Recipes from the Cevennes
I have always enjoyed reading, in the pages of fiction, about the food prepared and eaten by the characters. In my own books, the cooking and sharing of meals has frequently played a part – not least, perhaps, because many of my central characters are mothers, and cooking for a family is so central to the nurturing rôle. There is also an obvious affinity between the sensual pleasures of food and of romance!
When I decided to set a novel in rural France, and to write about a woman, in Catherine Parkstone, who is close to the landscape, who gardens, and who enjoys working with her hands, it was perhaps inevitable that food and cooking should be a larger element in this book than in any of the others. The meals prepared for Catherine by her neighbour Patrick Castagnol, and which she in turn prepares for him, provide the backdrop to some of the key moments of the story. The cuisine of the Cévennes, as well as its landscape, is integral to the atmosphere of the book: from chestnuts and forest raspberries to wild mushrooms and wild boar
Once the book was finished, I decided to produce a recipe booklet, to turn food from the pages of fiction into reality. I am sharing one of the recipes with you here, but if you would like to download the full leaflet, just click here.
Tourte Cévenole (Cévenol Picnic Pie)
The tourte cévenole is designed to be carried out into the fields by herdsmen and farmers; it is solid, peasant fare, intended to stand by you through a day’s work out of doors. In my novel, Madame Mériel brings a tourte to share on the spring transhumance, and she and Catherine and Madame Vaillant eat it, picnic-style, on the mountainside.
The pastry for the pie should really be a homemade flaky or ‘rough puff’ pastry. However, here I suggest cheating and using a packet of bought puff pastry. Finely chopped leeks may also be used, if you wish, in place of the onions.
- 1 packet puff pastry
- 1½ lbs potatoes
- 2 large onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 12 oz fromage frais
- ½ pint full fat milk
- a good handful of fresh thyme
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Line a deep pie dish (at least 2½ inches deep) with half of the puff pastry. Peel and slice very finely the potatoes and onions. Peel and crush the garlic. Rinse the thyme and strip the leaves from the stems. Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the pastry case, and season with salt and pepper. Add a fine layer of onion slices. Then dot the surface generously with knobs of the fromage frais; you may wish to spread it around a little with a knife. Add a little of the garlic and sprinkle over some thyme leaves. Then repeat the process, starting with another layer of potatoes, and layer the filling up until the pastry case is full, ending with a layer of potatoes. Pour over the milk.
Roll out the other half of the puff pastry to make a lid, sealing it down carefully at the edges with a little brushed milk. Lightly brush the top of the pie with some more milk, and cut a small hole in the pastry lid to allow steam to escape. Bake at 180°C for 1-1½ hours, until the potatoes feel soft through when pierced with a knife.
Serve cold. The pie is also rather better for being kept a day or so before eating.
I am very grateful to Becky from Girl Interrupted Eating for the recipe photographs.