Genesis: Aioli Feast for Confrerie Assemblage, June 2015

Le Grand Aioli Assemblage, June 7, 2015

Le Grand Aioli Assemblage, June 7, 2015

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I have adventuresome friends.  Some we’ve begun to refer to as “The Intrepids,” as you know from the blog post about our daring a wild autumnal Nor’easter at the easternmost point of Island Beach.  Others have dared arrive to eat and bring aspects of Le Choucroute Garnie of Alsace, and Le Cassoulet de Toulouse.  At this March feast, we planned Le Grand Aioli for June.

The guests change somewhat, depending on travels and even surgery.  However, each fully earns the Intrepid title, never more than last weekend.

I salute their courage because, with all three feasts, there’s no way I can know or really alter the outcome.  All involve long, traditional processes.  Each process is transformative — the whole infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Creating aioli gave me the chance to be my Provencal self again, when I lived in a villa high above Cannes from October 1987 through August 1988.

Guy Gedda, whose book I read daily in Provence, and very often ever since

Guy Gedda, whose book I read daily in Provence, and very often ever since

Every guest becomes amazingly caught up in these quests, going to great extremes of research and search for authentic ingredients for each part of the meal.  They find recipes on line for me (who prefers cookbooks, but can never read too much about food.)  They go with me on the wine quests.   They’re amazing!

Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk, formed the Original Intrepids of Island Beach. My co-author of the Stuart Country Day School book, Carolyn Yoder, became an Intrepid, as you’ve seen on the Williamstown trail trip; Valerie Meluskey, whose wilingness to travel, especially to France, and also to eat just about anything, has been my friend since the 70’s.  Everyone knows the gastronomic courage of Pat Tanner and Faith Bahadurian, food writers and critics par excellence.  So we were seven.

Table and Rose De Provence:  mas de gorgonnier of Les Baux, Domaine La Colombe from the Varois of France, and Cotes de Provence in Romanesche de Tourins

Table and Rose De Provence: mas de gorgonnier of Les Baux, Domaine La Colombe from the Varois of France, and Cotes de Provence in Romanesche de Tourins

The wines were roses de Provence, two from Joe Canal’s, one from Trader Joe’s, the darker the better — which is no longer chic, but quite essential for aioli.

I forgot to take pictures of the champagne hour, provided by Carolyn Yoder — Charles de Marques from Champlat, France.  That with simple very fresh nuts, especially almonds, was the only appropriate precursor to something as rich and profoundly Provencal as aioli.

Few words will follow.  Many scenes will show you the genesis of Le Grand Aioli, on a perfect late spring Sunday afternoon.

Guy Gedda's Recipe in his livre de cuisine, "La Table d'un Provencal", which I read and re read during my year in Provence and ever after

Guy Gedda’s Recipe in his livre de cuisine, “La Table d’un Provencal”, which I read and re read during my year in Provence and ever after

Of course, I should have been making this in my long-lost marble mortar, with its handsome, sturdy pestle of olive wood.  Alas…  I made two batches — four eggs each, and however much olive oil each would transform into the sublime mixture.  More than a cup and a half, but not two cups…

Commencement d'un Grand Aiioli - organic garlic, morning eggs from Brick Farm Market, Trader Joe's superb extra virgin olive oil

Commencement d’un Grand Aiioli – organic garlic, morning eggs from Brick Farm Market, Trader Joe’s superb extra virgin olive oil

Crucial Ingredients

Crucial Ingredients

First, peel the garlic

First, peel the garlic

Sea Salt of Brittany

Sea Salt of Brittany

Guy Gedda's Recette

Guy Gedda’s Recette Sublime

Voila!  Guy Gedda's Aioli

Voila! Guy Gedda’s Aioli

Salt Cod Soaked, rinsed, soaked every 8 hours for at least 24 hours

Salt Cod soaked, rinsed, soaked again, every 8 hours for at least 24 hours

Soaked Salt Cod Refrigerated overnight for Party

Soaked Salt Cod to be refrigerated overnight for Party

Vegetable Broth Lemon Court Bouillon to Poach Salt Cod at Last Minute  8 - 10 minutes

Vegetable Broth Lemon Court Bouillon to Poach Salt Cod at Last Minute 8 – 10 minutes

