Can taste change dramaticly over a few years and affect both the types of wines we choose and the food ? I think it can, all it takes is a routine for more spartan foods that aren't fueled by the sugar-salt testosterone, then, wine is also a good entry to the world of the beautiful acidity, you walk in there because you like the style of intoxication you get with certain wines and you end up in a second phase opening yourself to the sophisticated pleasure of acidity.
Here is a quick and non-exhaustive review of acidic products that came our way this year and which I'm not sure I'd have been so fond of a few years ago.
Here are the vibrant acidic cherries which you can find here and there in France, mostly in old orchards that were planted years ago when people sort of knew by instinct (they also loved sugar though) what was good. This year was particularly prolific for these griottes and I stocked them to bring back as much as I could in Paris, where B. would cook them lightly so that we could them weeks along.
These cherry trees are the fruit-tree equivalents of our favorite "minor" varietals that the wine-appellation administration has made everything to uproot. Like Menu-Pineau or Pineaud'Aunis these sour-cherry trees are survivors from an era when farmers and country people knew instictively what was good, and I'm not sure that back then you would have easily convinced them to uproot these archaic cherry varities for an international & standard cherry variety (to name a cherry equivalent of Sauvignon and Chardonnay). This type of cherry is known also under the name of Prunus Cerasus and it is said to have of course more acidity but also greater nutritional benefits and greater medicinal effects.
These cherries can actually be eaten raw, they're acidic for sure but not to the point that you can't eat them. Cooking them shortly in a pot with two spoons of sugar will leave them just almost as acidic with just a tilt to a sweeter side. This is not jam, notice that the pot on the right had less sugar, and you can do without too. The cooking has to be short and light, the water comes out of the cherries and they all sort of partly melt into each other. When cold, put this in a container in the fridge, if after a few days a bit of mold appears at the surface, no worry, just put it back in a pot and cook it again shortly, you won't die because of the mold.
Instead of desert, we'd take a cup of cooked cherries strait from the fridge, almost with rationing discipline to make the stuff last. With a bowl on the side to spit the pits, here is a delicacy you'll have a hard time to find in a restaurant, even a good one. The treat did last long (a few weeks) but the last spoons were sorrowful, we'd have to wait the next year's miracle for our dose of cherry acid...
Nothing can reproduce this natural acidity otherwise the chemical companies behind these acid additives would be able to delight us with a concocted mix of acid & cherry concentrate.
Here is a fruit that is less easy to prepare, the quince. We had the tree given to us by B.'s parents and I planted it years ago although I wasn't sure what I'd make with the fruits when it'd become productive. I used to eat the deliciouis quince paste prepared by B.'s mother but I wasn't ready to go through the lengthy process to make this paste. So apart from occasionally bringing in Burgundy a load of quince that would be turned into paste by B.'s mum, I devised some way to get this bone-hard fruit edible. First I tried a traditional electric oven (wrapped in aliminium foil), the result of which was not that bad, but the microwave turned out to be the most convenient way to cook them and render them edible by themselves.
Here is another vegetable that is known for its extreme acidity : Sorrel. To be honest I discovered it really only in Burgundy as B.'s parents (again) would put some in dishes. Here again our ancestors centuries ago understood empirically that although awfully acidic these tender-green leaves had lots of great stuff for us. According to the linked page the acidic taste comes from oxalic acid.
Inspired by my repeated experiences with sorrel, I decided to plant some in the Loire, especially that I was said in Burgundy that it would come back year after year, it's a perennial plant, you plant it once and you have vegetables for ever, if all vegetables could be like that... It even can spread around, so when you buy a bunch of sorrel to plant you're advised to wait a few months and then split the bunch in separate groups that will make the spreading easier.
The other nice thing with sorrel is that after you cut it bare it grows back quickly and in a week or two you're with as much sorrel you need to spice a dish, which gets you several harvest per year for your shoots of oxalic acid.
To pick sorrel it's much easier than for cherries that have to be picked one by one or at the maximum 3 by 3 with, your nails crying in pain through the ordeal. For sorrel, just hold the bunch of leaves together and cut it near the ground. Don't be afraid, it'll grow back quickly even without remaining leaves to feed the roots with photosyntesis, the plant has a mystery fuel to bounce back.
The following stage is more arduous, you can't have everything easy to the frying pan. You have to wash the leaves, and to be sure that you don't take earth in you have to do it meticulously and rinse the whole thing several times. And that's not all, you have to cut off the stems and you have to do that one by one because the leaves haven't grown evenly.
