Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pêche – A Peach: the Fruit. Peaches in France. Peaches on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

The story of the peach.

An extensive variety of peaches are grown in France; their flesh may be anything from practically white like the Pêche Blanche to others with a flesh of the deepest yellow along with others that are almost orange or red or come with red streaks. 

Like many other fruits, the peach originated in China and traveled to Persia and ancient Egypt. It is unclear who brought the peach to France, but the honor is generally given to the Mediterranean’s wholesalers, the Phoenicians, or possibly the Greeks when they began to create settlements in the South of France. (The Greeks arrived 500 years before the Romans and built on the Phoenician trading post the City of Marseille). It was the French or British who brought the peach to North America.

Fresh peaches.

In village markets, you may also come across old, rarely seen, heirloom varieties of peaches and vine peaches.  These heirloom peaches may be on a restaurant's menu or in a farmer’s market.  Each variety of peach has its own taste and texture and its own short season so that even with France’s beautiful, warm, Mediterranean fruit factory, you will only see fresh, French, mainland peaches between the June and September. At other times of the year, peaches may be flown in from France’s overseas departments. The many varieties of peaches are all perfumed with a broad range of bouquets, and they vary from the size of a medium-sized apricot to the flat peach, the pêche plate; peaches that look like miniature car tires and on to other varieties.

Peaches in the market.

Hotels may offer fresh peaches with yogurt for breakfast, or a café may offer you a baguette and butter with a homemade confiture de pêches, a peach jam. A restaurant’s digestif, an after dinner drink, may well be a crème de pêche, an alcoholic peach eau-de-vie.

Peaches on French menus:

 Pêche Blanche – White peaches. From the outside, some white peaches may not look very different to regular peaches; however, the texture and different taste make a huge difference. 

White peaches
Pêche Melba  -   Peach Melba; a real peach Melba is made with fresh peaches served on a bed of vanilla ice cream accompanied by a fresh raspberry sauce and possibly kirsch.  This recipe was created in honor of Nelly Melba, an Australian Opera singer at the Savoy hotel in London in 1892. While the site of this dish’s creation was not in France, the chef was French.  The chef was Auguste Escoffier; Escoffier created many other recipes in Nelly Melba’s honor, and Pêche Melba will, in season, be on many French menus.

The beginnings of Peach Melba.
Photograph courtesy of Heather Sperling

Pèche Plat -  A flat peach.

Flat peaches

Rôti de Magrets aux Pêche de Vigne - Roast duck breast prepared with vine peaches.

Sorbet à la Pêche - A peach sorbet.

Pêche du Jour – Catch of the day.  The word for Pêche is also used for fish, and a pecheur is a fisherman.  Read the menu carefully.

Pêches du Roche - Fish from the rocks; this covers many types of small fish, a great many of which are used in fish soups.  Be careful with the word Pêche.

Visit the King’s Kitchen Gardens, the Potager du Roi.

The King’s Kitchen Gardens are just around the corner from the Château de Versailles and an essential part of any visit to the Château. You will be told by the guides, correctly, that in the 16th and 17th century France was considered the world center for peaches. The peach was one of King Louis XIV 's favorite fruits. (King Louis XIV September 1638 – September 1715).

A view of the Chateau of Versailles from the Potager du Roi.
Over time and my various visits to the gardens I have asked and received answers including the fact that the King had over thirty different varieties or peaches cultivated in his the Potager du Roi, at Versailles.  That was thanks to his gardener, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie (1626 - 1688). The garden Quintinie began was continued after his death by his sons. Today the gardens are both an agricultural training school and a place where visitors may see how the gardens looked 400 years ago. (N.B. Quitinie had previously designed and prepared the gardens for the Chateaux de Vaux-le-Vicomte, but that is another story).
When visiting the Chateau de Versailles find a spare hour to visit the Potager du Roi. It is a ten-minute walk from the Château, and will also be a fascinating visit.  Even more to the point, here is a solution if you are thinking how you are going to spend your time while you wait an hour or more for your tour of the Chateau! The guides are in the gardens are knowledgeable, and you may see and hear about heirloom fruits that you will be unlikely to hear or see anywhere else. Entrance is 4.50 Euros during the week and 7.00 Euros on the weekend. 

The gardens have their own French language website that can be easily understood using the Bing or Google translate apps:

Buying peaches.

