The age-old Geneva and Savoyard specialty called rzulé in the local dialect, better known today as rissole aux poires, was nearly extinct not so very long ago. The dish consists basically of pears braised until they caramelize, which are then used to fill a pastry. The result resembles a fried apple turnover or chausson, even though it is baked.
The nearly extinct Marlioz pear saved by Geneva woman
You don’t just use any old pear to make rissoles. You use a variety specific to the region: the Marlioz pear, which was saved by none other than Eliane Pottu, says La Tribune de Genéve. Jérôme Estèbe wrote a delightful feature, in French, on the fortunate revival of this dish. Traditionally, every family in canton Geneva and the Savoy had a couple of Marlioz pear trees in the garden, but this tradition has slowly dwindled away.
Even though stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes are pretty standard fare, most families have their own version of the feast, including grandma’s recipes as well as traditional ones.
I’ve gathered some ideas that allow you to plan your own personalized Thanksgiving, right here in the Lake Geneva region, without having to have someone send you the ingredients from back home.
Epicurious has devised quite a clever Thanksgiving menu planner that should help everyone have a successful, stress-free Thanksgiving. You fill in a form, answering questions about what why type of dinner you want, and they propose a customized menu.
A gourmet Thanksgiving
I filled it in, with no holes barred, and this was what they suggested:
When it comes to traditional American recipes, Fanny Farmer is still about as reliable a source as you can find.
Since corn was the main grain in North America before the Europeans arrived, I think every Thanksgiving meal should include some kind of corn dish, just for symbolic purposes. We can be almost certain that the Pilgrims ate some version of this dish at their feast with the Indians.
The American Market in Geneva and Nyon sells Quaker Yellow Corn Meal. Otherwise, a coarse, but precooked, yellow polenta can do the trick. Like pumpkin pie, it can be a bit tricky, depending on the altitude and the ingredients, and especially when you use polenta, so you might want to do a trial run before the big day.
If you can’t find black molasses (in Europe, what they call mélasse is often a mixture of molasses and other kinds of syrups), the American Market also sells Grandma’s pure black molasses.
Fanny Farmer’s Indian pudding recipe
1/4 cup coarse-grain yellow corn meal
1 cup cold milk
3 cups scalded milk
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon or 1 tsp ginger (whichever you prefer)
4 T butter
Mix corn meal with 1/4 cup cold milk until smooth. Add slowly to scalded milk and cook in double boiler for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
Stir in molasses, salt, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and butter. Pour into buttered 9-inch/23 cm baking dish. Pour remaining cold milk over the top. Bake 3 hours at 300° F/150° C. Serves 4 to 6.
Tom and Maggie’s sweet potato pie in lieu of pumpkin
We’ve been making Thanksgiving dinner together for oh so many years — ever since we were in college in Paris. Since the pumpkin in France was always too watery, no matter what method of cooking we used and what type of pumpkin, we decided to use sweet potatoes, which give a much more predictable and reliable result, which is absolutely necessary when preparing a Thanksgiving feast for a crowd of 20 or 30 convives. In addition, we’ve grown to like it better (perhaps because we know it will always set, unlike pumpkin?).
Maggie’s sure-fire short or flaky pie crust
250 g flour (farine patissière)
125 g butter (room temperature)
Pinch of salt
Place flour and salt in mixing bowl. Mix well. Chop butter into large lumps and add to flour.
Invention through sloth: a recipe for lazy people who really would like to eat a healthy breakfast but can’t manage it
We don’t stop hearing about oats — they’re full of fiber so they’re good for your digestion and your bowels, they contain beta-glucans that help cut cholesterol and spread the rise in blood sugar over a long period of time, they make you feel full for longer so they encourage weight loss, they are anticarcinogenic thanks to their phytochemicals — and the list goes on.
Confession to my mother and request for forgiveness
I try and eat my oats every day, really I do. It has always been one of my mother’s Golden Rules of Healthy Eating. But Mom, I have to tell you: sometimes I just don’t, because I’m absolutely, unequivocally not a morning person and I just can’t get it together to cook the oats the good old-fashioned Scottish way we might all prefer.
