Liquor France and desire

Call me old fashioned, call me yesterdays man, tell me I am an ostrich, I am all of that, I am maybe lots more as well. But I think that what went on yesterday and the day before and before that made us and what makes today richer and more real is our history. What makes the future exciting is not to lose what we were, but to add to it, make it better.

I came from an era when, in my memory, life seemed at least a bit more civilised, slower, more graceful, less immediate and much more time. I spent the best part of my life without a mobile phone, no means of instant gratification, (well, some!) no computer and a lot more time to live. Nothing wrong with today, nothing wrong with instant gratification, so long as we never forget how to live. It seems that we are once in a while prone to the push and thrust of todays excess. It could be said we drink far too much wine, without all that much discrimination. We are occasionally tossed here and there as we bow to the pressures of the latest information, butter is good butter is bad, meat is good meat is bad, eat more vegetable and on and on. In the end it may be possible that confusion has arisen and we lose a sense of self.

Dinner parties and life and living when I was in my ‘salad days’ were very different affairs, we enjoyed food, we had the advantage of Julia Child and her Mastering the Art of French Cooking 1 and 2. We definitely got it, we ate well and drank well. My wine education was not gleaned from the ministrations of great wine makers, there were not that many, rather we drank cheap and cheerful (looking back) wines from glass flagons and that was quite OK. More importantly, the wine formed a part of the whole, we also enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail, or two, a fine tummy settling après le diner drink with our coffee. I can honestly say it was a rare thing that we rose from dinner pissed. But once in a while, as of need.

In todays world where those of us who appreciate quality and style, struggle a little to overcome the shortness of good product, minus the invasion of chemicals, must constantly forge forward to ensure that what great products were, are still there, untouched and untrammelled by the rushing crowds. Its this that motivated me to pursue making liquor the old way, lots of time, no chemical and allowed to grow and develop the rich depths of flavour that I so admire.

It is amazing to note that in the world of Vodka, Vanilla in particular, only one company apart from us, uses real vanilla, the rest use flavours. Good flavours made by old companies, but in todays world, not made as they were by long distillation. I’ve tried some of the flavonoids, they are good, just not the same.

I love a great Cream de Cassis, so delicious and so good in the kitchen, so many things you can do with it. What I hated was the slightly artificial, down market taste that had evolved with it. Cassis is a noble thing, born from the first frosts of the end of summer as the black currants matured on the vines, lovingly caressed by the ‘water of life’ as they gave up their richness, colour and verve. Kir Royale is a kingly drink, Kir is something that we commoners can enjoy at any time. What makes it so special is the divinely inspired Cream de Cassis. So we made some!

I made Gin, I have always loved a fine refreshing G and T, even miles in the sky, a Gin and Tonic can do wonders, settle the nerves, refresh the soul. I made it the old way, long long soaking of Juniper berries and other spices, even some orange rind and then distillation. I liked it, it had depth and a lot of oomph. It had something old fashioned about it, a mystery. It was a bit like the Dutch gins. But I got gazumped, I realised I had created a bit of a monster and that people (the gin drinking public) did not want intense rich flavours, but the more American style and London style that were lighter and less pronounced in botanicals. I of course had also created a Gin that was never going to be cheap. That’s put on the back burner awaiting a further look.

Alcohol is a fascinating thing, it is, for good or bad an entrenched part of life and living, it is not about to go away. What is sad is that it is frequently abused, cheapened and diminished. Take a look at the whole Australian experience with Sherry and Port, it is, not to put to finer point on it, diabolical. The Sherry is unspeakably bad, cheap and drunk by whole brigades of wino’s. When you place it up against the refined elegance of the Sherries of Portugal and Spain, you soon see the difference. The Port produced in Australia, with some very few exceptions (Galway Pipe is not totally shabby) is horrid. It is expensive to consume great Port and so its hard to blame the public, but it is time that the local producers were given a vicious slap on the wrist for the sins they have perpetrated. I note that one of the larger manufacturers of ‘fortified’ wines has gone from business.