Faith's Surprise Octopus

Faith’s Surprise Octopus

Pat's Fresh Fennel Sticks, Rare White Asparague, Bill's Hard-boiled Eggs

Pat’s Fresh Fennel Sticks, Rare White Asparague, Bill’s Hard-boiled Farm Eggs

Valerie's Separately Roasted Mixed Baby Beets, Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Potatoes, Roasted Scallions

Valerie’s Separately Roasted Mixed Baby Beets, Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Potatoes, Roasted Scallions, Bill’s Farm Radishes

Pat's Baby Artichokes

Pat’s Baby Artichokes

Salt Cod a Table

Salt Cod a Table

Jeanette's Farm-Fresh Lawrenceville Strawberries, Nougat, and Calissons de Provence

Jeanette’s Farm-Fresh Lawrenceville Strawberries, Nougat, and Calissons de Provence

With each Confrerie supper, we had a paired liqueur with dessert.  With the strawberries, I wanted a Provencal delight, oft made at home:  eau de vie de prune.  This sounds ghastly – but means what the Swiss call plumliwasser, or essence of plums.

My Plan B had been Le Vieux Marc de Provence.  I could find recipes to distill this rustic cognac-like elixir at home in my Provencal kitchen.  However, not the most esoteric nor the most bountifully provisioned wine and liqueur stores here in and around Princeton could come up with Marc.

Bad picture of Armagnac awaiting dessert

Bad picture of Armagnac awaiting dessert

Trader Joe’s to the rescue with Armagnac — the French would have this, also distilled of leftovers of the grape processing. It was a curiously appropriate rose color, and full but not overpowering.

Even Carolyn Yoder’s generous champagne –(also Trader Joe’s – she took me with her to find it)– had turned out to have the faintest hint of rose.

When Pat found the white asparagus (so rare, so Europe!) at Wegman’s, no one could tell her the price.  Finally, the manager arrived with a question (as she was thinking it could be $20) —  “How about 99 cents?”  Of course, her response had been, “I’ll take it.”

We didn’t tell anyone about the octopus, and kept it covered til everyone was a table.  It was a great hit, occasioning oo’s and ah’s  and very nearly finished.  Faith took the rest home to craft a light and elegant octopus stew, as only she and Pat could do.  Whoever heard of leftover octopus?

As you can see, a fine time was had by all.

Aioli was then shared with Tasha O’Neill, my dear photographer friend, the very next day.  The ingredients served me for a pretty meal:

Aioli Leftovers the Next Night

Aioli Leftovers the Next Night

My dear former Kingston friend, Janet Black, here all weekend for hikes this weekend, found beautiful carrots of many colors, and ‘cheddar cauliflower’, on a farm market stop in Pennington.  I peeled but did not cook the carrots.  I reheated Valerie’s magnificent roasted vegetables, which had resembled the rose window at Chartres.  And Janet and I feasted on the last of the aioli.  We tried the items also with Hollandaise — interesting contrast.  Either would do – but not both, normally.

The main point of the Confrerie dinners is always fellowhip.

The main gift is memory.

Aioli Leftovers for Houseguest Janet Black from Manhattan

Aioli Leftovers for Houseguest Janet Black from Manhattan

Aioli Leftgovers with sauces -- Aioli and Hollandaise

Aioli Leftgovers with sauces — Aioli and Hollandaise

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‘La Confrerie du Cassoulet’ – Friends Gather to Re-create the South of France

Sweet Dessert Wine for Cassoulet Supper -- Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

Sweet Dessert Wine for Cassoulet Supper — Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

 

Intrepid friends are willing to share in the traditional cassoulet of the South of France.  Betty Lies brought green olive tapenade for appetizer, and Carolyn Yoder poured Pol Roger.  Valerie Meluskey marinated ripe cantaloupe in a light yet complex vinaigrette.  Pat Tanner crafted jewel-like citron tartes topped with citron knots.  Faith Bahadurian brought le vin typique pour cassoulet, Madiran.  Fay Lachmann found ‘the black wine of Cahors,’ which Werner and I had been served over and over in the South of France, to accompany their regional specialty, in 1978.  The wines were spectacular, including the classic dessert wine, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise with our tartes.

Casspi;et Beams that generated La Confrerie du Cassoulet

Casspi;et Beams that generated La Confrerie du Cassoulet

It all started with a packet of beans.  Faith Bahadurian, Ur-Food-Writer and good friend of long standing, well knows my passion for the south of France.  She therefore ordered a package of Rancho Gordo Cassoulet beans, secretly hoping I would take the bait. I immediately invited the group of dear friends, who, –as Des Confreres du Choucroute–, gathered here to see if those simple ingredients of pork and saucisson and sauerkraut, plus some very special Rieslings, could be alchemized into a memorable meal.  Indeed they could.  So the group returned for the cassoulet of Languedoc.

