October 4, 2011

In cooking, there are many good reasons to build in time – think of how a soup or chili tastes so much better the second day. How wild fermented yeast ripens and elevates (in every meaning of the word) your bread. How, overnight, a jar of fresh cream with a little buttermilk added becomes creme fraiche. Or the way one week of salting will change that pork belly to bacon. I’m not saying it’s water into wine, but it’s pretty miraculous, nevertheless.

The week spent at Camont, surrounded by brilliant women, is much the same. I’ve had a few days to reflect, to edit photographs, zip emails back and forth with my new friends, all the while incorporating the myriad of lessons learned into my every day.

Gascony is a food lovers paradise and the perfect guide is surely Kate Hill, known as @KatedeCamont on Twitter. I first became aware of Kate through David Lebovitz’ blog. I started to stalk her – she had such fabulous recipes on her site, and her life was so darn enviable. Lo and behold, when Charcutepalooza started, she contacted me and offered up a week at Camont for the grand prize winner.

Never in a million years would I have guessed how this year would progress, and that I would find myself living for a week in a caravan at Camont. Barbara Ostmann, Kari Underly, Camas Davis, Sarah King, Melora Koepke, Stephanie Hill, Beth Gilliam and Rachael Gordon – Les Grrls – (and Dylan, we must not forget Dylan) spent a week at Meat Camp and came away so much richer.

I learned about pig butchery, once again, from Dominique Chapolard – and let me tell you, the second time is the charm. I’ve done some fancy knife work in the days since coming home. And an afternoon in the sunshine, eating beautiful brochettes, drinking wine, and listening to Christiane Chapolard talk of Dom and their life and love was inspired and inspirational.

Kate’s tutorial in duck butchery, confit and grilling has made me a master with the knife, and the bird. I’ll be cooking up duck breasts stuffed with prunes and duck hearts with shallot and sherry vinegar soon. I simply can’t be without these treats now.

More than anything, I came eye to eye with my food. There’s been plenty of talk about nose to tail, farm to table, whole beast cooking and eating… but every day in Gascony, every market, put the food out for the consumers with evidence of their recent life. Livers, red and plump, rested in the bellies of skinned rabbits. Ducks, chickens, partridge and every other bird imaginable came with feet and head attached. Ducks were cut open, revealing glistening foies, as well as intestines, gonads and bile ducts.

I watched geese being fed corn with the gavage to promote gorgeous foie gras. I understand this process now in an entirely new way. Did you know that migrating birds, like geese and ducks, put on extra weight – as much as 30% – to help them survive migration? So, the annual late summer fattening of geese and ducks is in keeping with their natural rhythm. And in non-commercial facilities, like La Ferme Auberge de Boué, if a bird has an injury, they are taken off the fattening regimen and returned to the flock, where they drop excess weight and heal before starting the two week fattening process again.

There was no denying where food came from – and why would you want to?

I am forever grateful to Kate. I don’t have to stalk her anymore. I call her friend. If ever you have thought to take a cooking class overseas, if ever you have wanted to get a sense of what French kitchen life is all about, I encourage you to get yourself to Gascony and Camont. It’s life changing.

In case you missed it, here are the pieces I wrote for the Washington Post food blog – All We Can Eat.

A French connection: MrsWheelbarrow goes to Grrl’s Meat Camp
A French connection: Hank and Les Grrls
A French connection: Boucher meets bouchere

A French connection: Duck, duck, goose
A French connection: Fricandeaux and paupiettes
A French connection: Meat the future

And a few dozen photos of the trip on Flickr.


Kate’s Rustic Pear Tart
Serves 12

This recipe is rather vague. Because when you cook with Kate, she does things so naturally, there isn’t a measuring cup anywhere to be found.

2-1/2 – 3 c all purpose flour
4 oz duck fat
4 oz unsalted butter, the best you can find
1 egg
1/4 c (about) ice water

8 firm, ripe pears, peeled and sliced thick into 8 pieces each

3-4 T sugar
1-1/2-2 c creme fraiche, beaten to loosen it up

Preheat oven to 400°

Mix the flour, duck fat and butter together with your fingertips or quickly pulsing in the food processor. Add the egg and pulse 10 times. Add 1/4 c ice water and pulse again about 10 times.

Dump the crust out onto a board or countertop and swiftly gather it together into a ball. Press it into a disk and chill for an hour or two.

Roll out the crust to a large rectangle. Sprinkle the sugar over the crust.