Chefs are very careful when choosing peaches; peaches may improve their color after they are picked but they do not get any tastier. When buying your own peaches, unlike some other fruits, the touch of your hand tells you nothing about the taste.

The greatest cocktail made with peaches is Italian.
Nevertheless, there are excellent French copies.

The Bellini- This Italian cocktail is made with fresh white peaches and that excellent Italian sparkling white wine Prosecco de Valdbienne. It is named after the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini.  The Bellini cocktail was created in Harry’s Bar, Venice, Italy by its owner Giuseppe Cipriani.  Harry’s bar and Giuseppe Cipriani, are even more famous for the creation of the dish called Carpaccio. Like the Bellini, the Carpaccio is also named after a Renaissance Venetian painter, in this case, Vittore Carpaccio.  In France, excellent Bellinis are made with Champagne or a Crémant instead of the Italian Prosecco.
Sky High Bellini
Languedoc-Roussillon, now part of the super region of Occitanie, produces nearly 50% of France’s peaches followed by the Rhône-Alpes now part of the super region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes with Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in third place.  In the world of peaches China takes first place, producing more peaches than the rest of the world combined.

Nectarines and peaches

Brignon and Brognon are the French names for nectarines. This is not a post on nectarines, but they are an offshoot of peaches. Certain peaches carry a recessive gene which can create nectarines on a branch of a peach tree or a whole tree of nectarines where peaches were expected.  This recessive gene affects the color of the nectarines as well as their sweetness and texture/.

Peaches in the languages of France's neighbors:

(Catalan -  presseguer or bresquiller), (Dutch - perzik), (German - pfirsich ), (Italian - pesco),  (Spanish - melocotón),

(Hebrew -  afarsek  -  אפרסק), (Latin - prunus persica ).

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2017.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Soissons - Soissons. Soissons the town and the Soissons the Bean. The Haricot de Soissons on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
The Haricot de Soissons

The Haricot de Soissons is one of France’s largest dried white beans and very popular. When this bean is included in a dish, then its name will be on the menu.  In restaurants in and around the town of Soissons, the local organization promoting this bean is the Confrérie du Haricot de Soissons. The men and women members of the confrerie and will visit all the local restaurants and make sure that cheap imports are not on the menu.  (The members of the Confrérie du Haricot de Soissons are also very involved in promoting the local language called Picard so the younger generations will not lose the writings and history of the area. Picard is an early forerunner of modern French.).

Haricot de Soissons on French Menus:

Cassoulet au Confit de Canard et Haricots de Soissons – A slowly cooked stew of duck confit prepared with the large dried white beans from Soissons.  This cassoulet is one of the few that does not come from the south of France.

Civet de Chevreuil aux Haricots de Soissons et Petits Légumes - A civet, a traditional French stew, here made with roe deer and the Soisson’s beans and young vegetables.
Pintadeau Sauce au Vin Blanc et Haricots de Soissons.
Guinea fowl with a white wine sauce and the beans of Soissons.

Haricot de Soissons qui Accompagne des Jarretons de Porc  – Slowly cooked, probably braised, pork shanks cut across the bone and cooked with the white beans of Soissons.
Haricots de Soissons Mijotés, Saucisses au Piment d’Espelette -
The beans from Soissons slowly cooked and served with sausages with the Espelette pepper.
Rillettes de Truite Fumée et ses Toasts, Salade de Haricots de Soissons – Smoked trout made into a fish paste and served with toast accompanied by a salad with the beans from Soissons.  (Rillets, may be made with fish, duck, goose, and pork are not to be confused with rillons or rillots which use a very different method of cooking).

Velouté de Haricots de Soissons au Chorizo, Œuf Poché. A velvety soup made with the Soissons beans served with chorizo sausage and a poached egg.

Gibraltar made Soissons Famous.

Soissons was internationally famous before the first bean was grown in the region; then, in 1729, an international conference was held there.  The conference aimed to end a number of international problems but mainly the Anglo-Spanish War.  At that conference among various agreements Spain agreed to Great Britain’s sovereignty over Gibraltar; Spain has regretted that treaty ever since.  Eating the Soissons beans probably creates digestion problems for Spaniards.