Cassoulet Bean Broth Ingredients

Cassoulet Bean Broth Ingredients

Other people are homesick for America when they leave, even to kissing the ground upon return.  I have always been the other way ’round.  As the S.S. France lowered our American car onto the quai of Le Havre in 1964, I knew my very American feet were walking upon the earth of my real home.  I did not fully realize yet about regional cuisine.  I also had no IDEA how very different the South of France is from everywhere else, especially Paris.  And I had barely heard of Languedoc.

The S.S. France, my first Magic Carpet to my True Home

The S.S. France, my first Magic Carpet to my True Home

Nothing has ever changed my total connection to La Belle France.  I managed to live in Provence, (Cannes, near Vallauris, on l’Observatoire Hill) from 1987 to 1988.  I don’t think I had cassoulet on that journey.  Rather, when Werner and I, with the Friends of the Art Museum (Princeton) spent more than two weeks in Romanesque France (often more Roman than Romanesque!) in 1978, we were honored with cassoulet in auberge after auberge.  The places we stayed rolled out their regional specialties for Princetonians, and cassoulet was their favorite and mine.

Cassoulet Broth

Cassoulet Broth

I used to make this dish often when I lived on Braeburn off Snowden, in my early Princeton years.  My husband often cooked lamb and duck, out in the Weber grill.  I would save and freeze leftovers, to serve at supper parties, using elegant slender flageolets verts seches (dried beans, the icy green of celadon, which were easily available in the days before globalization.) However, as this cassoulet sequel to choucroute took form, I discovered that one cannot find those special slender forceful little pale green beans any more.  Faith to the rescue:  Rancho Gordo’s flageolets blancs (white) worked well, and held their shape during the three hours of cooking.

Cassoulet Beans Await Broth

Cassoulet Beans Await Broth

I took pictures all along, in this process, for this dinner planned three months ago.  I’ll share them with you, to give you a sense of our night.

Browning the Bones for the Cassoulet Broth

Browning the Bones for the Cassoulet Broth

Some of us at the table had been to the South of France together, some more than once.  Again, however, without the peasant dish that is cassoulet.

Confit du Canarad, browned, Ready for Assemblage

Confit du Canarad, browned, Ready for Assemblage

Although everyone didn’t know everyone today, there was a sense of reunion and strong fellowship.  France has that effect..

Maigret du Canard, Duck Breast, Ready for Assemblage

Maigret du Canard, Duck Breast, Ready for Assemblage

Browned Shoulder of Lamb Cubes, ready for Assemblage   o, yes, with generosities of garlic!

Browned Shoulder of Lamb Cubes, ready for Assemblage o, yes, with generosities of garlic!

Cassoulet Pork Belly -- my First!

Cassoulet Pork Belly — my First!

Browning the Pork Chop and the Duck Breast

Browning the Pork Chop and the Duck Breast

Deglazing the Bone Pan

Deglazing the Bone Pan

Meats Ready for Assemblage

Meats Ready for Assemblage

Ready for the Broth

Ready for the Broth  Trader Joe’s Spectacular Tomatoes even in March, and Fresh Thyme

Overnight-soaked Cassoulet Beans Have Absorbed all the Water!

Overnight-soaked Cassoulet Beans Have Absorbed all the Water!

Forgive the out-of-focus picture here. I was so amazed at the enlargement and engorgement of the beans, that I wasn’t using the right setting on the camera.

Beans, Bones, Tomatoes, Herbs

Beans, Bones, Tomatoes, Herbs

The famous beans were mixed with the ultimate broth, along with sauteed carrot and onion chunks, more garlic (in addition to that which was cooked with the lamb chunks), and sauteed tiny pancetta bits.  Also the (very ugly) pork belly, cut into smaller pieces because it seemed tough.  Those hearty hefty Trader Joe tomatoes and his fresh rosemary and thyme branches, went into the beans, although I never remember tomatoes in cassoulet.  The recipe called for chicken broth and a half bottle of a wine from the south of France good for cooking and appropriate to the dish: La Ferme Julien (typical Daudet goat on label) was suggested by one of the helpful wine experts at Trader Joe’s  This assemblage went into the refrigerator in one container.  All the meats, including those gorgeous crisp duck legs, purportedly confit, went into another, also with La Ferme Julien wine as marinade.  Into the refrigerator with it all until this morning.