Having a son who has embraced the world of making wine, I am delighted that he approaches his task using sustainable and organic and is restrained in the use of chemical. I am told that it is almost impossible not to use a little. As for me I will continue to fight the good fight in food and wine, doing what I can to be sure that the standards we have are not diminished, but continue to grow and become better and better.

I made a Béarnaise Sauce. Its not hard or complicated. It requires little or no great knowledge and fear need not come into it. It started, as things often do by greedy desire. I watched a show on the style of the French. And let there be no doubt, they do have style. The every day dressing, the living and the eating, amazing. Its all about personal style and the ease with which they do it. Food is simply expected to be the best, butter, meat, fresh organic vegetables, great cheese and a good glass of wine.

Not to be eaten to excess, but most certainly to be enjoyed. It was fascinating to see one of the French commentators saying as she was tucking into a large piece of steak and some pomme frits with a good red wine and followed by some very handsome cheese (with bread, NEVER with those vile biscuits), that she would need to compensate by cutting down on eating for the rest of the week. There was no suggestion she would not enjoy the things she loved, butter. cheese, wine, cakes and great bread. just less of it.

France has adopted into its own cuisine, foods from the countries it has conquered or occupied, North African food is common in France as is Vietnamese and also food from around the Mediterranean from regions with shared boarders. France’s influence on food is amazing and important as the styles, methods and ingredients permeate the world of eating. Frequently one must say, with horrible results as techniques are shortened and not properly used. Buy yourself a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes 1 and 2.

In the world of day to day France, it is expected you will buy and eat fresh bread a couple of times a day, that when you pick up your bread, you may also pick up a delicious (as opposed to the bloody rubbish we are offered in bread shops) cake to be enjoyed. You will call by your cheese seller on the way home to collect a piece or two of the some hundreds of great cheeses. You will not arrive home in a state of agitation, or if you do, you will calm down with a small aperitif. You will enjoy the experience of cooking food and relax as you eat and drink. One glass of wine, a piece of cheese to finish. Simple, delicious and done with style. Its also the fact that French tend to like regulated eating hours and seldom vary from them, they enjoy dinner at 6 pm with most kitchens closed by 7.

The overwhelming sense is that it is both expected and done with ease, is not forced, it flows. We seem to have lost that, we live very stressful lives filled with anxiety, rushing headlong into a life not filled with much grace. A life that sees us under a great deal of pressure, never enjoying the good things of life. That’s just sad.

The confusion can come from a multitude of issues, way too much advertising bombarding us constantly until we no longer have enough confidence in our own abilities, but need to be lead along by lifestyle specialists, television cooks and a great deal of no knowledge. It is interesting that most people I know in the food business have little time for celebrity chefs, food shows and lifestyle food programs. In the opinion of most, the public are not benefiting from this vicarious experience, learning little and rarely ever translating into action. (Having said that I have just had a conversation with an ex Deli for 20 years owner who is now working in a foodie outlet in Coburg… she says that among the staff where she works, the cooking shows are well watched and frequently followed. She also says that she sees people in markets with lists of ingredient) I could be wrong… the jury is out.

When you have conversations with people who care about food and actually enjoy food in all aspects, they have well established basis on which to ground their eating habits. It may come from their home kitchen, it may come from a cuisine style (like French). What seems to be the case is that most are not deeply swayed by fads and food fashions, obviously they will try them, they will seldom allow the advertising and celebrity cooks influence over the day to day eating of food. This seems to be the way of the older European countries where the food of the country is deeply entrenched.

The French and indeed the Europeans do not have the same issues with meat that we are experiencing, it is consumed by most Europeans every day, perhaps not in the same quantity that we do, also it seems that discrimination of meat is not a dead art, but one that demands the best you can afford. This is an area that we have grown away from, we are not as discrimatory as we once were, we are driven by the dollar and what it can buy, it could also be said that we consume too much meat. On the other hand, the way shopping has evolved, its hard to blame anyone choosing a $14.00 whole chook over a $35.00 whole chook bred by the daughter of a food queen in Adelaide.

~ by peterwatson on June 7, 2018.

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