It snowed last night. Wet snow, the sort that doesn't usually settle, especially in Oxfordshire in October. I don't ever remember snow here in autumn, although someone said that the last time it happened was 38 years ago, so I probably should. Didn't think it would still be on the ground this morning, but it was: frozen and crunchy underfoot in the bright dripping sunshine.
The book I am reading tempted me to linger a little under the duvet ... The Rose Grower, by Michelle de Kretser, an almost poetic evocation of life and love during the French revolution. With roses. And food.
It was in December, thinks Saint-Pierre, two or three days before Christmas. He remembers opening a window and the way a line of snow collapsed inwards, onto the ledge; but that might have been on another occasion. He had stood on one foot beside his grandmother, leaning against this very table, and she showed him how to make cruchade. Half a century later, he still finds himself craving its warm, sweet blandness.
His older daughters wrinkle their noses at it, but his grandson loves cruchade and Mathilde is not altogether immune. A dish for children and old men. A winter dish, unsuited to high summer. But Berthe would of course have served it at dinner, if he'd asked. He didn't, for three reasons: he takes pleasure in preparing it himself; he believes his version superior to Berthe's; he doesn't want to have to share.
The mixture of maize flour, milk and a little butter has cooked slowly, thickening to the right consistency. He turns it out onto a linen cloth and blows on it, willing it to cool faster.
The night house sighs and shifts. Then settles itself, groaning. Through the kitchen window he can see a lopsided white moon.
... There is no armagnac to be found, so Saint-Pierre pours out a glass of Berthe's plum brandy. He can't resist breaking off a corner of the solidifying cruchade. His eyebrows twitch in anticipation.
... So Saint-Pierre can't lay his hands on any sugar - really, where does Berthe squirrel these things away? - but a pot of her apricot jam from the previous summer will do just as well. In fact, he prefers jam. With the point of a knife, he draws a diamond grid on the surface of the cruchade; then he cuts along the lines.
... He begins frying. The butter sizzles .. Saint-Pierre is wielding a slotted spoon, lifting the golden-yellow diamonds onto a plate .. a thick layer of apricot jam is spread on the cruchade.
"It's an old regional dish." Saint-Pierre holds out the plate. "Not to everyone's taste," he says hopefully. "Try a small piece."
Cruchade is said to be a Gascon treat, but I can't find any trace of it on the web or in a book, not even in Elizabeth David or the magisterial Oxford Companion to Food. It sounds like a variation of polenta - worth trying if you have a sweet tooth.
I'm sending this post to The Food Quote Challenge at a new-ish blog called Almond and the Hazelnut .... the idea is to post food writing from a non-food book - Yasmin announced this challenge a couple of days ago, and then this passage from The Rose Grower shouted out at me. The deadline for the food quote challenge is November 25th. And if anyone knows any more about cruchade, I'd love to hear from them.
A date for your diary - My thanks to Rose for notice of an event to be held at Southwark Cathedral on 13th. February: choral evensong to commemorate the marriage of James I of Scotl...
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