In case you’re getting impatient, here is the resulting creation – before its oven time and crumbing:

Cassoulet Ingredients

Cassoulet Ingredients

This morning, half the brothed refrigerated beans went into the crock of the crock pot.  Then all the meats, including the duck legs.  Then the rest of the beans.  Sprigs of thyme and of rosemary were introduced at each layer.  I put the crock pot on high at noon, and after an hour nothing had happened.  So into the oven at 350 in the crock pot crock with its lid went this assemblage for the prescribed three hours.

First Beans into Crock

First Beans into Crock

Starting at one p.m., crumbs were generously used to cover the top layer of beans.  A thin ‘fil’ (thread) of olive oil was laced back and forth over the crumbs.  Then into the oven again.  One can do this crumb crisping (I ended up broiling it after 45 minutes) three times or more.  Three was enough.

La Cassoulet avec crumbs (Panko)

La Cassoulet avec crumbs (Panko)

You may wonder why I say ‘purported’ confit.  In France, confit du canard ou confit d’oie (goose) is cooked in fat and sold in the cooking fat.  French recipes for cassoulet specify ‘un pot du grasse cu confit’.  Ha!  There wasn’t a speck of duck fat in this actually very lovely confit — only the handsome, succulent legs.  We made do with olive oil.

Ready for Guests

Ready for Guests

Valerie's Glorious Melon Vinaigrette with Pomegranate Seeds

Valerie’s Glorious Melon Vinaigrette with Pomegranate Seeds

Pat Tanner's Exquisite Citron Tarte with Citron Knots!

Pat Tanner’s Exquisite Citron Tarte with Citron Knots!

As with our experiment with choucroute, for all the splendors of this night, the best part was our fellowship.

THE GREAT CHOUCROUTE GARNIE CHALLENGE

Provencal Christmas Creche 2014

Provencal Christmas Creche 2014

Some of my NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I lived the seasons round in Provence in 1987/88.  Around the time of my Thanksgiving birthday, all the excitement in the rues surrounding the Cannes Marche had to do with the Alsatian specialite, Choucroute Garnie.  Signs threaded the byways that circled the market, emblazoned, “LA CHOUCROUTE GARNIE EST ARRIVEE!!!”  (Choucroute means sauerkraut, and Garnie means garnished, as with meats.)

In the streets outside the market were imposing metal containers, in which the just-arrived sauerkraut with sausage masterpiece was enthroned and simmering.  In my halting French, with my midwestern-teacher’s accent, I managed to have the most interesting proprietor prepare a take-home container.  It was done with such pride, such ceremony, you’d have thought he was ladling with sterling onto heirloom china.  The proprietor steered me to the best local wine provider, also on that side-rue, so that they could give me the best Riesling to accompany his chef d’oeuvre.

At home, in my tiny, heatless Cannes apartment, I ladled out cabbage and sausages, carried it to the Provencal-quilt-covered table on my minuscule balcony.  I went back in for the Riesling and a wineglass.  I poured that nectar very slowly, watching it reflect the Mediterranean shimmering below.  It was warm on the November balcony.  A slight breeze ruffled the wild herbs from the garrigue which somehow thrived in my balcony window-boxes.  These wind-visits carried with them the essence of wild thyme and sage and rosemary, mingled with sea air.

I remember being surprised at how light the choucroute was, and that I liked the somewhat sweet wine that is its essential accompaniment.

In October, here, in 2014, I was suddenly overcome by choucroute nostalgia.  I called six brave friends, two of whom are our regions Ur-food-critics.  I told them, I have to do this.  I described the dish, which always loses everything in translation.  I said, “I’ve only tasted it once and made it never.  Would you come and eat it with me?”

Every single one said an eager yes.  One knew immediately, “I’ll bring rye bread.”  I’ve not been in Alsace so I’ve never asked why, but rye is the only acceptable bread with choucroute.  One agreed, bravely, to make a winemaker’s tart – specialty of the grape harvest in France.  It has a sweet crust, a custard filling, and is studded with what should be the ripest grapes of the current year.  We’re a little lacking in that particular ingredient.  The others volunteered to go to their favorite wine providers here, say “choucroute” and see what happened.

