It was a tiny shop in the Latin quarter of Paris that could have been easily missed with its narrow front in the fading sunlight except, there were people standing in front of a wooden board outside the store that had rows upon rows of small regularly shaped coiled objects attached to it. They would wind a small handle on the object to listen to a French tune, and if they liked it enough they walked into the store to get the corresponding music box, fully finished with a glass panel through which you could see the mechanics of the tune as it was being produced – my wife and I bought some, too and just before doing so, I asked if a tune I recognized was sung by Edith Piaf, to which the shopkeeper not in the least bit enthusiastic, said that of course the whole world knows about Edith Piaf and her songs.
A few days later, we drove northwest from Paris to the Normandy coast to stay in a small bed and breakfast chosen for the excitement and pride with which the owner seemed to describe the breakfasts and dinners she makes. If there is one thing that Normandy is famous for besides dairy and scallops, especially in autumn, they are apples. Here’s an attempt to recreate an apple preparation that I tasted and heard of for the first time at the bed and breakfast:
Apple caramel or caramel aux pommes:
Calvados (optional) or good brandy
Caramel sauce made with salted butter
Wash, core and peel the apples before cutting them into medium size pieces. Cook the apple pieces in a large heavy bottom pan with a covered lid over medium heat until soft and most of the liquid from the apples evaporates. Mash the apples, add some butter to get a smooth texture, and add sugar and lemon juice if needed depending on the apple. Make the caramel sauce, and just as it is done, heat the apple sauce, and mix about one half to one part hot caramel sauce to one part hot apple sauce. Adjust proportion to taste. If using calvados a tiny amount can be blended now into the sauce.
Our bags were packed, we ate one more breakfast, we paid for our stay, and we were ready to leave when our hostess - an opera singer as it turned out - called us aside to say she would like to sing us a song. The next few moments were filled with Edith Piaf’s, Hymne à l’amour (Song of love), a tune that probably has been heard countless number of times around the world and probably more so in Normandy where she grew up, but to me it started to feel different, inextricably linked to the human element, and to autumn apples in Normandy.
Post script: The hostess of the bed and breakfast says in an email message:
Je suis d'accord avec vous, la cuisine , ce n'est pas seulement des ingrédients que l'on met ensemble pour faire de la nourriture, c'est aussi un échange sur la vie, les traditions, le terroir.......
Translated: I agree with you that cuisine is not just some ingredients that one puts together to make food, it is also an exchange about life, traditions and terroir...
"En Normandie, lorsqu'il y a un repas de fête, il se termine toujours par des chansons............... Lorsque vous êtes passé chez moi ,cela a aussi été , en quelque sorte , une fête!!!"
Translated: In Normandy, when there is a festive meal, it always ends with some songs...So when you stayed at my house, that was also in a way a festival..."