I always do it myself even when I'm back in Paris because B. balks at the prospect. No problem, she's an inspired chef and I'll do the commis job and prepare the ingredients. Even if fastidious this task doesn't compare with the excruciating job of filling buckets of cherries that seem to do everything they can to remain sticked to their branch. And keep focused on the real food that you will get at the end.
The down thing with sorrel is that step after step you end up with very little volume, but the quality of this vegetable remains even in small quantities. I never tried keeping the stems but I presume they would be stringy even after the cooking stage and soil the whole impression..
If you lament with the dwidling volume of your picking, that was nothing with what awaits you : as soon in the frying pan with a bit of butter, the sorrel leaves seem to melt down to an insignificant-sized purée, the color turning from bright green to brownish (you can see the two colors in the frying pan). It's almost instantly cooked, amazing thing. Now you must have prepared another dish on the side because the sorrel is there to enhance with its natural acidity. here in the matter for us it's always scrambled eggs, which we buy when in the Loire for 2 € the dozen to a retiree who keeps free-range hens. All you have to do is pack up the leaves and put them on top of your omelette. Just slice some scrambled eggs with sorrel and you will not believe that such a tiny amount of cooked leaves can yield so much acidity. Again, here is a natural acidity that I doubt the chemical industry might reproduce with all its hidden benefits.
For the anecdote the wine I chose this particlar day was a sauvignon by Jacky Preys, Silex. I could as well have chosen an Aligoté, I had this bottle and I felt like the good occasion to pair it.
Again I think that this vegetable is unfairly neglected and that it is an almost free delicacy for everyone who has a garden, you just plant it once and you have this natural acid to add flavor in your cooking. For those who are health conscious (the type of people you see going up and down the organic-food shops-- not a good approach to life in my mind), take note that natural oxalic acid has many benefits for you. But first of all it's true food and you intimely feel it.
This year was particularly prolific and rich for greengages too, they were plentyful and matured perfectly from my experence in the Loire, to an extent that wasps anf hornets were also pretty interested and that I had to face this competition. There was lots of sugar in the fruits of course but here again a good acidity, and to face the overwhelming volumes, in addition to giving away bags of them we cooked them and ate them later now and then in the following weeks, keeping them under this form in tuperware-style containers. We didn't add sugar, there was largely-enough natural sugar and with the fruits that were more acidic because less ripe it gave a good balance. If mold appeared after few days we'd just cook again shortly the fruits and then back in the fridge again.
We'd keep the stones and just spit them away when eating the compote (it's more like a syrup in that stage). The sugar/acidity balance is perfect and adding sugar would have made an imbalance, that's obvious when you eat this delicacy.
Don't see another allusion to a wine topic that we're now familiar with but there's no way I'd have had such result with fruits bought in the mainstream food stores because profitability and commercial efficiency excludes to pick and sell fruits in such an advanced natural-ripeness stage and bearing the stamp of approval of connoisseur insects & birds. The picture on the left shows fruits partly eaten by hornets or birds, the sale of which is prohibited under the European and French law in spite of this being the best proof that the fruits are perfectly ripe and delicious (and pesticide free). I recall this French administrative document stating the rules for fruit retailers. I translated months ago a few lines of it for our meditation (it's akin to forbid unfiltered and reduced wines and I'm sure many people would secretly love it that way for the wines) :
3.1.1. Minimum requirements
Within the tolerance margin, the products must be:
- Healthy. Are excluded : products with rotting or deterioration such as to make them unfit for consumption,
- Clean, practically free of any visible foreign matter,
- Practically free from pests,
- Practically free from damage to the flesh caused by pests,
- Free of abnormal external moisture,
- Free of any smell or taste alien to the fruit/vegetable.
... And I almost forgot to say a few words about these wonderful apples picked in both the Loire and in Burgundy, where B. and I found inadvertedly a conservatory apple-tree orchard which no one ever picks (read this story) and where we drive every autumn to fill swiftly big trash bags with all these diverse apples. This year was not a plentiful vintage for apples but we still managed to stock several dozens kilograms of apples in the garden shack in Paris, these are indigenous apple varieties, some of them being very acidic (possibly fit for cider only), and we help ourselves in that apple stock all along winter to cook great apple compotes. Another great shot of natural acidity...