Heating the Riesling with the Spices and Herbs

Heating the Riesling with the Spices and Herbs

Sunday, December 14, was the day of the great choucroute challenge.  I’ve now dubbed my formidable friends, “La Confrerie de la Choucroute.”  (Not all my NJWILDBEAUTY adventures are outdoors…) My friends assembled promptly at 2:30, bearing their specialties.

The Table Awaits...

The Table Awaits…

We began with the sprightly German champagne from Trader Joe’s, Schloss Bieber.  With it, was served a hearty terrine from Brick Farm Market.  It was of pork and lamb — there wouldn’t have been lamb in the Alsatian version.  It was rosy and succulent, studded with fresh green pistachios.  Another dear friend had given me pickled fiddlehead ferns for my birthday, so we savored those instead of traditional gherkins and tiny pickled onions.

Brick Farm Terrine and Fiddlehead Ferns, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Brick Farm Terrine and Fiddlehead Ferns, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the choucroute simmered merrily.

Choucroute about to be put into oven

Choucroute about to be put into oven

It’s more of a technique than a recipe.  I’ll try to recreate it, because, with the help of the Pennsylvania Dutch Farm Market in Kingston/Kendall Park, this magnificent signature dish which absolutely defines that region can be successfully made in America.  And it’s not that hard.  Worrying about whether I might ruin it or not was far harder than just making it.

Buy meats at the PADFM — thick slab bacon, a ham hock, and knockwurst from the smoker right inside the front door.  Buy the plainest sausages (no apples, no chorizo, nothing trendy) — I bought sage and pork, and what I think they called brackwurst — it wasn’t white like the brafwurst I usually get there.  They were rough peasant sausages, and that is what’s called for.

Choucroute Meats on Royal Copenhagen, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Choucroute Meats on Royal Copenhagen, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Buy sauerkraut from the pickle-and-olive man — my recipe for eight called for three pounds, but that didn’t look like quite enough, so I did three and a half pounds.  I checked with him about rinsing the sauerkraut, which my American recipes required.  The French did not seem to get into that, but maybe they think everyone knows. I said, “I don’t want to ruin your wonderful sauerkraut,” as his (probably) grandson, with blonde hair yes in a Dutch boy cut was ladling my order.  “No!,” the elder insisted, “Rinse it!”

Choucroute with Spices

Choucroute with Spices – Dark Bits are Juniper Berries — essential item

I actually cooked the choucroute on Friday for three of the six hours it requires.  I just wanted part of it behind me.

Rinse cabbage and press to drain.

Saute four large yellow onions in bacon fat – I did this in large flat pan in oven with the slab bacon slices, so they rendered their fat and browned the onions.

Mix onions when golden but not dark, with cabbage.

Put layer of cabbage in bottom of crock pot or heavy casserole.

Put smoked ham hock in middle, and ring with knockwurst.  I should have had two of this hefty sausage, and could have used a larger ham hock.  But quantities are not the point here — marrying of flavors is all that matters.

Meanwhile, I was browning all the other sausages in bacon fat in a pan in the oven.  Then I cut those into chunks, but I had not cut knockwurst or ham hock.  I mixed the chunks with the rest of the sauerkraut and put that on top of the first layer and that ham hock and knockwurst.

The bacon slices were beautiful, like antique wood, wide and rich and dark.  I ringed the sauerkraut with them.

I couldn’t figure out, from any of the recipes, how the spices were going to infuse everything.  So I put them in the Riesling (for cooking I bought Ullrich Langguth Riesling from Trader Joe’s — “made from 100% very mature Riesling grapes — fruity, elegant, refreshing acidity” – says the label), in a saucepan and heated just to the simmer for about five minutes.  I poured that concoction immediately over the casserole.

My ingredients come from an array of recipes in French and in English — in effect, juniper berries are the heart of the matter.  I’ve just moved to Juniper Court, so this felt most appropriate.  Some recipes counted the berries and some measured.  You could say 2 tablespoons of juniper berries; 1 tablespoon each of whole black peppercorns and whole cloves or allspice.  Some recipes call for both – that might have been a bit much of that taste.  I put in 6 garlic cloves, cut very thin.  Cumin and coriander are usually part of this, and my new landlord, from India, tells me they help with digestion of meats.  For my recipe for 8, two tsps. ground coriander and two tsps. ground cumin were fine, not overpowering.  I bought those spices at Brick Farm Market, so they were very fresh.  I had inferior bay leaves — nothing equals Williams Sonoma bay leaf wreaths, and I don’t see them this year.  So I used six bay leaves.

