I was going to save this blog post until later in the year, closer to Christmas, with an appropriate title, something like “Chestnuts roasting”. We were walking home along the Canal-du-Midi and noticed all of these nuts on the ground. Gravity had been our friend because the shells had broken open when they hit the sidewalk and spilled their prizes before us: chestnuts. We knew that’s what they were because they had that familiar deep glossy brown shine that we had seen roasting in huge flat pans at food festivals all over Europe in the fall. The French word for brown is marron, which is typically the same word they use for these treats. Eagerly we picked up as many as we could see, dropped them into our ever-present backpacks and took them home for cooking. Bill dutifully scored each nut individually to keep them from exploding when heated, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and placed them in the oven until the smell alone said that they were ready. Then he tasted one….
Berk! is what we hear exclaimed on TV when someone finds a food disgusting and even though our neighbors may have heard “Yuck!” coming from our kitchen, they probably understood what Bill was saying. He didn’t get past one taste of that first roasted “chestnut” which is a good thing since we later learned that in addition to being inedible, they are also poisonous. From what I’ve read since our day of foraging, most toxic foods, like these HORSE chestnuts taste bad and sometimes smell worse. No comments, please, about some delicious cheeses that we consume daily that we must keep sealed in double plastic bags in the fridge to avoid setting off the stink alarm, if we had one.
Although that free lunch from the trees was not available, luckily right there alongside the same canal is a restaurant we enjoy, especially on cool and rainy days: La Grande Bouffe where they specialize in meats. The wood-fired grill at eye level is always hot which makes this place especially welcoming, visually and tactilely, in the winter or even on one of those 65 days a year when it’s not sunny. Once we left there, Bill’s palate was cleansed of a very bitter memory nearby.
For another good experience, we walked over to the main square in town, Place Carnot, to the weekend’s Fête de la Gastronomie, billed as having “numerous possibilities of refreshment and tastings of locally made products.” Chefs from area restaurants, including Le Parc with its 2 Michelin stars, were on hand conducting workshops based on dishes from their own kitchens. We had gone to this festival last year and we were happy to see the return of vendors including the butcher, baker, ice cream maker and a dozen others. Of course there was wine and even local beer. Our shelves are now stocked with potatoes, onions, jams, honey, olive everything, and a bottle (or two!) of wine, all from a stone’s throw from our front door and now we know who produced them and where to get more.