in England or France, on the street where vendors would sell hot chestnuts in snowy weather? That is all extinct.

JC roasted some in his frypan. It takes quite a while. He put coarse salt in the bottom of the pan, not for flavour, he said, but to make it easier to turn them. It’s important to cut the bottoms off the nuts, otherwise they tend to explode when they get hot. They are ready when the insides puff out the end a tiny bit. Try not to let them burn. Warning, they are difficult to crack and peel in your hands if you don’t let them cool down a bit. To me they seemed to taste a bit like floury sweet potato or overcooked pumpkin with a certain graininess. They taste better cooked but for me there are tastier things than these.

One of those is home-made apple tart made from home-grown apples. JC has a tree laden with some very tart apples which are suffering from moth attacks and lack of sun. The solution is to pick some and use them. He has made apple juice for sauces and compote last winter. This weekend I decided to make an apple tart for us. I don’t recall if I have made one before and kitchen equipment is rather different in France so it was a bit of an experiment. I have NO recipe books of any kind now so I resorted to the internet. So many different recipes for Apple Tart (not Pie). I decided to just wing it using common sense.

Recently JC bought an interesting gadget for peeling and coring apples. It doesn’t look all that robust but it’s surprisingly effective despite its small size. You can regulate the thickness of the peel, it cores as you go and is easy to clean by running it under the tap (see photo). It peels and slices apples into a spiral so it makes that job of preparation very easy and tidy. I needed apricot jam for the glaze after cooking but there wasn’t any so I used a favourite French jam made from Mirabelle plums which has echoes of apricot flavours. It worked a treat.

When JC got back from his AGM at the local Hunt Club he thought the tart looked wonderful. What was even better, he said it was delicious (served with sweetened whipped cream made the old way, not from a can). Yep. A success, thank goodness as I was beginning to think I might be a hopeless incompetent in the kitchen department and it’s rather intimidating trying to cook for French people. It’s so many decades since I had any interest in cooking. I want to explore more sauces and tarts in the future. I shall try to let the seasons dictate what to make. That way I can have something new to look forward to each season.


Alison said...

The tart looks fabulous Frances!

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, contributions and feedback.