Le Pigeonnier at Camont- October 4 2021
The light has changed so drastically these early mornings. I can feel the light seeping away to the other side of the globe to smile on my Australian and New Zealand friends as they post pictures of cherry blossoms and tulips. I now need to turn on a light in the little ‘parlor’, once a piggery, where I sit and write most mornings. It’s no coincidence that I own and use a light-sensitive alarm clock made by Phillips and tested in the dark Nordic villages for efficiency and happiness. Although I rarely wake to an alarm now, I trained myself to wake to the first light and now my days begin like this.
The bedroom is dark when I wake and there is a pale patch of light where the only window faces east. I can see the shadows of punaises, or stinkbugs, a plague at this time of year, hiding in the folds of the curtains. I grab my iPad and start to read under the kilos of the largest Ikea comforter, bought for weight rather than warmth. I haven’t turned the central heating on yet and won’t as the next week promises warm clear days after a flurry a rain storms—a true ‘Faux Saison’ or false season, Indian Summer. These seasonal markers are now fixed in my DNA and each appearance prompts another tangent to follow into the kitchen. “Oh, at last,” you are saying, “When does she begin talking about food?”
Boletus, Cèpes, Porcinis
The change of light, and temperature, and rain really only means one thing as October bells begin a slower peal—les Champignons. Mushrooms sprout at the bottom of the garden gate along the canal towpath just fifty steps from my kitchen; the markets are full of champignons de Paris, those firm and mild ‘button’ mushrooms; a few local stalls have early cèpes or Boletus stolen from the woodlands while those imported from afar flood into the cities where they fetch a higher price. I once met a mushroom dealer in California who bought and sold fungi all up and down the US west coast- northern California to Alaska. When he heard that I lived in France, he confided that he sold most of his Boletus edulis, those prized giant cèpes or porcinis to the French and they were shipped daily on Air France flights from SFO-CDG. Every since, I look askance when the mushrooms flood the markets near Christmas, knowing that many if not all of them came from Mendocino.
les Peupliers de Camont
Instead I seek out those local mushrooms, les peupliers that grown on the stumps of long-disappeared poplar trees that line my stretch of the Canal de Garonne. They are not a strong tasting fungus, rather they fold nicely into an omelette supported by a little brown butter. for variety, I buy from some young organic producers who are growing oyster and shitaki mushrooms in an old fruit storing warehouse across the river from me. Doused in a spelt flour batter, they sell them fried at the Saturday market, sprinkled with salt and served in a folded paper cone. I buy them for the ride home from the market; to eat while they are still warm.
But of all the wild mushrooms I love best are ones that don’t appear here locally. In fact, they are called les Catalans in this area and do flourish under the pine trees of the Pyrenees. Lactairius deliciosus—a perfect name for the saffron milk cap. I love these best when pickled and preserved in oil. Thick slices hold their firm texture through the preserving process and the satisfying snap is akin to a well made cornichon. I don’t get a chance to buy these often, but when I spy them I am in mushroom heaven.
If mushrooms are the standard bearer for my October, then pumpkins, chestnuts, and quince are lined up behind as seasonal fodder for my kitchen work. A little savory pastry, a Tourte aux Champignons et Poireaux ( Leek and Mushroom Tourte), is a wonderful way to share the mushroom bounty. Here, the recipe (see below) is also featured in the October issue of A Gascon Year (download here or get a paper copy here); Since it is one of my favorites, I also teach it in the October video sessions of my online courses-https://katehillcooks.thinkific.com/courses/a-gascon-year-octobre
And to order a copy of your own A Gascon Year-Octobre:
Print on DemandPaperback version. https://amzn.to/3ixprYQ
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Recipe: Leek and Mushroom Tourte
Makes A 2-layer 10-inch (25 cM=m) tart crust
1 bunch of leeks- about 1 lb (500 g)
1/2 lb (225 g) mushrooms, brushed clean and stems removed
Pâte Brisée- pie crust
3/4 cup (6 fl oz/180 ml) crème fraîche
salt and freshly ground pepper; freshly ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
Wash and trim the leeks and use just the white parts. (Save the greens to flavor a soup.) Slice the leeks very thinly and wash again in copious amounts of water until they are free of all grit.
Drain the leek slices briefly and, while they are still wet, put them in a dry, heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Stir gently as the leeks cook in their own water, about 5 minutes, until they are softened and half cooked. Let cool while you prepare the pastry.
Divide the pastry into 1/3 and 2/3. Place the 2/3 portion of pastry in the tart pan and prick the bottom all over with a fork. Beat the egg in a bowl and use some of it to brush the bottom pastry before filling. This helps keep the juices from soaking into the crust. add the remaining part of the egg to the crème fraîche. Mix the egg with the crème fraîche, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Slice the mushroom caps into thin crescents.
Place the leeks in a layer across the pan. Top with a layer of mushrooms and then spoon the crème fraîche mixture evenly over the filling. Salt and pepper generously and dust with more nutmeg.
Place the 1/3 pastry layer on top and seal the edges with the bottom layer by gently pinching the dough. Brush the remaining beaten egg over the edges and surface of the tourte.
Bake about 30 minutes, until golden brown and steaming hot. Serve hot between courses or let cool to room temperature and serve with aperitifs.
So dear readers, enjoy the seasonal bounties of your own backyards as I slip into the felted lighted of October here in my Gascon home. I welcome the first in-person cooking students at the end of this month and are taking reservations from May and September 2022 dates. These small group gatherings in my kitchen are precious as time and energy limits the numbers. If interested, write me a note now.
And as always, I appreciate your subscription support and sharing of these newsletters as A Gascon Year is written in essays and recipes from my home in Southwest France.