Chapter 2, Part 1
Alcohol - Home-Grown Hooch
Fortunately the day dawned brightly as we loaded our three barrels of putrefying plums and a quantity of logs into the car. We had an appointment to keep... in a lay-by!
This all began three months before when our elderly friend, Maurice, who sold us our house here in France many years ago, suggested that we make eau-de-vie. It seemed a good idea at the time.
We would gather his plums, preferably the ones which were beginning to rot on the ground, put them in containers, and store them in our barn until they fermented and turned into a potent-smelling concoction. Then he would take us along to the contraption which would turn them into eau-de-vie.
In those days, the license which allowed you to do this was handed down from father to son and it wasn’t illegal to make home-grown hooch.
Eau-de-vie is the name given to all brandies made with fruit. The fruit is usually pressed to extract its juice, fermented, either by commercially-produced or naturally-occurring yeast, to create an alcoholic liquid which is then distilled.
Maurice was ill on the designated day, but he had appointed us as his representatives, so in all innocence we ventured where angels would fear to tread.
From what I recall, it was a very interesting experience. We found the lay‐by and there was the still, a machine that Heath Robinson would have been proud to put his name to.
We weren’t on our own. A couple of very friendly French men were there before us and their brew was already on the boil. They had definitely started testing samples before we arrived and were having a great time. We felt very flattered to be invited to join them, which we did... in retrospect a mistake!
We were plied with red, pink and white wine, then a rather potent brew, which was their finished product. That packed a powerful punch.
Cake with a crown was next. It was quite close to Christmas and the galettes des rois were on sale. If you eat a piece with a fève inside you get to wear the crown. It must have been stage managed as we won both and were bedecked with our winnings.
Our 100% eau-de-vie
The next treat was an innocent-looking drink, clear, and looking for all the world like pure water, which was the last drink I remember having as it was our 100% eau-de-vie.
We did manage to eventually arrive home with a couple of gallons of this interesting liquid. We still have some left, and I must admit to having been tempted to clean silver with it or strip paint. It has, however, matured into something quite palatable over the years and when mixed with fruit juice is very acceptable.
Eau-de-Vie does have it’s culinary uses and Trou Limousin, my alternative to Trou Normand, makes a smart intermezzo course after the starter to cleanse the palate, or a very simple dashing dessert.
The galettes des rois are also great fun to make. In France, the tradition of serving this puff pastry tart can be traced back to the 14th century. A small porcelain figurine, a fève, is baked inside the cake and whoever receives this little favour is then crowned king or queen for the day. So if not pre-warned, you could damage a tooth.
This cake is traditionally served on 6th January, a Christian holy day called Epiphany, and mostly known as the time of the visit of the three wise men to see the Baby Jesus. In France during January you will see windows of cake shops displaying many fèves, small porcelain figures, as well as many different sorts of galettes for sale. However, although the holy day is on the 6th, the galettes des rois are sold pretty much during the whole month of January. You can even find some in supermarkets in December.
© 2017 Sylvia Teale