Where is Soissons

Soissons is a town and commune (a commune includes an administrative and commercial area around a town or village); the town is in the department of Aisne in Hauts-de-France in northern France located on the Aisne River. (Aisne was previously in the region of Picardy but on 1-1-2016 became part of the super region of Hauts de France, The Heights of France was created when the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy were joined).  Soissons is about 108 km (68 miles) northeast of Paris, one hour and ten minutes by a TGV fast train. Soissons is also one of the longest inhabited settlements in France from before the Romans and Julius Caesar who arrived in C.E. 47. 

Visiting Soissons?
Fête du Haricot de Soissons
The fete of the Soissons bean led by the members of the Confrérie du Haricot de Soissons and their children. Bean counters are at the back of the parade.
The fete is held over three days beginning on the fourth Friday in September. N.B. Always check the dates with the Tourist Information Office.

The Soissons Tourist Information Office has a French language website; nevertheless, using the Bing or Google translate apps make the website understandable and useful.

The Soissons Cathedral, correctly called the Cathédrale Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais was begun in the mid-1100’s and completed in the latter part of the 13th century. Some of the stained glass windows date from the 13th century.
Soissons Cathedral
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017,
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Salmis - Salmis. Originally a traditional method of cooking game birds. Salmis on French Menus today.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


Salmis originated as a recipe for leftover game birds that had already been roasted.   Roasted game birds that were the leftovers would be stewed in a red or white wine or an Armagnac based sauce.  Then the salmis would be served with mushrooms and other vegetables  Still today most salmis dishes will still be on menus during the various hunting seasons; however, the bird or other animals will not be yesterday’s leftovers.  Salmis, with some changes in the dish’s preparation for the modern French kitchen, are popular menu listings.
Salmis on French Menus:

Garbure Béarnaise et Salmis de Sanglier – The garbure is heavy winter soup famous in the old province of Béarn and the area around Béarn. In this menu listing to this ginormous meal the Salmis of farmed wild boar has been added. If the boar had been real wild boar the menu would have read Sanglier Sauvage.  Béarn had its capital in the town of Pau and Pau  is now the departmental capital of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in the new region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. The super region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine was created on 1-1-2016 and includes the regions of Aquitaine, Limousin, and Poitou-Charentes. With Bordeaux as its capital,  the new region includes the Pay Basque is the largest administrative region in France.

Tartine of Squab en Salmis
A squab is a young pigeon that has not yet flown and the word tartine is often used to describe an open sandwich
Royale de Pigeon de Bresse en Salmis, Fondue de Chou Vert  - The highly rated farmed pigeon from Bresse prepared with green cabbage cooked to a pulp.

Salmis de Faisan
Pheasant Salmis

Salmis de Canard Sauvage – A salmis made with wild duck. As the type of wild duck is not named this will be the most prominent wild duck in France and elsewhere; this is the Canard Colvert, the Mallard Duck. The male  Mallard duck is easily recognised with its green collar; in French, a green collar is a colvert.

You don't have time to make a Salmis?
You can always buy this jar salmis of woodpigeon on the web.
Salmis de Sanglier au Patrimonie – This was an aristocratic Corsican dish that had the meat of a wild boar marinated for 48 hours and then roasted.  In Corsica, this Salmis would be accompanied by a great red Corsican wine like an aged red Ajaccio. Ajaccio is an AOC/AOP appellation for white, red and rosé wines from Corsica.

Ajaccio  and The Napoleon I Museum

Ajaccio is the capital city of Corsica and the prefecture, the departmental capital of Corse-du-Sud. Ajaccio is 351 km (220 miles) by sea from Marseille.  Ajaccio is famous as the birthplace of the French Emperor Napoleon I.  Napoleon’s home is now a museum, the Musée National de la Maison Bonaparte; it is located on the Rue Saint-Charles in Ajaccio.

Napoleon’s home.
As it would have looked when he was a child.

The Napoleon Museum Has an English language website:

Chefs stretch good recipes and traditions, and other game meats are now prepared in the same manner and may be on the menu.   Outside of the hunting season farm-raised wild boar and farmed game birds may be on the menu.

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bœuf de Chalosse, Label Rouge, IGP – The Chalosse, Red Label, Beef Cattle. Bœuf de Chalosse on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
The Bœuf de Chalosse.

The origin of Chalosse.
The Bœuf de Chalosse comes from the ancient province of Chalosse that historically was part of the Dutchy of Gascony and since the French revolution is included in the department of Landes. (Landes was in the region of Aquitaine and is now part of the new super-region of Nouvelle Aquitaine; since 1-1-2016 this new super-region includes the regions of Aquitaine, Limousin, and Poitou-Charentes).

