A very close friend of mine lost her father two weeks ago, so suddenly it was like being electrocuted and slammed into a chair. The gentleman was a friend of mine, too, someone warm, stable, funny, sometimes impatient and demanding, learned, cultivated, extraverted, always interesting, and a cook like no one else I know. I’d go to André-Louis for the occasional recipe. If he didn’t have one he’d get online and find one, try it, let me know.
Fiona and I were about to set off on a visit with friends in the south when I got the news. We changed our plans, and drove straight to André-Louis’ home in Beaumont du Périgord. There the family would gather. I offered to take care of the meals.
André-Louis was a hunter, and his freezer was filled with wild boar, his duck and pork pate, his hand-gathered cèpe mushrooms. Shelves in his cellar were stacked with jars of his famed duck and goose rillettes, made from birds he kept on the pond below his house. There were eggs from his chickens, jam from his berry bushes, frozen plums from his tree, and walnuts from his orchard. Eloise’s wish? Use it all for the meals.
Fiona and I set to, with the help of various people. We assembled a pot au feu to cook over the coals; Fiona and Delphine, Andre-Louis’ stepdaughter, rolled out pastry for apple and plum tarts; I whipped up a yogurt cake for the Parisians who were driving down and would arrive late at night. Marie-Jo, André-Louis’ companion, made salad after salad. We had the family to feed, we had the “pot” after the funeral to prepare for André-Louis’ friends and neighbors, and then we had the big, post-funeral family dinner.
Eloise loved the idea that her father would provide the meals. We decided to serve pâté, rillettes, prune cake, and bowls of walnuts for the “pot”, along with the local red from Bergerac. The family dinner would be the wild boar and mushroom pot au feu, salad, and the tarts.
André-Louis was one of five children. They and their families descended en masse and it could have been awkward, since Fiona and I were the only non-family members, and this was our first meeting. But we were enfolded into the family as though it was our own. Michel, Andre-Louis’ only brother, is a stand-up comic, and he kept us laughing out loud. Everyone was helpful, no one cried, we all simply pitched in and sipped tea, or coffee, wine or whiskey as we worked. If André-Louis had been there, I would have said it was one of the finest weekend parties I’d ever been to. Without him, well, each of us dealt with that on our own time, unless we caught someone else with wet eyes. Then, we hugged and continued our affairs.
Throughout all of this, I had my eye on the pot au feu as it simmered over the coals, calling on Bertrand, Eloise’s partner, to make sure they stayed bright.
Fiona and I went to the funeral. While others went to the cemetery, we returned to André-Louis’ home to prepare the “pot”. We expected about thirty, and we raced as we re-arranged the dining room, organized platters and glasses, searched the property for spring flowers, decanted wine into bottles and pitchers. We had just swept the last crumb from the table, wiped down the last kitchen counter when everyone arrived. Each came with a wish, a laugh, a story.
I stirred the now-thawed cèpes into the pot au feu, which was sweetly simmering in the fireplace. When I opened the pot, the aroma caused a momentary silence in the room, it was so rich and aromatic.
By early evening just family remained. The dining room was put back in order, the table set, the wine poured, and we all assembled. André-Louis was with us in the form of a poster-sized photo with its discreet black ribbon. We saluted him, thanking him for the meal that he had provided for us.
We ate, we drank, we laughed, we sang. We were all sad, but we were all happy. André-Louis, a force of nature with huge character, was so close, so present, that he was there being happy along with us all.
I’ve included here a recipe for Pot au Feu, here. It served as the template for the pot au feu au sanglier.
POT AU FEU
A warming winter dish, there are a couple of things to think about before you make this. If you have a meat-loving group coming for supper, you can increase the amount of meat, up to doubling it. You may also add other vegetables to the mix, including Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, parsnips, and rutabaga. If you add turnips and rutabaga, be sure to eat them up the first night, as they don’t keep. The other vegetables, the meat, make excellent leftovers.
2 pounds (1kg) mix of short ribs, boned beef shank, oxtail
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 medium onions
6 large leeks, trimmed and cleaned, white and green portions separated
(If the leeks are small, tie them in one bundle)
6cloves garlic, unpeeled
6 carrots, peeled, washed, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch lozenge shapes
Bouquet garni: 2 bay leaves, sprigs parsley, 6 sprigs thyme, 2 green leek leaves,
tied together with kitchen twine
1 apple, washed, unpeeled
1-1/2 pounds marrow bones, each wrapped in the green portion of a leek
8 pieces toast rubbed with garlic
1. Using kitchen twine, tie the meat into a bundle. Put the meat in a large stockpot, and cover with cold water. Put the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Don’t ever let the water boil or the meat will become tough.
2. After 20 minutes, skim the water of impurities (the foam that rises to the surface), and of fat. Continue cooking for another 20 minutes.
3. Season the liquid lightly with coarse salt (about 1 tablespoon), and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes and skim again. Continue cooking for 50 more minutes, skimming frequently. Careful skimming is a key to this dish.
4. Add the vegetables, using only the white parts of the leeks, and the apple. Cook them until they are tender, which will take about 40 minutes. Skim the broth occasionally.
5. Test the vegetables. If they are tender, remove them to a heat proof dish and moisten them with bouillon. Cover with foil and keep warm.
6. Continue cooking the meat for about 10 minutes, then add the marrow bones and cook for 15 minutes. Taste the broth for seasoning, and adjust.
7. To serve the pot au feu, place 2 slices of garlic-rubbed toast in the bottom of 4 soup bowls. Pour broth over the toast and serve.
8. To serve the second course, remove the twine from the meat and cut it into thick slices. Place the meat on a warmed platter, surrounded by the marrow bones and the vegetables, discarding the bouquet garni and the apple. Serve with the condiments.
Recipe reprinted from French Farmhouse Cookbook. You may reprint it with permission.