It was still unusually warm out, but somehow September was now a thing of the past, October was here, and she was beckoning us to embrace the fall in spite of all the ominous signs that the summer of 2007 might actually prove to be endless (yellowjackets, terraces continuing to do booming business, people parading around in various states of undress, etc.). So Michelle put away her beach towel and her flip-flops, dusted off her fall attire, and got down to business, organizing a crack team of seasoned apple pickers to head down to Covey Hill and do some serious apple picking.*
"Covey Hill again?" Yes, Covey Hill again**. Go ahead and write us off as a bunch of tired, old cultural conservatives if you must (a veritable Covey Hill Preservation Society), but we here at "...an endless banquet" know a good thing when we see one.
fig. a: S. presents one of Mr. Safian's finest
We also know a prince when we see one. And, sure enough, as he does every year, Mr. Safian turned up not on a white steed, not on a unicorn, but on his trusty, rusty Harvester International.
fig. b: Mr. Safian
Michelle was thrilled to get a chance to introduce Mr. Safian to the apple picking team, and everyone was already pretty good and fired up about fanning out into the orchard to carry out the task at hand, when, suddenly, Susie appeared out of the blue like a little angel and gave the team her blessing.
fig. c: "That's a good girl!"
Mr. Safian's hard work and Susie's blessing paid off: the trees were healthy and heavy with fruit and the apple picking team cleaned up--literally--amassing bushels and bushels of cortlands, empires, and russets, and a bushel of Flemish beauty pears to boot.
fig. d: the haul
When you get back home from such an outing, the "problem" is always along these lines: how do you get through four bushels of apples when you're a two-person, two-cat household (especially when you're planning on going back and picking up at least another 3-4 bushels)? Well, developing an 8-apple-a-day per person apple-eating habit certainly helps, but without a proper cellar of any kind, even that kind of pace wasn't going to eliminate our stockpile. Good thing Michelle has plenty of professional expertise in how to work through bushels upon bushels of apples. Plus, she'd taken the time to hone her skills again right prior to leading the apple-picking expedition on things like apple-caramel preserve, so it's safe to say she was up to the challenge.
fig. e: apple-caramel preserve
So this is what you do: you make lots of preserves (butters, jellies, chutneys, etc.), you make lots of pies and tarts (double-crust pies, open-faced galettes, Huguenot tortes, tartes tatins, etc.),
fig. f: tarte tatin
and when you've made as many preserves and pies as you, your family, and your friends can handle, and you can't possibly handle any more sweets, you turn to Alice Waters & co. and you make the following:
Poulet à la Normande
3 1/2 lbs chicken pieces, especially thighs and drumsticks
salt and pepper
2 onions, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp pure olive oil
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup Calvados
1 cup hard dry cider
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup crème fraîche
30 pearl onions
4 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper
2 or 3 medium apples, peeled and cored and sliced into 8 wedges
In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and brown well on all sides. Do this in batches, if necessary. When all the chicken pieces are golden brown, remove from the pan and set aside.
Pour off most of the fat left in the pan, add the diced carrots and onions and the thyme sprig and bay leaf, and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in the Calvados and warm before igniting carefully--it will flame up [no joke!], so stand back while doing this. When the Calvados has finished burning, add the cider, stirring and scraping up any brown bits still sticking to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Pour in the chicken stock, return the chicken pieces to the pan, and turn down the heat. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. When the chicken pieces are done, remove them to a dish and keep covered in a warm place while you finish the sauce.
While the chicken is cooking, start to prepare the garnish. Soak the pearl onions in warm water for a few minutes before peeling them--this makes their skins easier to remove.
Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the peeled onions with a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, tightly covered, until tender and translucent, about 20 minutes. Shake or stir them now and then and add a touch of water if they are threatening to burn.
Melt the rest of the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the apples, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 10 minutes, tossing them now and then, until they are golden and tender.
Strain the Calvados sauce, pressing on the vegetables to extract all the liquid, and pour it back in the pan. Skim well and bring to a boil. Pour in the juices that have collected in the dish holding the chicken pieces; stir in the crème fraîche. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced by a third or until it coats the spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Return the chicken to the sauce to warm through.
Serve the chicken in its sauce, garnished with the apples and onions--reheated, if necessary, either together or separately.
[adapted slightly from Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters]
We'd been wanting to make this for some time now, but we decided to save it for apple season. With locally raised organic chicken, farm-fresh vegetables and herbs from the market, Michel Jodoin's brandy de pommes from Rougemont, and Mr. Safian's ultra-crisp apples, not only was this a particularly seasonal affair, it was an all-Quebec one too, and a delicious one at that.
For directions to Mr. Safian's stand in Covey Hill please look here and here.
* I'm sorry to say I was AWOL for this expedition. However, I was with the crack team of apple pickers in spirit, as they say, which explains the startling verisimilitude of what, in truth, is nothing more than a second-hand account.
** Please note: there are not one, not two, but three hypertext links here!
Thanks to T., J., and S. for making the trip a hit and for all the great photos.