Category Archives: Beverages

La Prisonnière

In the summer of 1974, I spent three months travelling through Europe in the back of our family car. I have few but vivid memories from that summer, largely due to the unfortunate coincidence of puberty and road sickness which forced me to look out the window in desperate search of a bathroom, a castle or better yet, a castle with a bathroom.

The highlights of the summer were visits to gregarious European family friends, who welcomed us into their homes and shared unique regional food and culture. In Valais, Switzerland, we visited the tiny village of Chermignon, which is exactly as its name implies, both cher and mignon.

Here, shepherds still climb the mountainside with their cows, and carry their raclette cheese, bread and Fendant wine in a knapsack. They prepare their raclette the traditional way: round cheese, cut side to the fire, melted and scraped (raclé) onto pickles and boiled potatoes. After one such day of mountain climbing with the local publican and racleur, we piled into the car and made our way through the valley, past pear trees heavy with glistening glass bottles. Did I imagine that?

Fast forward a few years, and a return visit confirms that Valais is, indeed, dotted with bottle trees. The canton of Valais is home to the renowned eau-de-vie, Poire William (or Williams); it is also produced traditionally in France, Germany and Italy.

In Valais, this regional specialty includes not only the eau-de-vie, but also the entire Williams (aka Bartlett) pear inside the bottle, which is a puzzling novelty. To achieve this, growers fasten a globular transparent bottle around the tiny developing pear, and pick it when it is ripe, trapping the pear inside the bottle. In some regions, Poire William goes also by the name “La prisonnière”, conjuring the image of the imprisoned pear inside the bottle. The remainder of the fruit on the tree is distilled to a schnapps-like 40 percent alcohol, and added to the bottle, allowing the pear to be preserved. The result is an apéritif that can be served cold, after dinner or to accompany dessert.

 Photo Credit: Hellomarkers! Via Flickr

Poire William and other parlour tricks, such as the ship in a bottle, fall under the umbrella category of “impossible bottles”. It is easy to imagine the imprisoned pear becoming fashionable in the late 19th century, alongside the taxidermy, butterfly collections and house ferns that were so fashionable in the Victorian era.

Here in Ontario, we grow lovely Bartletts. Add to that the fact that we are not able to purchase pears-in-glass at our local LCBO, and it is only a matter of time before someone spies a bottle tree on their summer roadtrip through Niagara. Missing are the castles and mountains, but at least you can count on modern conveniences.

Photo Credit: Barbara Rich via Flickr


Filed under Beverages, Travel

Beaujolais Nouveau: Salut to our American neighbours

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving, and the snowstorms in the northeast pose a serious threat to holiday travellers this year. If you are one of the thousands who will not make it out of the garage this holiday, may I propose a small gathering of neighbours (or neighbors, for the American readers) to resurrect that 1980s tradition: Beaujolais Nouveau?

No-one is more rigid about the rules, when it comes to vintages, than the French. But even they could not miss the marketing opportunity presented by the release of the new Beaujolais on the third Thursday of November, exactly one week before American Thanksgiving. So this week, if a turkey is not in your horoscope, why not raise a glass of Nouveau to absent relatives.

Pictured here, from left to right, are:

  • Beaujolais Villages Nouveau (J. Drouhin)
  • Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau
  • Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau (G. Duboeuf)
  • JP Chenet Beaujolais Nouveau

The candidates Nouveau lowres

My personal favourite was the Mommesin, but most seemed to prefer the last one they sampled, which says something – not sure what, exactly. And can I confess that it really doesn’t matter to anyone if Beaujolais Nouveau is not really as good as regular Beaujolais? The point is that it’s a great opportunity to get together with friends, over delicious food and (let’s call it) novel wine.

I am thankful for friends like Paul and Mel, who opened their home to us for the 2013 taste-testing. I regret not taking a picture of their beautiful leek and potato soup and boeuf bourgignon, but hope that my panorama of the spread below will inspire you to think beyond the turkey this holiday. What are you thankful for?

Nouveau banner lowres

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Filed under Beverages