An apple in any other form….

In Drinks, Europe, France, World Cuisine on April 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm
Apple fruit

Apple fruit (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

…..can it still keep the doctor away?

Apples are my favourite fruit. It is crunchy and juicy and you can do so many things with it! Tarts, compote, salads, endless dessert recipes…yuuuum! And when I discovered apple-based drinks, well, life was complete. Much as I like them as drinks, I also love cider in my recipes as well as calvados based sauces that go so well with meat. However, while I was in India, my trysts with alcohol was restricted to the occasional beer with friends and some hard liquor from time to time.

A drink at a sidewalk café on a sunny spring day.

Alcohol drinking in India is looked down upon. For a long time women having had a “decent upbringing”, would not be seen dead with a glass of alcohol, men would not drink openly in front of their parents or elder relatives in the family and the legal age of drinking is still 25 years in Delhi. That does not stop young people drinking and driving, killing and getting killed on the streets of Delhi every other day. I think a lot of Indians take to drinking, at least initially, because it gives them the feeling of doing something illicit, of breaking the rules and living on the edge in their otherwise monotonous lives. Amongst the young, drinking is all about getting drunk  and “responsible drinking”or drinking just to enjoy the drink is just…..weird!

Compared to that when I was faced with a culture where wine is served at the dinner-table everyday, where the legal age  to be able to buy alcohol is 18 years but most young people get initiated into drinking at a much earlier age, thanks to their parents; and where not drinking alcohol is considered impolite social behaviour, I was in for a cultural shock.

However, one just needs to see things in its proper context. A lot of names of alcohols come from words meaning water or water of life as in France (“Eau de vie” ). A museum in Dijon on daily life during the 19th century, talks of how mothers used to add a few drops of alcohol in the bottle of water that the children carried to school to keep them warm during the long walk in the snow. At a time when there was no central heating and winters could be more than just cruel, alcohol was definitely a life-saver. That does not mean however that “responsible drinking” is the norm and people drink only to warm themselves up.

Normandy, known for its apple and apple-based alcohols is also known for banquets and feasts ( I am thinking Asterix and the last page of every Asterix comic ;)) where there is a lot of food and an equally high amount of Calvados ( an apple-based brandy which gets its name from the region where it is produced). Drinking coffee after a meal is the norm in France and most people have coffee after lunch as well as after dinner. During these village feasts, at the end of the meal when coffee was served, the tradition was to thump on the table till some of the coffee spilled out on the saucer. One would then drink the coffee from the saucer and fill the cup of coffee with some calvados. They would thump again till the coffee/calva mix spilled on the saucer and they drank it and then filled their cup again with more calva. This would go on till the cup at one point contained no more coffee but only alcohol. For those who do not know, Calvados has 40-42% alcohol, the same as vodka.

Another famous Norman tradition is the trou norman or the Norman Hole which consists of drinking calva in-between courses to digest and re-awaken the appetite. Norman food is ideal for cold winter days. It has a lot of cream, butter and everything else that is rich in calories and can make you feel heavy at the end of a meal. You can imagine if you have so much Calvados and so much food, the result is not always a very happy sight. I am told that the trou norman is far from being extinct and has diminished only in its frequency.

I,myself don’t enjoy Calvados. I find it too strong for my taste and I think it dilutes the taste of apple. In the range of alcoholic drinks that Normandy has to offer, my personal favourite is the Pommeau which is made by mixing apple juice (mostly unfermented cider) with Calvados. The result is a 17% alcohol content so still one to be drunk in small quantities but I find the apple taste far more distinguished. Know that Pommeau is produced in Normandy as well as in Brittany so there are available in both regions even though Pommeau de Normandie is by far the more popular and more easily available outside these regions.


Pommeau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who prefer something with less alcohol content, there is of course the less exotic cider. There are three kinds of cider in France: brutdoux and traditionnel, with the difference being the alcohol and the sugar content. Cidre doux has 1.5-3% alcohol, Cidre brut has 4-5% alcohol and Cidre traditionnel has upto 6% alcohol. However, the first two are more easy to find. That said, if you are in Paris, not every bar serves cider and if you are looking for something refreshing and sparkling, you might be better off asking for a panaché which is beer mixed with either ginger beer, lemonade, ginger ale or cider (if they have it of course).

A small calvados producer around Cambremer alo...

A small calvados producer around Cambremer along the cider route. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is true that one does not need to go to Normandy to find these drinks. Almost any supermarket in Paris will have a stock of cider and of Calvados. However, from experience, finding Pommeau is not as easy. I don’t find it in my local supermarkets and I had to go back twice to the popular wine chain shop “Nicolas” to get it in Paris. In Normandy however, you will get it anywhere. The best place to go buy them is definitely to a local farm that produces it and usually they will have all kinds of apple-based drinks. But that requires time. Otherwise the simplest is to get it from any supermarket or alcohol shop.

However, next time you are passing through the north of France, there is one more stop you need to make on your wine trail: an apple orchard.


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