Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

raspberries, gooseberries fig. a: raspberries, gooseberries

First off, for anyone who's been wondering why Michelle has been so quiet of late, one word will suffice to explain her relative absence: berries. Yes, Michelle has been thick in the middle of berry season, burying (no pun intended) herself in the task of preparing and preserving strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, and virtually any other berry that might cross her path. While the season started off a little slow--too many torrential downpours just as the strawberries were beginning to ripen--things seem to have settled down, and it's already been a much better year for raspberries than I can recall. In fact, the raspberries have been getting better and better over the last week or so, and their market price has been dropping like a stone--on Monday Michelle bought herself two flats for a mere $16.00, a whole $2.00 under the best price from last year. Just when she thought things couldn't get any better she got a phone call last night from Steph. Steph had been out raspberry picking earlier that day, and the raspberry farm she'd hit was quite literally bursting at seams. The raspberries were plump, they were juicy, and the poor bushes that had brought them into this world were straining under their weight. Steph had picked as many as she could, but bushels remained, and she was so excited about her find that she wondered if Michelle might be interested in a little raspberry-picking excursion.

So this morning, bright and early, the two of them set off to do a little field work. When Michelle returned a few hours later she was fully loaded down, but the buckets of berries weren't nearly bulky enough to keep her from bouncing off the walls with excitement. They'd seen, they'd picked, they'd conquered, and Michelle came back with three healthy buckets of raspberries that were the best we'd seen yet, at a fraction of the price she'd paid at Jean-Talon Market (!). Needless to say, she was very happy about the raspberry situation. But what had her totally ecstatic was that on their way back from the raspberry farm she'd managed to pick out a tiny sign at 100 km/h and at a distance of nearly 500 paces with her legendary eagle eyes [Okay, maybe the car wasn't going 100 km/h, and maybe the distance wasn't quite 500 paces, but it sure makes for a better story that way.]. The sign read, "cassis." She could barely believe her eyes. Michelle blurted out, "C-c-c-c-cassis. Cassis. Cassis!" and Steph wrenched the car over to the side of the road to take a closer look. The sign stood outside of Le Pavillon de la Pomme in Mont-Saint-Hilaire, and although from outward appearances it looked as though they were solely an apple orchard (true to their name), it turned out they also had a U-Pick farm on premises with all kinds of vegetables and a selection of berries, including raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and, yes, cassis (a.k.a. blackcurrants).

blackcurrants fig. b: fresh blackcurrants

The woman they spoke to at Le Pavillon de la Pomme was thrilled to see some interest in their blackcurrants. Although enormously popular across a large swath of Europe, blackcurrants had never really taken hold in Quebec, and Le Pavillon was having a hard time drumming up interest among their clientele. Nevertheless, the woman advised Michelle and Steph to act fast on the cassis. As with all berries, the season was rather short, but the problem of availability in this case was of a different nature. Although most saw little value in Le Pavillon's cassis, there was one group in particular that understood, and that descended on the farm to buy them out each and every year: "The Russians." She wasn't sure when, but she was sure they were coming, and when they did every cassis bush would be picked clean, that she could guarantee.

For her part, Michelle wasn't sure why "the Russians" had such a ravenous appetite for cassis, but she sure didn't blame them. She knew all too well how rare blackcurrants are in this part of the world. She, too, knew a good thing when she saw one. So she bought herself a small bucket, came home, and promptly set to work making a batch of liqueur de cassis.

blackcurrants and vodka fig. c: freshly rinsed blackcurrants, Moskovskaya vodka

Liqueur de Cassis

1 kilo cassis, stemmed and washed
1 kilo vodka
1 kilo powdered sugar
500 g water
1 g ground cinnamon
1 g ground clove
1 g ground coriander

Mash the cassis gently, mix together with vodka and spices, and allow to macerate for 10 days in a cool, dark place.

At the end of 10 days, add the water and the sugar to the mixture. Allow to macerate another 10 days in a cool, dark place.

Strain and bottle.

Just think: Twenty Days to a Homemade Kir!

Feel free to adjust accordingly. We did. Michelle cut the recipe in half.

[Recipe courtesy of M. Ferreyrol's Manuel Pratique Pour la Fabrication Rapide et Économique des Liqueurs et des Spirtueux Sans Distillation.]

But Michelle also vowed to return to Le Pavillon de la Pomme just as soon as she could.

In fact, she's already set herself up with another ride. She's going again tomorrow. Before the Red Tide.

Le Pavillon de la Pomme, 1130 Boul. Laurier (rt. 116), Mont-Saint-Hilaire, QC, J3G 4S6, (450) 464-2654



Amy said...

Oooh! Beauty! Where was this raspberry farm? And have you had the Abitibi blueberries yet? Heaven!
When I was in Germany (again with my German/currant obsession), I also quite enjoyed a nice black currant syrup soda.

aj kinik said...

Hi Amy,
Thought you might like those blackcurrants. The raspberries were also in Mont-Saint-Hilaire, not even 30 miles outside of town. Apparently you can see them from the road.

Haven't had any Abitibi blueberries yet. The blueberries are just starting to trickle in.

More blackcurrant lore: when I lived in England some pubs served a drink called a Snakebite that consisted of lager, cider, and blackcurrant syrup. Many pubs didn't though, because the drink was rumored to provoke/instigate/fuel violent behavior (above and beyond all the other things pubs serve, I guess). I got quite fond of them for a spell, and they never caused me to get violent. I did get asked to leave one establishment when I requested one once--not because I was drunk or unruly or anything, just because I dared ask for the devil's brew.

aj kinik said...

Correction: Michelle tells me that the raspberries were not in Mont-Saint-Hilaire but in Ste Madeleine, although both towns are to be found on the 116 not far from the Richelieu.