Sep 7, 2008 9:46 PM
If the aromas eminating from my kitchen today have a distinctly French flavour, it is thanks to my husband's cousin Mimi. She was a dour, sourfaced pudding of a woman with dyed red hair, a voice that could scour a pot, intransigent to the point of rudeness, and believed that I was the spawn of the devil. She loved JP, the cousin half her age and tolerated me and my strange English ways only to please him, and I knocked myself out trying, in vain, to please her.
But she cooked like an angel and I was determined to learn all I could from her. Her attitude to me can be summed up by one typical story.
A lovely sunny Sunday, and we drove down from the Mas, to Sisteron and the house where she lived with Rene, JP's Boule buddy, master of all trades and dog whisperer [another good story for another time]. There were to be eleven of us eating at seven. It was now five and I mounted the steps to the front door, determined that I would crack her facade and get her to like me. Downstairs, men poured from their homes and very soon the sound of boules clicking began.
Mimi was in her favourite place at the kitchen table, a magazine in front of her and the television blaring in the dining room. She grunted a Bonjour as I entered and kissed her proffered cheek then continued to read and watch the tv. I asked if there was anything I could do to help and she shook her head. After a few minutes of silence I went back outside to watch the game. At six oclock I returned, guilt knawing at my vitals and she had not moved. A cardboard box by the sink emitted a cheep, startling me; that got a laugh from Mimi, 'Pigeons' she said, turning over a page.
At six ten she strangled the birds, plucked and cleaned them, wrapped them in pancetta and put them in the oven. then she put flour and butter into a bowl, poured hot water in and kneeded the resultant pastry, rolled it out and placed it in a quiche dish. Six thirty: took pigeons out of oven, put pastry in,stripped the meat off the birds and pounded it in a pestle and mortar, adding god knows what; she worked so fast I had no time to take in all the details-then she put the resulting pate into a dish, covered it with bacon and back in the oven. Six forty: whisked up four eggs with cream and seasoning and poured the mixture into the quiche dish over spring onions she had previously sauteed, adding cheese to the top before putting it too into the oven. Six forty five: and I was allowed to prepare the salad, although not allowed to make the dressing. Out of the fridge she took a prepared chicken casserole and it too went into the oven. I then laid the table while she cut up two Restaurant loaves and laid out a plate of jambon and saussison. At sixty fifty the men and the other guests arrived and pastis was served. At seven the eating began. The pigeon pate was served on crusty croutons, followed by the fluffiest of quiches, the tastiest chicken casserole, salad and a plate of cheeses. Pudding had been provided by JP, thankfully, for sweet dishes were not her forte..it was a Raspberry Vacherin [heaven!!! oh I wish I could find one here]
After the meal I offered to wash up [the men had moved away to play Belote] and she shrugged a 'please yourself' shrug. After an hour I said that I had not thought we'd used so many things and she broke up...I had finally made her laugh. She had hidden away the dishes from their lunch and from the meal the evening before, because she knew darned well I would offer my services.
After that night she made more of an effort and we became sort of friends. I always made sure I had fresh magazines for her to read and she taught me how to cook. Something for which JP is eternally grateful