Pastry, Petitions, and Politics Part III
I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. – Thomas Jefferson
Summer arrives in Chinon on the first wave of tourists; bicycles clog the courtyard; buses disgorge bedraggled groups weary from travel yet pleased to be in such a charming city; suitcases much too large, much too heavy for a European tour leave marks across the stones from gate to front door, matching sets of long serpentine furrows through the parking lot. Breakfasts are busy now, constant movement from 7 to 10 as we rush from table to table dropping baskets of bread and viennoiserie between couples, trying to remember whether it was Breakfast or Earl Grey, with or without milk, answering questions tossed out to me from the curious: Where are you from? How long have you lived in France? How did you get here? Where did you learn to speak such excellent English?!
I brace myself for the onslaught of summer fruit, the strawberries and cherries, the black and the blueberries, the peaches, plums, and nectarines that will be transformed into jam. Day after day, from breakfast cleanup to dinner, I will prepare and macerate and prepare as much as I can get my hands on before all of the sweet, sweet stone fruits and berries suddenly, once again, disappear until next summer. Our garden up on the hillside overlooking Chinon and the Vienne won’t ever produce strawberries more than for our personal consumption and while I wait for our own gooseberries and rhubarb I will be relaying on our neighbors generosity and the abundance of the small local producers.
Meanwhile, I’ve not filled you in, caught you up on the result of our battle with City Hall, our communal, community battle over le projet de la Brèche, the mayor’s project to build a 5-story parking garage (augmented by several apartments and shops) in the center of medieval Chinon. If you remember, shortly after our arrival in Chinon, just as we moved into the hotel, we learned about the project and met a few fellow citizens who were more than concerned; there was outrage that this mayor, who ran for office against this very project, turned right around once elected and presented his slightly altered version, something hideous to grace the center of our small, lovely town that could carry his name and legacy. Not only would this be a blot on the landscape, but the traffic leading to and from the garage would wind through tiny, cobbled, single-lane streets bordered by centuries-old homes and shops, tiny streets walked by residents and tourists. And the town certainly needed neither more parking spaces nor more social housing (when there were too many empty apartments up for rent and for sale just outside of the center of town) nor 6 more shops (what with the many empty storefronts lining the streets). What Chinon needed, if millions of euros were there for the spending, was a real beautification of our many town squares and our riverfront, renovation of some of the old buildings, financial help so that artisans could finally rent and fill the empty shops that blot the center of town.
So, if you recall, Jean-Pierre and his team first created a petition that was signed by thousands; then they went to public meetings to listen to the opposing side and voice our own opinions and concerns; fought to have this voted on by referendum; met one-on one with the mayor to talk about the project’s negative impact on tourism, the environment, Chinon’s economy. All the while speaking with as many business owners and residents as they possibly could, gathering into working associations the multitude of citizens who, as they were each relieved to learn, were not alone in their opposition to the project.
Over a very long year and a half they fought, loudly and quietly, in public and behind the scenes. They pushed and City Hall pushed back, brushing off any and all negatives, dismissing the growing opposition to the project, spurning the call for a referendum or an open call for new ideas. The mayor seemed to hesitate more than once, seemed to be confused as to why no one would want this project to move forward while being angry that others were trying to force his hand. He did not want to lose face. And then we all discovered the way out.
Archeology. Whenever a works project anywhere in France is on the table, plans drawn up, budgets fixed, before any work can begin, there has to be an official archeological survey done and diagnostic given. They came in and did a first phase and then the news arrived: “suite à la découverte « d’une importante stratification couvrant une période chronologique s’étendant de la Protohistoire (*) à l’époque moderne », il est acté que tout coup de pioche envisagé dans le périmètre de La Brèche fera l’objet de fouilles complémentaires systématiques. – Following the discovery of an important stratification covering a chronological period extending from the Protohistory (the oldest fragments dating back to the Iron Age, about 700 B.C.) to the modern era, it is recorded that any work considered done in the perimeter of La Brèche will be the object of systematic complementary excavations.” Thus adding additional, enormous costs to the city, who would be obliged to pay for these excavations, not to mention the years of excavations.
The Mayor was thus given the chance to put the project “on hold for consideration” while saving face as the breaks were put on this project.
And the city was saved. For now. And we each cheered as we heaved a communal sigh of relief and victory.
As we have seen many times over this past half year, persistence pays off; many voices raised together in common cause works; planning, discussing, connecting, organizing all have an effect. On our own small level, in the town we love, we (Jean-Pierre) got involved and led the charge against something that we believed would truly be a blemish on our stunning patrimony, would hurt tourism, and would take resources that could be better used to revivify and beauty what already exists.
Now that we are involved and have created a network of friends who have the same vision for our town, we meet on a regular basis to advance the cause, create projects, help each other best promote Chinon.
And in between, we run our business as usual, maybe a little less stressfully as those early days as we were learning. I wrote a cookbook. And I’ve made 500 kilos of jam.
And I dream of summer fruits, my favorite. After the orange, of course. We’ve harvested 10 strawberries from our garden, savored with all of the appreciation each single one merits as a special gift, our own hard labor. The pea plants thrive and delicate, transparent pods hang from the branches, the beginnings of tiny peas visible when the sunlight shines just so. The fava beans are tremendous, tall and lush, flowers gracing the tippy tops of the plants. We pull up unwanted reeds and plants to free the wild strawberry plants strewn across the garden, a surprise left from the owner and the gangly raspberry stalks now sprouting leaves. Purple flowers bobble atop the fragrant chives and although someone has stolen the melon plant, the pumpkin and zucchini seem quite happy in their patch.
And as I dream of summer fruits, await the abundance of summer fruits for jam, I make crumbles. Eaten warm, topped with vanilla ice cream.
Nota bene: my cookbook Orange Appeal is now available for pre-order on Amazon! Beautiful photos by Ilva Beretta. Now is the perfect time for a cool and healthy Salade Niçoise! Find my recipe of an authentic Salad Niçoise in Fine Cooking.
- 6 cups fruit, half nectarines, pitted and cubed, and half pitted cherries (see note)
- ¼ cup (50 grams) sugar, more if the fruit is very tart or lacks sweetness
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 cup (130 g) flour
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
- ¼ cup (55 grams) packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup (115 grams) cold butter, cubed
- ½ cup slivered almonds, optional but better
- Place the prepared fruit in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon over the fruit and toss until all of the ingredients are well distributed and the cornstarch lightly covers all the fruit. I found that the easiest method was simply pushing up my sleeves and using my hands. Stir in the orange juice.
- Combine all of the ingredients except for the butter and almonds in a large mixing bowl. Toss until well combined. Add the cubes of cold butter and, using your fingertips, rub or work the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is evenly distributed, there are no more chunks of butter, and the mixture resembles rough sand or crumbs.
- Toss lightly with the slivered almonds.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degreesF (190 degrees C). Place 6 - 7 individual ramekins on a baking sheet and set aside.
- Prepare the fruit filling.
- Prepare the crumble topping.
- Divide the prepared fruit evenly among the waiting ramekins; pour any liquid remaining in the bowl evenly over the divided fruit.
- Divide the crumble mixture evenly between the ramekins, spooning it generously on top of the fruit to the edges of the ramekins, making sure that none of the fruit is exposed. Gently press the crumble topping down onto the fruit.
- Bake the ramekins on the baking sheet in the preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes until the crumble puffs up and turns a deep golden and the fruit bubbles up around the edges of the crumble.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool before eating; the fruit filling will be too hot to eat straight from the oven.