Here, deep in the French countryside, things are 'still' done locally.
The bread truck comes to the house twice a week, the ham truck comes three or four times a year, there is often a notice in the post from one of the local farmers for eggs, chickens, beef, pork or homemade sausage.
So it should come as no surprise, what with all of the wine produced by everyone, that once a year the 'mobile still' comes to town.
We smelled it before we saw it.
It puts out a rather distinct and somewhat pleasant aroma. I didn't know what it was….mon mari recognized it immediately.
After a wee bit of searching, following his nose, we found it: The distiller travels with an old-fashioned, gypsy-like wagon with the copper, pot-bellied still perched on it. He sets up a kind of shack to protect the still and himself from inclement weather – and, more importantly, to have a place to sit and gossip with the local farmers and sample the product.
I am told that the "right" to have your wine distilled is an hereditary right that goes with the property – as long as the property stays in the original family.
That is a complicated way of saying that we, as newcomers, don't get to use the still.
As best I understand it, the locals (who have the right) can have anything they produce distilled, excess wine, fruit juices, and, most useful of all, wine that has gone bad.
You load up the goods, plus a goodly pile of wood and head off to the still. In turn, the distiller will use your wood and your whatever to make you some 'Eau de Vie', which, I am led to believe, will knock your socks off….cleaning them in the process, something near to 90 proof.
Then, the wags have it, that you take this stuff home and mix it with other stuff, making fruit and herb flavored liqueurs, and, the favorite local tipple: Pineau (which is a kissin' cousin of port).
The distiller and still will hang around the neighborhood as long as people bring him work – must be an interesting life. When there is no more liquor to be made he packs up and moves on the the next town.
The whole system seems eminently civilized to me and exceedingly thrifty and useful. It would be even more so if we could make use of it…..we just dumped out 300 litres of wine that was going off – didn't want to ruin the barrel. We simple couldn't drink it fast enough.
I suppose we could have bottled it….but it really wasn't that good in the first place….but it could have been distilled into perfectly good pure alcohol. Then, of course, what would we have done with 50 litres of pure alcohol?
Put some in the soup, naturally!
Simple Butternut Squash Soup
1 medium leek
1/2 butternut squash about 2 cups, cubed
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbs olive oil
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried parsley
2 tbs crème fraiche, Greek Yogurt or sour cream
Peel butternut squash using potato/vegetable peeler. Cut it in half the long way (blossom to stem) and remove seeds. Cut half of the squash into small cubes, roughly 2 cups. Wrap the remainder in film and refrigerate. Clean and slice the leek. In medium sauce pan sauté leek in oil until transparent. Add squash, stock, sage and nutmeg. Heat to boiling, reduce heat and simmer 15 – 20 minutes, until squash is tender. Purée soup – either with blender or immersion blender. At this point you can add more stock if you prefer a thinner soup. Add parsley and gently reheat. To serve, ladle into soup plates or bowls, put dollop of yogurt or crème fraiche in the center and serve.
Note: To clean butternut squash first peel it, using a potato/vegetable peeler. If it's large (typically) cut it in half between the 'neck' and 'bowl' ends. Then cut those in half the 'long' way. Scoop the seeds out of the round end and discard. I use the neck end for uniform pieces and the bowl end for soups and smaller pieces. Wrap what you're not using in plastic wrap and refrigerate.