So Mom, to relieve this deep guilt I have lived with my entire adult life, I found the solution, though I admit more by sloth than by wit. It was one of those days when no one was to speak to me before noon. I decided to pour some dry steel-cut oats into a bowl and eat them dry, in order to avoid the risk of pouring milk all over the stovetop instead of into the pan it was meant for, and then adding oats and other necessary ingredients into the milk that was already running down the front of the kitchen cabinets (I have already experienced this and it is not a good way to start the day). I was absolutely incapable of giving them the loving care they so deserve.
Swiss recipes: FXcuisine
With a background in international finance and law, François Xavier, who is Swiss, publishes two recipes a week.
His Swiss apple roesti is an amazingly simple, but tasty recipe, which he demonstrates in a witty video.
His recipe for Swiss apple pasta (see photo at left) is an interesting twist on a traditional Swiss dish, spätzle. Both are seasonal, because it is certainly Apple Time.
Kids in the kitchen: Oui, Chef
A former banker, Steve Dunn is based in Paris. He has five children, and for the last two years has devoted himself to teaching them how to cook and eat right, with recipes such as his bran muffins even your kids will like recipe.
For scrumptious takes on traditional British desserts: Woody the Foodie
Woody gathers recipes from chefs he admires. His sticky chocolate and toffee pudding recipe, inspired from Gordon Ramsay, is a masterpiece of a recipe, as is his chocolate bread and butter pudding, based on a James Martin recipe from the BBC food site.
Height of season for Valais apricots, considered best in Switzerland
With last weekend being the height of the Valais apricot season, I thought it timely to offer you a few ideas for using them while they’re ripe and ready.
Choosing your apricots
The first and most important thing is to buy tree-ripened apricots. By definition, this means local ones, since ripe apricots are soft to the touch and do not travel well.
If you plan to eat them fresh, they should be soft, but not blemished or bruised. The riper they are, the more flavorful they are.
If you are using them for cooking, the riper the better, and you can even get by with blemishes as long as they are not rotten-looking. As a general rule, the softer the sweeter.
You will often see crates of extra-ripe apricots discounted in farmers markets. Look them over, and if there are not too many black or rotting ones, they are actually the best for cooking purposes, especially for jams, cakes and sauces.
Recipe ideas for apricots
Note: With all apricot recipes, the amount of sugar used depends on the acidity of the apricots. The acidity depends on the ripeness, origin and variety. With so many factors coming into play, taste tests are indispensable and the quantity of sugar should be determined by taste, using the quantities given here as a guideline.
The basic formula is 900 grams/2 lbs of sugar for every 2 kilograms/4 1/2 lbs of fruit used. This holds true for apricots, apples, cherries, nectarines and plums. If you like your jam really sweet, you can put equal weights of fruit and sugar.
Use cane sugar for more taste. I often halve the quantity of sugar in dessert recipes, but with jams this can be tricky, since sugar is what makes the jam set. It also serves as a preservative. If your fruit is extra-sweet, you might try cutting the quantity of sugar a tad.
Wash and rub apricots until perfectly clean. Remove any rotten spots with a paring knife. Dry well. Cut in half and remove stones. Save about half of the stones for later use.
Place apricots in a copper confiturier or a large stock pot. Add sugar. Let it sit overnight.
If the apricots are not ripe enough, they will not render any natural juices. If there are no juices, add 500 ml/1 pint of water to the pan.
Slowly bring to a boil on low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. This can take anywhere from 1 hour to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the water content of the apricots and the type of pan and stove or cooker you are using. Scrape the sides of the pan from time to time so that the mixture doesn’t crystallize.
The jam is set when you can dip a wooden spoon in it and it completely coats the spoon. Let jam settle for about 15 minutes before putting it into jars.
Pour jam into sterilized glass jars. Leave to cool. If you see the jam hasn’t set properly, you can put it back into the pan and boil it again, adding a little lemon juice.
Add two stones to each jar. Cool. Seal jars.
Apricot purée or coulis
Once again, the amount of sugar you use depends on whether you want it to have a tart flavor or a sweet flavor. If you’re going to pour it onto a very sweet cake or pie, opt for a more acidic taste. If you’re eating with something that is itself a little acidic, you might want to make your sauce sweeter. And once again, the sweetness will always depend on the ripeness of your apricots, so you’ll have to do a taste test in any case.