Decoratively place the pear slices over the bottom of the crust, leaving a 1-1/2″ – 2″ border.

Fold the edges over the pears. Crimp the corners.

Pour in the creme fraiche to cover the pears.

Bake for about an hour, until it’s all bubbly and gorgeous.

Let it rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving.


35 Responses to “time to develop”

  1. Janis

    This post made my heart sing. Not only did you take us along with you in your pieces for WAPO but this post brings us along for a short trip into Gascony. Love it.

  2. Kathy

    You captured the spirit and the sheer wonderfullness that is Camont beautifully in all your posts. Thanks for sharing and I just regret that I wasn’t there to experience it too. But oh, I do not miss that rooster. Wanker.

    • Cathy

      There’s a rumor going around that Coq au Vin is on the menu this week. Camas kept admiring Hank’s legs. At first I was appalled, then, after a few 4am mornings, I, too, started to think how big and juicy those thighs appeared.

  3. Sharon Miro

    Cathy, such a good post. I am now in the middle of my 6th trip to Italy, and am continuously reaffirmed that we in the states have lost touch with what we put in our bodies as nourishment.

    We have bred the color out of our fowl, and whoosh! there goes the taste too! We have elevated whole grains to high status, but so few of us eat them in their natural state. Super sized is the norm, and nuggest are a part of the chicken!

    I enjoyed all of your WAPO pieces..it was good to get the on the spot experience reproting. I am so happy that you had this experience, and I hope to be able to join you next year!

    • Cathy

      I completely agree, Sharon. Whenever I travel to Europe, I marvel at their devotion to the table, to eating and sharing and conversation. That commitment certainly informs their entire food production machine, right? Have a lovely Italian adventure. I can’t wait to hear about it.

  4. Linda Langness

    I wish, I wish, I wish I had been there! How I would love to learn all that you did! I devoured the articles in the Washington Post. Thank you!

    I do have a question about the photo in the Post of the Pate en Croute. I felt that my pate en croute failed because I did not seal the crust properly and the fat wwent everywhere. Yet in the photo in the Gascon market, the pate had a lattice top. What happened to that fat? Did it leak all over? Or was the top cut into lattice later? Any ideas?

    Thank you!

    • Cathy

      I don’t know how she did that, but it sure was pretty! I’m going to have to try the next time I make a pate en croute. Some of the trick must have to do with the packing, so the fats were emulsified with the meat. And I think not fussing with the pate until it’s fully chilled is probably part of the process. Clearly, needs more experimentation.

  5. Gail

    Cathy, you must have read my mind about this tart. When you first posted it, I almost fainted! Schmearing creme fraiche all over that gorgeous fruit and baking it….it should be illegal!

    • Cathy

      I’ve just made some creme fraiche and that tart’s on the weekend menu. Can’t wait.

  6. kate hill

    Thanks Cathy for so getting it. Having lived here in this Gascon heaven for 25 years, I forget sometimes how the little things I take for granted- like the color of real food- deep golden yolks, red pork meat, and carrots that taste of the earth, tomatoes that skin themselves. Getting closer to the food source is the key; loving your farmers like I love my Gascon neighbors. Thanks so much for coming, you and all the grrl’ssssssssss.

  7. Stephanie

    Cathy, what a wonderful post!!! So great to have met you. Hope to see you back at Camont sometime!

    • Cathy

      Steph – sorry to hear about your arm! Feel better soon. And I find myself oddly sad about Hank. RIP Hank.

  8. eda

    cathy-i am just now catching up on your whirlwind of an adventure. i love your wapo articles and feel as though i am there with you (in spirit, at least). what a wonderful experience and tales you are sharing! and i can’t thank you enough for charcutepalooza–it has been life-changing and attitude altering. thank you for including all of us on your journey.

    • Cathy

      Thank you, Eda! The best part of Charcutepalooza has been getting to know creative, unflappable cooks like you. xo

  9. Julie

    Hi Kathy! This is my first time to your site and I’m a big believer in what you shared. We have a major disconnect with our food (especially, animals) and that is affecting our health and the animals health. You are inspiring me to finally take a butchery class! Thanks!

  10. Karen Rush

    My daughter, Jeffie, and I followed you Cathy and the Grrrls. I can tell you Hank the rooster (aka Henri IVl) lives still. I too found the whole experience of cooking at Camont life changing. Just over jet lag after 2 day journey back to Australia BUT would return in a heart beat.



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