The logo of the Bœuf de Chalosse.

The IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) is the Pan-European Indication of a unique geographic area where a food product or wine of a high standard is produced.  in English the IGP is the PGI, the Protected Geographical Indication. The IGP/PGI label protects the farmers who raise the cattle from unfair competition and protects the consumers from unregistered producers. No one in the European Union is allowed to claim they raise the Bœuf de Chalosse outside the defined area. An example of an unregistered product is Cheddar cheese; today 99% of the Cheddar cheese produced is made miles and countries away from Cheddar with different tastes.



      The English PGI                  Look for the label.               The French IGP      

The Bœuf de Chalosse have been grazing the area for decades and was known to France’s gourmets since the early 1900’s. The beef passed all the requirements for the Label Rouge, the red label, for their continued high standard in 1991.  (The IGP was awarded in 1996). The Chalosse cattle are surprisingly not a particular breed; rather, this group includes beef cattle from the Blonde d'Aquitaine, the Limousine, and the Bazas breeds and, rather obviously, the progeny from these three strains. The successful nurturing of mixed breeds is also behind the Bœuf Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC.
The Chalosse Beef
© PL. Viel / V. Drouet pour Qualité Landes
The Bœuf de Chalosse on French Menus:

Entrecôte de Bœuf de Chalosse à la Bordelaise An entrecôte steak from the Bœuf de Chalosse prepared à la Bordelaise. À la Bordelaise in this menu listing indicates that the steak will be served with that excellent Sauce Bordelaise. To order a steak, in France, cooked the way you prefer it click here.
Sauté d'Onglet de Bœuf de Chalosse aux Petits Légumes et au Gingembre  - A lightly fried, flank steak, from the Chalosse beef, served with young vegetables and flavored with ginger.
Bœuf de Chalosse en Croûte, Sauce au Poivre.
The Chalosse beef en croute in a bread cover with a pepper sauce.

Paleron de Bœuf de Chalosse Braisé au Vin de Tursan.– A Paleron is a cut from the shoulder used for many of France’s best stews. .Here the paleron is braised in the Tursan AOC/AOP wines that include red, white, and rosé wines from the departments of Landes and Gers.

Pièce de Bœuf de Chalosse à la Plancha, Pommes Grenaille au Poêlon - One of the unique and tasty French cuts from the rump, prepared on the plancha and served with small new potatoes prepared in particular frying pan. In French restaurant tradition, the pots and pans used in preparing various dishes are often noted in the menu listing

Filet de Bœuf de Chalosse en Croûte aux Herbes – Fillet of beef from the Chalosse, (a cut from the tenderloin in the USA) cooked, “en croute”, in herbs.

A fillet from the Bœuf de Chalosse served with a shallot confit (jam).
 The Chalosse Beef with the Label Rouge

To be awarded the Label Rouge the nurturing of the cattle is carefully controlled. The calves must be reared by their mothers until they are weaned, and no antibiotics or growth hormones may be used.  For two years the animals graze freely, and during the winter, in barns, they are fed the grasses from the same area where they grazed in summer, mostly wild grasses and wheat with vegetable supplements of alfalfa and flax. In the third year in the six or twelve months before going to market, they are fed mostly a diet of corn (USA maize). The result of the feeding and aging is a dark red, marbled, and tender meat with a hint hazelnuts and parsley in the taste. The meat must be aged for at least ten days before being sold.

While the commercial center of Chalosse is the spa town of Dax, the seat of the Beef Association of Chalosse is located in the small village of Lourquen. There are about 370 farmers, with the average farmer sending 40 animals to the market every year; so there is a very limited supply.  The beef is sold by less than 80 artisanal butchers throughout France; consequently finding this very special beef on a restaurant’s menu will be a special occasion.
The Trophée Bœuf de Chalosse 
If you are in the area of Landes close to the end of July, do not miss out on the Trophée Bœuf de Chalosse; this is a one-day exhibition and fete held every year on the last Saturday in July in the small town of Montfort-en-Chalosse. The exhibition shows off the best of the years' cattle along with culinary demonstrations and tastings.

Bulls on show at the Trophée Bœuf de Chalosse.

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman