Making Pastry with Marina

22 Jun

It is a Friday evening here at Les Battees.  The slow pace of the week is giving way to more activity here on the weekend.  The four bedroom Bed and Breakfast style accommodation is booked full with guests attending a nearby wedding.  Roy, my host here at Les Battees, has begun cooking the evening vegetarian meal for the guests.

Roy’s mum, Marina, is preparing herself this weekend for her return to England.  Roy’s girlfriend, a French woman surrounded by a bunch of English speakers here at Les Battees,  is also visiting this weekend.  There is a fair amount of activity about.  A little bustling in the garden.   A little cooking in the kitchen.  But it is still the general laid back tone of Les Battees.

Earlier this week I spent a little time with Roy’s mum, Marina, in the kitchen.  She is a busy woman and easily leaves me in her dust.  She has been baking up a storm these past few days preparing to leave plenty of baked goods in her wake.  She was gracious enough to include an apple pie cooked with honey, not refined sugar, as part of her repertoire as I am sensitive to and cannot eat refined sugar.

I had asked her casually a few weeks ago if she would show me how to make pastry.  I was impressed with it because both she and her son Roy can make pastry like they are tying their shoes.  It seems to be just part of their kitchen language expressed easily and… around here… frequently.  Dessert is a house word at Les Battees and I have eaten my share since arriving a month ago.  From Marina’s apple pies to Roy’s homegrown rhubarb roasted with honey in the oven, my dessert palette has been well-tended to.

When Marina told me she was going to make her crust for the apple pie and asked if I wanted to watch… I didn’t pass up the opportunity.  I can’t say that I could repeat it, or do it on my own.  But here is what I learned.  Marina’s crust is made very simply… with self rising flour (or flour with baking powder added) and butter (Marina uses a combination of margarine and lard when making at home… but at Les Battees it is butter only!).  She told me she thinks it is better if you mix it by hand, but these days she uses a food processor.  So there she went, adding the flour and butter then lightly adding some water until the dough started to form and clump.

As she was cooking… here are the few things I noticed.  Her dough and recipe are quite simple!  She said some people add eggs, but she thinks no eggs makes a better pastry.  Additionally, when preparing her ingredients… how much flour, how much butter… she weighed everything.  That is one of my big cooking/baking revelations here in France (and I think all of Europe… for sure England).  They measure the quantities for their ingredients by weighing them rather than the standard cups and teaspoons used in American cooking.  A standard tool in their kitchen is the scale to weigh out how much flour or whatever ingredients to use.  I am told in England they also have the measurement of a cup, but it is not the same size as our American 8 fluid ounces cup.  My host Roy has a theory about all this.  He begins that Americans in their history were pioneers and that English and Europeans in their culture and lifestyle were much more settled.  Therefore an easy, portable measuring tool like a cup was convenient for pioneering American ways.  A scale, he suggests, was better suited for the  more settled, established European culture.  Roy offers that weighing is a more accurate way to measure as ingredients like flour can settle when measuring.  But still I am hesitant to give up my cup using, American baking ways.

And so the pastry was rolled and the apple pie was made.  Ultimately it was part of a collection of baked goods offered at a little summer solstice tea party here at Les Battees for a small assembly of neighboring English-speaking friends.  The real inspiration for the celebration was the birthing of Roy’s baby bees as Roy is an enthusiastic beekeeper. We took his word for it that the bees had hatched as none of us dared to take a close view for ourselves.  Mead was served, an alcoholic drink made from distilled honey, and cupcakes with little iced bees on the top.

And so it continues…life at Les Battees. The casual walks along the expansive countryside in my new backyard.  The occasional and somewhat awkward French interactions with Roy’s neighbors.  The continuing culinary inquiries at dinner… like what is the difference between a taco and a burrito… Ah, the complexities of American culture!

Tonight dinner will be served to our guests around 8pm and afterwards a little dinner for us.  It will likely be an early night as is somewhat typical here at Les Battees.   I am grateful for that… this easy, laid back way as I listen to the birds and see the sun and trees outside my open window.

Photo of my new backyard taken at Les Battees in southern Bugundy, France.

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