Friday, 14 June 2013

Lost in Translation: gateau de riz au citron.

The 'Orangerie' guest house wing - once used to grow orange trees to be sent to Versailles.

You know the moment that I'm talking about. That moment, where you are looking for a document or a photograph, and you stumble across an old journal or an old photograph album (does anyone even have photograph albums these days?) and you make the mistake of opening it.

Hours later and you suddenly realise that it's later than you think and you can't even remember what you were looking for in the first place.

I don't believe in living in the past but I do enjoy the occasional stroll down Memory Lane. The catalyst for this particular stroll was a message I received in the middle of last week. Across a gap of 25 years, 2 different hemispheres, and over 17,000kms, a secret admirer let me know that he had been too shy to ask me out when we were in high school and he hoped that this knowledge would, a quarter of a century later, put a smile on my face.

This it certainly did, and also sent me hurrying to get my photograph albums and journals out of the shed.

Let's party like it's 1989 - in a Barbie-pink journal.
During my reminiscences of my high school days, I also rediscovered some photographs from the time I went on my language homestay to France. Digging a little deeper, I came across my journal from that holiday. It was 1989, Easter, and I had received disappointing grades in my report card. To be honest, while I loved languages, French was not my first love (which was, and still is, Latin).

Anyway, when my parents ordered me to France during the school holidays to make some improvements, I chose, from a homestay agency, the most interesting homestay experience that I could find - I went to stay with Monsieur le Vicomte and Madame la Vicomtesse (surname not given for privacy), their daughter, Marie, and their nephews, Thibault and Louis, in a 17th century chateau just outside of Poitiers.

A photo of a postcard- hence the faded quality.

Faded French aristocracy, a crumbling castle with towers and a moat, me in the attic bedroom sighing into my pillow because I had the worst crush on the scion of the house, the sexy and urbane (to my teenage mind, anyway) Vicomte Thibault who had floppy blond hair, wore a tweed jacket and smoked a pipe, and was also nonchalantly right-wing and superior in a way that would probably make me want to punch him if I met him now, but at the time I thought of as sophisticated.

Pining for Thibault - '19, gorgeous, but unfortunately already committed to some elegant blonde'

It's all there in my journal - teenage listlessness, lust, longing, and language learning, often written in green ink because I was trying to be stylish and different. Then again, it is also recorded that I was nerdy enough to give Marie and Louis, both 13 years old at the time, some English lessons - it seems I had started on my future career even then.

Pretentious green ink.
Among the journal entries, I was very surprised to find some food writing - it seems that not only a nascent teacher but a nascent baker/blogger lurked within - an a recipe for rice cake with lemon, written completely in French.

Gateau de riz au Citron
 1 litre de lait
0,500 litre d'eau
100g de riz rond
1/2 citron non traite
50g de beurre
150g de sucre
3 oeufs
1 pincee de sel
50g poudre d'amandes

Lavez le riz dans une passoire, sous l'eau courante. Plongez-le deux minutes dans 0,500 litre d'eau bouillante. Egouttez. Faites bouiller le lait avec le zeste du demi-citron et une pincee de sel. Jetez le riz dans le lait bouillant, remuez jusqu'a l'ebullition et laissez cuire alors a feu tres doux pendant 45 minutes environ. Separez les blancs des jaunes d'oeufs, travaille les jaunes avec le sucre jusqu'a  ce que le melange blanchisse, puis ajoutez le beurre ramoli; versez petit a petit le riz bouillant sur cette preparation en remuant vivement pour ne pas cuire les oeufs. Ajoutez la poudre d'amandes. Montez les blanc d'oeufs en neige ferme, incorporez-les au riz en soulevant la masse. Beurrez une tourtiere, saupoudrez-la de chapelure, versez le melange dedans et faites cuire 45 minutes a four modere 210C (thermostat 7). Laissez refroidir, saupoudrez de sucre en poudre. A deguster, tiede au froid.

Below the recipe, I have written "It was delicious (if it weren't I wouldn't have bothered to write it down)". However, my  recollection of making it is very vague. One spring day during my stay, Madame went out and left me to entertain Marie and Louis who told me that they wanted to make their favourite cake. It must have worked because I wrote down the recipe above which, I must admit, I am now struggling to understand. And don't get me started on the punctuation - I was NOT going to attempt to type accents in.

The original text - which has the accents in all the right places, plus a little illustration...

So the challenge for this weekend was to visit my youthful foodie past and give the 'gateau de riz au citron' a whirl - as much from a need to translate and remember as to cook.

Washing the 'riz rond' under running water. I made a guess and bought arborio rice which is about as 'round' as rice gets.

One litre of milk, a pinch of salt and lemon rind. The recipe called for 'citron non traite' which, after a bit of Internet searching, seemed to be a way of saying 'organic' - so I grabbed a lemon from the tree outside.

The separated egg yolks beaten with sugar and melted butter.

The separated egg whites whisked (by hand because my wand blender has broken) into stiff peaks, or, as they say in French 'en neige ferme'  - 'into firm snow' - which is much more poetic.

Bringing it all together, I think there must have been a step omitted where the cooked rice is strained out of the milk. There was way too much liquid otherwise. So I did just that, before mixing it in and then added the almond meal and the meringue. 

I had no idea, none whatsoever, what 'chapelure' was. Turned out to be 'breadcrumbs'. So I made some, and then buttered and sprinkled the dish which I thought most closely approximated a 'tourtiere'.

Ready for the oven.
It needed a little less time than the stated 45 minutes - I also ended up bringing the oven down 10C.

It probably shouldn't be so dark. Next time, I'll have the oven at 200C.

It was really pretty good. although not super lemony and if I make it again (and I doubt that I will wait 25 years before making it again), I'd either add more lemon or serve it with a lemon syrup. 

I never went back to France after that trip. My family had already emigrated to Australia, and in June that year, when I finished school, I had to join them. Madame la Vicomtesse wrote me a couple of letters and then we fell out of touch,as happened in the days before the Internet.

But in the interests of 'where are they now?' a couple of years ago, I did do a search on them and the castle. 

The gate connected the formal gardens to the wild woodland of the 'parc' and my sketch of it.
Little Louis grew up and joined the Catholic priesthood. He became, interestingly enough, one of the first priests in France to also be a regular blogger on religious matters and had a large following. It is thanks to the fact that I came across his blog that I was able to find out what had happened to everyone else. 

His aunt and uncle, Monsieur and Madame, are still alive, obviously much older now, and the castle rooms are still available to paying guests. His brother, Thibault,  grew up (and hopefully got past his right-wing views!) and was married to an elegant blonde (there were photos on Louis' blog) and Louis conducted the ceremony. Exactly one week after Thibault's wedding, Marie, the restless, gamine teenager and one of the first students that I ever taught English to, was gone - killed in a car crash in the town where she was attending university.

But in a journal, in a photograph, in a slice of warm gateau de riz, the happy memories are all coming back to me. It's April 1989 and we're in a kitchen, in a castle: me, Marie, and Louis. We're cooking, laughing, talking sometimes in French and sometimes in English. I'm food-writing in my journal while I supervise the kids, and it's impossible to know that out of the three of us there on that day, two of us will end up becoming bloggers.

No comments:

Post a Comment