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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rhubarb-Strawberry Pie with French Lesson

(Front porch light) 

Out on the front porch this morning, using my two-knives method to cut lard into flour to make piecrust, I started thinking about the two French words pâte and paté. The first, pâte, is pronounced close to the English word pot and is used for both pastry and pasta. (The little accent circonflex – that little pointed cap over the letter ‘a’ – is your clue. That particular accent is a historical trace; it tells you that in Old French there was once an ‘s’ following the vowel, an ‘s’ that has been retained in English and Italian.) Paté, pronounced as two syllables, with stress on the second, is a “paste” of ground meat and fat, served spread on toast rounds or crackers.

Ready to roll

Whenever I think of either of these two words, I remember that I used to pronounce them the same way, using the meat pronunciation erroneously for the piecrust term. I’ve got them straight now and have given you the clue.

But once I start thinking about the accent circonflex it’s hard to stop, and the next word I always think of is théâtre, but today I had a new thought about that word. French, Italian, Spanish – all are Romance languages, i.e., rooted in Latin. So I begin to think of God and the stars. Is that possible? Nope, guess not. Too bad. I like my etymological origins story better....

Some people like a flaky piecrust, while others prefer crumbly. A famous piemaker of my acquaintance thinks crust is secondary, pretty much just a container for the filling. Really???

My switch to lard is still recent, but I’m happy with the results.

I’m also very pleased with this little pie safe my sister found for me. I’ve been needing something like this for a long time.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Domestic and Wild Peppery Foraging

Wild mustard

The little farmhouse kitchen, redolent in winter of soup and fresh-baked bread, lively with stirring and bubbling, falls still as summer comes on, with bookstore and yard and garden demanding unceasing attention.

Few Parisians can afford the space for private gardens. For outdoor relaxation they depend instead on large public green spaces, such as, near my old friend Hélène’s apartment, the Luxembourg Gardens. (A world in itself, that!) But even without a burgeoning potager (kitchen garden, as the English call it), Hélène cultivated pots of herbs in a sunny window. And by the way, it’s smart to restrain perennial herbs in pots, no matter how much ground you have available, as some of them, given garden room, will develop Napoleonic ambitions and try to take over your entire world, making much more otherwise unnecessary work.

Taking a leaf from Hélène’s book, then, and because time and energy allowed me to reclaim only about half of my former vegetable garden, neglected for the past two years, I have done some of my food planting in containers this year – tomatoes, radishes, even collards (I have my doubts about the collards in a container, given the size of a full-grown plant, but if we eat away at the outer leaves fast enough, perhaps they can be kept in check) – as well as, among the flowers, nasturtiums, a colorful edible addition to summer salads.

Tomato plant and radish seedlings

Radish thinnings
Our first summer salad supper was Thursday evening. The radishes needed thinning, and the young sprouts were far too tasty to throw in the compost pile. Since the thinning task coincided with the last blooming of a local wild mustard – another delicate, edible, peppery cruciform, much like the spring’s toothwort in flavor – radish sprouts and pepper blossoms made a nice addition to the green salad, strewn atop after Greek dressing had been drizzled over lettuce and tomatoes.

Ah, summer! Supper on the porch! Flowers on the table and on our plates! Now, if ever, come perfect days....