As we say good bye to the poppies until next year, let’s reflect on the poppy legend:
Long before the Great War, the red poppy had become a symbol of death, renewal and life. The seeds of the flower can remain dormant in the earth for years, but will blossom spectacularly when the soil is churned. Beginning in late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders became the scene of stupendous disturbances. Red Poppies soon appeared.
In 1915, at a Canadian dressing station north of Ypres on the Essex Farm, an exhausted physician named Lt. Col. John McCrae would take in the view of the poppy strewn Salient and experience a moment of artistic inspiration. The veteran of the South African War was able to distill in a single vision the vitality of the red poppy symbol, his respect for the sacrifice made by his patients and dead comrades, and his intense feeling of obligation to them. McCrae would capture all of this in the most famous single poem of the First World War, In Flanders Fields.
The doctor’s work achieved immediate universal popularity which was subsequently reinforced by his own death in 1918 from pneumonia and meningitis. He was buried in a military cemetery near Calais on the English Channel, thus becoming one with those of whom he wrote in his famous poem. Probably by the time of his internment, John McCrae’s verse had forever bound the image of the Red Poppy to the memory of the Great War. The poppy was eventually adopted by the British and Canadian Legions as the symbol of remembrance of World War One and a means of raising funds for disabled veterans. An American war volunteer, Moina Michael, helped establish the symbol in the US where the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion also embraced the Red Poppy tradition.
In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
This is the time ofthe year in Provence when the gardens come into their own and around every corner is what we call a ‘chocolate box’ scene.
The Bastide’s gardens this year are no different (we’re not biased)…
2,400 people. 8km of walking trails through the Rhone Valley. 27 wines from 16 wineries to taste in 6 hours. A 6-course meal.
That’s Rasteau – the 16th Escapade des Gourmets. Held on 24th May 2015, this year’s event was one of the finest we excursions we have ever experienced in over 50 years of travel.
How does all this work? How do I do it? Simply,
– get very organised and pounce when booking opens each February!
– reserve via www.terres-de-lumiere.com
– arrive early before your pre-appointed departure time (our group of 15 friends was 11h30). There are 30-minute slots from mid-morning until late afternoon. Enjoy the local market in the Rasteau village square and sip a coffee with your fellow walkers/tasters/eaters/participants.
– as you line up to start, you receive a card and a bib into which you slip an empty wine glass (supplied).
– off you stroll through the village and into the vines in search of your first stop – the amuse-bouche (mise en bouche) and a tasting of three white wines.
So it goes on…. you walk, you stop and have the next course, you taste, you enjoy the local musicians at every stop, you move on. All in your own time. Superbly organised with literally hundreds of red-shirted volunteers helping you, serving you, directing you, pandering to your every need. There is ample facilities – portable toilets; bottles and bottles of water; even fruit jiuce for the children and bowls of water for the many dogs that do the walk.
Wind forward the clock 6 hours…..you arrive back in the village of Rasteau. Tired, full, sated and waiting for you is a scrumptious dessert, sweet wines, a Camargue Bull fight band and….ice cold draught beer “to cleanse the palate”.
We’ll be back! One of the Great Events.
Every French village has a boulangerie – some more than one. Little Ménerbes with all of 1,007 residents has two.
Legend has it that after the French Revolution, many bakers who had served the Lords and Ladies of the Court in their own homes were now released on to the public and so raised – and their successors have mantained – an extraordinary high level of baked goods.
Here are some of the great figures in French baking history:
Marie-Antoine Carême (1784 – 1833) was nicknamed “the King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings’ due to his position as the head chef of Talleyrand — the then Minister of Foreign Affairs / Secretary of State of France. One of his main duties was to organize large banquets and show-pieces to impress visiting ambassadors and foreign dignitaries. As a result, his cooking was show-cased again and again to the high society of the whole of Europe. He wrote some of the first authoritative cook-books for professionals and non-professionals.
Auguste Escoffier (1846 – 1935) codified most of the French haute cuisine (as well as co-founding the Ritz hotel empire). Desserts and pastries were part of it.
Gaston Lenôtre (1920 – 2009) revolutionized pastries (and bread-baking and high-end catering) by a) simplifying the classic recipes and making them lighter (the fruit mousses, meringues, etc), and b) setting up semi-industrial processes that could produce a large amounts of high-quality products. His setting-up professional schools also helped disseminate his style.
Pierre Hermé is “the Picasso of Pastry” and single-handedly created the macaron craze that swept over the France and the US at least) since the late-90’s.
Christophe Michalak is the de facto figure-head (if not leader) of the current generation of top pastry chefs. He won the World Cup in 2005, headed the pastry section of a 3 michelin star restaurant in Paris as well as for one super-high-end hotel, plus consulting jobs here and there. His personality works well on TV on top of that.
2015 has been a spectacular year for poppies!
Spring is a time of bright sunshine, a couple of picnics to shake off the winter blues and the ubiquitous cheese cake!
Cheesecake is a beloved dessert around the world. While many assume that it has its origins in New York, it actually dates back much further. Let’s go back over 4,000 years to ancient Greece!
The first “cheese cake” may have been created on the Greek island of Samos. Physical anthropologists excavated cheese moulds there which were dated circa 2,000 B.C. Cheese and cheese products had most likely been around for thousands of years before this, but earlier than this goes into prehistory (that period in human history before the invention of writing) so we will never really know. In Greece, cheesecake was considered to be a good source of energy, and there is evidence that it was served to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. Greek brides and grooms were also known to use cheesecake as a wedding cake. The simple ingredients of flour, wheat, honey and cheese were formed into a cake and baked.
The writer Athenaeus is credited for writing the first Greek cheesecake recipe in 230 A.D. (By this time, the Greeks had been serving cheesecake for over 2,000 years but this is the oldest known surviving Greek recipe) It was also pretty basic – pound the cheese until it is smooth and pasty – mix the pounded cheese in a brass pan with honey and spring wheat flour – heat the cheese cake “in one mass” – allow to cool then serve.
When the Romans conquered Greece, the cheesecake recipe was just one spoil of war. They modified it including crushed cheese and eggs. These ingredients were baked under a hot brick and it was served warm. Occasionally, the Romans would put the cheese filling in a pastry. The Romans called their cheese cake “libuma” and they served it on special occasions. Marcus Cato, a Roman politician in the first century B.C., is credited as recording the oldest known Roman cheesecake recipe.
As the Romans expanded their empire, they brought cheesecake recipes to the Europeans. Great Britain and Eastern Europe began experimenting with ways to put their own unique spin on cheesecake. In each country of Europe, the recipes started taking on different cultural shapes, using ingredients native to each region. In 1545, the first cookbook was printed. It described the cheesecake as a flour-based sweet food. Even Henry VIII’s chef did his part to shape the cheesecake recipe. Apparently, his chef cut up cheese into very small pieces and soaked those pieces in milk for three hours. Then, he strained the mixture and added eggs, butter and sugar.
Well here, spin forward to 2015 and Madame’s recipe is delicious! Maybe she’ll share it with us, one day?