Gers in the south west of France, pronounced jairs, is a sleepy, very relaxing and peaceful area where you will find all the simple things of life and where it is said the inhabitants live a longer and healthier life than anywhere else in France. It was part of the area formally referred to as Gascony but is now split into two new departmental names, Gers and Landes.
This south west area of France has so much to offer in terms of beauty and gastronomic fares. There is nowhere in France that has such a wide spectrum of ingredients and of gastronomic specialities than the cuisine of this area of the country. Here you will see beautiful rolling hills and valleys, wooded slopes and farms and vineyards in the landscapes all benefiting from the warm sunny summers, long sunny autumns and fairly mild winters.
The seasons here provide the most wondrous palette of colour including the brightest sunny sunflowers, green corn, the gold wheat and the variety of trees such as mimosa, sturdy oak trees, chestnut and walnut enrich the countryside like the kind you imagine in picture books - truly amazing.
If this is not enough to tempt you to visit this area then the food may just do it for you as this area is so abundant with a variety of fresh country produce and commendable wines to tempt any palate.
It is here that the famous Armagnac is produced which is a cousin of the famous Cognac from northern France. Another gastronomical delicacy is foie gras made from the liver of the goose or the duck. Indeed there is a much heated debate as to which is the far superior, the duck or goose foie gras. It is a light and luxurious pate and its name simply means “fat liver”. However it is a highly controversial foodstuff these days as the method by which it is produced is a matter which is not always agreed on.
It is made from the livers which have been enlarged by force feeding the ducks and geese by a method known as gavage. Originally it was the farmer's wives in the cottage industries who would feed their free range birds one by one with maize forcing it down their gullets. Today a tube is inserted into their mouths leading to their stomachs and the food poured down. This is done regularly until the birds livers are enlarged and produce the large cream coloured liver which is then seasoned, poached and pressed before chilling. This is the soft paste or pate which is spread on lightly toasted bread or served in many different ways including what is called flash fried where the skill is to heat it, at the same time, preventing the fat from escaping.
Of course as with most things French, no part of the goose or duck is ever wasted and the legs or thighs are made into the traditional confit de canard. Confit is a method of preserving them in salt or salt curing and then cooking it in its own fat. This goes back to the days when the peasants would sell the most expensive parts of the birds to the local butchers and then preserve the cheaper cuts of the meat for themselves.
Duck fat or goose fat makes wonderful roasted potatoes of course but if you stop to think how much fat the peoples of this region enjoy in their diet you would be alarmed at the risk to their health yet somehow the rate of heart disease remains the lowest in Europe with many locals living into their nineties having a very long and healthy life.
One of my favourite pastimes when in France is to relax by browsing the local markets and here in Gers they are quite an event of the week, indeed they are a social occasion all of their own. You will find an abundance of fresh produce, whatever is in season to enrich your recipes for the week.
If you do decide to visit Gers and I highly recommend that you do given the chance, here is a list of the markets for the Gers area to help you plan your days:
Auch: Thursday & Saturday; Condom: Wednesday; Eauze: Thursday; Fleurance: Tuesday; Gimont: Wednesday; Lectoure: Friday; Marciac: Wednesday; Mauvezin: Monday; Mirande: Monday; Plaisance: Thursday; Riscle: Friday; Saint-Clar: Thursday; Seissan: Friday and Vic Fezensac: Friday.
One traditional dish from Gers which we enjoy is the Apple and Armagnac Croustade or Croustade au Pommes. It is a delicious light and sweet pastry dish with apples flambéed with Armagnac. Originally it consisted of several layers of thin sheets of hand pulled almost strudel like dough which incidentally still remains a skill in Gers, with a filling of sweet apples. Today is it much easier to use filo pastry and indeed many chefs do this. The term croustade simply means a crust but I can assure you that it is far from simple when you come to eat it - it is divine!
Here is my easy version of this gorgeous pie, it is not quite like the original French version but is very good all the same. There is quite a skill in the making of the original pastry and I for one would not even attempt it so please forgive me – I am simply a lover of French recipes but no expert. It is almost like making bread dough and it has to rest overnight and be pulled and stretched until it is wafer thin. If you would like to see the original version being made then take a look at YouTube with Rick Steine showing you a French lady from Gers making this remarkable dish - it is truly amazing as I’m sure you will agree.
Croustade au Pommes
- 4 medium cooking apples or dessert apples
- Armagnac – to sprinkle generously over the apples
- Filo Pastry – this can be bought from most supermarkets but do try and buy the best as cheaper ones tend to have cheap fat in them.
Cut a thin strip of cooking foil to stretch across the bottom of your dish with about 3ins overlapping
each side. This is to enable you to lift your apple croustade out of the dish before serving.
Simply stretch enough pastry to fit over the bottom of a heat proof dish.
Fill your dish with layers of apple rounds, cut thinly and sprinkle generously with Armagnac and castor sugar.
Cut small rounds of pastry and make a sort conical shape with them and place on top of the apples. Don’t worry if they do not look like the right shape as long as you have some sort of pastry shape to top the croustade. I actually made square ones but they were not really satisfactory so I’m sure you can do better than me. If you do, please send me a picture, would love to see what you have made – gaynor at french-recipes-to-love.com and I will put it on my website for all to see!
Continue making more and cover the entire top of the croustade.
Place on a tray and bake in a hot oven until the pastry has turned golden brown.
You can serve it just as it is or with fresh cream or ice cream – heavenly.