This with a lid went into the crock pot on high until it boiled, and I don’t know how long that took; then on low until three hours had passed.  This went into the refrigerator when cool enough.

On Sunday, I took it out at noon and put it in the oven at 350 until it boiled, then on 225, until we reached the three-hour point.

Willm Riesling, from Faith Bahadurian, by Faith Bahadurian

Willm Riesling, from Faith Bahadurian, by Faith Bahadurian

One friend brought Willm Alsace Riesling Reserve, 2012, which was perfect; another brought Alsace Domaine Bott Freres Riesling 2010, which was also perfect.  Some Rieslings are fruitier than others.  I am no connoisseur, but they did blend and enhance with perfection that astonishing choucroute.  The other bottle of Riesling we did not open — it is Alsace Riesling Hugel.  All three wine purveyors were delighted to play the choucroute game.

Choucroute with Bacon

Choucroute with Bacon

If you want to read an expert on this, check out that marvelous chronicler, R.W. Apple, on his family’s choucroute traditions. I am no expert.  Pardon my inadequacies, as I even attempt to convey the savory, subtle, astonishingly light and digestible, beautifully melded dish that filled our plates.

Choucroute and Meats, Rye Bread, by Faith Bahadurian

Choucroute and Meats, Rye Bread, by Faith Bahadurian

Filled our plates twice, because everyone went back for seconds.  You couldn’t taste those spices individually — alchemy had occurred.

The meats had given over all their succulence to the whole, and yet were tasty and somehow almost airy – when I’d frankly expected heavy.  The choucroute gleamed and glistened, fairly leapt off the plate, after all those hours of cooking.  I couldn’t believe it.

Fini!

Fini!

Americans frequently add tart apples, and that would be good.  I didn’t do so because I wanted to be authentic.

French, not only Alsatians, add steamed small potatoes, red bliss i would think, in this country.  I didn’t do that because I felt it would be too heavy.

These friends are not trenchermen, but wondrously supportive, even outrageous women, perfectly willing to take this chance together.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them have seconds, come to think of it.

One of us brought the Alsatian winemaker’s tart, which was rustic and beautiful, and carried the theme through delightfully. However, American grapes can’t hold a candle to French, and don’t let anyone tell you they can.

Winemaker's Tart by Pat Tanner, Sugarplums by Faith Bahadurian, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Winemaker’s Tart by Pat Tanner, Sugarplums by Faith Bahadurian, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Faith Bahadurian, who has provided the actual dinner photos, brought sugarplums, which she had made herself!  I’ve never had, but only heard of, sugarplums.  Tiny, rich, dark, intriguing, even a little dangerous (cognac?), they were the perfect climax.  Now we all have ‘visions of sugarplums’.

Visions of... made by Faith Bahadurian, photographed by Faith Bahadurian

Visions of… made by Faith Bahadurian, photographed by Faith Bahadurian

Now imagine, since in Alsace they would have finished the meal with plumliwasser, kirsch, or eau de vie du poire, my visit to the industrial strength Vingo on Route 27, seeking these forms of finale…To their credit, though they clearly thought I was making this up, they checked their computers.  Lo, a young man ultimately arrived bearing a beautiful, jewel-like round and charming bottle:  Belle de Brillet — don’t you love it? – and belle she is.  Liqueur Originale.  Poire Williams au Cognac.  It is not firewater-clear, as is kirsch, as is eau de vie du poire.  It seems that Brillet has been crafting this elixir since 1850.  It is the color of the most luminous honey, only transparent.  I have little Swiss liqueur glasses, from my long-ago marriage. They were our centerpiece.  And they held the Belle de Brillet, to accompany our winemaker’s tart.

I still cannot get over the changes in the sausages, how they enhanced the cabbage.  I have to face it — choucroute is about one of my most cherished concepts — transformation.

And I’m here to tell you that every aspect of this, from light-bulb through phonecalls through research through talking with the sausage lady, the ham hock lady and the sauerkraut man, was a joy.  The cooking was so much easier than I thought, and the sharing paradise.

I didn’t take enough pictures as I was serving.  My guests did.  If they can send them in a form I can save and insert into NJWILDBEAUTY, I’ll do so.

Meanwhile, savor this with us in spirit, and go out and put together your own.  All of the chat rooms I read on this subject seem to imply you can’t go wrong.