Wash apricots. Remove stones.
Put 300 grams/10 ounces of cane sugar (labeled sucre de canne roux or cassonade in Swiss and French supermarkets) and a vanilla bean (cut open in the lengthwise direction) into a saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat until it begins to thicken and sugar has completely dissolved, i.e. until it forms a syrup.
Put 500 grams/18 ounces of apricots into a food processor, or run them through a food mill or chinois. Add apricots to the liquid sugar mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Heat mixture until it is thick enough to completely coat a wooden spoon.
This apricot sauce can be eaten warm or cold, depending on what you are using it with. It keeps for several days in the refrigerator.
Apricot coulis is a perfect accompaniment to a dark chocolate cake, but can be used to make ice cream sundaes or parfaits just as easily.
It can also be used in savory dishes, for example with cold chicken breasts or cold pork roast. In this case, you would of course considerably reduce the amount of sugar.
Preheat oven to 250° C or French mark 8. Wash apricots. Cut in half. Remove stone.
Lay apricot halves out on a roasting tin or broiler pan, or in a large casserole dish. Sprinkle lightly with brown cane sugar and just a tad of butter, distributed evenly in small bits, so that it will form a natural sauce. (This can also be done on a barbecue grill, but you’d lose the juices.) Put in oven, and immediately turn temperature down to 220° C or French mark 7. Turn when top side is browned. If butter starts to burn, add a few drops of water.
When soft and slightly browned and caramelized, remove from oven or grill.
Distribute on individual plates. Serve with a scoop of salt caramel, coffee or walnut ice cream. Lightly sprinkle with vanilla powder (labeled poudre vanille or vanille en poudre in supermarket; easy to find in France, but difficult to find in Switzerland), cinnamon and a high-quality chocolate or cocoa powder. Drizzle a little maple syrup over it. It is now ready to serve.
Sugar-free apricot purée or coulis
The great French chef Michel Guérard, who started the Cuisine Minceur movement in 1974, has a recipe for a sugar-free version of a coulis. This is adapted from the 1976 edition of Michel Guérard’s Cuisine Minceur, now out of print:
Wash, halve and pit 12 ripe fresh apricots. In a saucepan, add apricots, 1/2 cup of water, 1 vanilla bean (cut open in the lengthwise direction, down the middle) and artificial sweetener to taste, the equivalent of about 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Simmer for 10 or 15 minutes, until mixture is reduced by about one third.
Remove vanilla bean. Put mixture in a food processor to make a purée.
This sugar-free sauce can be served in the same manner as the traditional apricot purée or coulis recipe above.
Stephanie Jaworski’s methods for making fruit tarts are perfect for the fruits that are now in season in the Lake Geneva region. What’s interesting is that she presents a method that is versatile and can be applied to various fruits. It is a sort of mix and match approach, which leaves you room for creativity.
In addition, the seasonal fruits she uses often coincide with those of the Lake Geneva region, for example the berries in the Geneva region and the apricots from hotter regions such as the Valais. Stephanie’s recipes are a mix of British, Canadian and American influences, which also makes them interesting.
I am not a lover of sweets, in fact most of the time I dislike them, which is quite a handy thing for my figure.
Still, sometimes, nostalgia takes over. I remember my great aunt’s fresh coconut layer cake, with the layers stacked high like a cathedral, and how the white coconut reminded me of angel’s wings. I remember moist chocolate layer cakes from childhood birthday parties. Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, popular when I was in college. As a little girl, how pretty the name “red velvet cake” sounded. Gingerbread with hot butterscotch sauce on a cold winter’s day, made by my best friend’s mother on Saturday afternoons.
And no matter how good French pastries are, sometimes I just want an old-fashioned, American-style cake.
epicurious.com has just come out with a list of their 30 favorite cake recipes, and many of them are revised versions of old-fashioned recipes. More fresh fruit, less butter and sugar, which give the recipes a welcome modern edge.
If you’re really feeling nostalgic and want to forget about your cholesterol and waistline for just a day or two, oldfashionedliving.com gives a number of Grandma-style recipes, as does old-fashioned-recipes.com.
Most all of the ingredients are available here. If you can’t find them locally, please feel free to contact us and we’ll tell you where to buy them or what you can use as substitute.