Of Apples and Normandy

Before I start, let me teach you one French word: pomme, f., meaning apple (fruit).
In France, the month of May is eagerly awaited. After the long and cold winter months, May comes packed with public holidays. When it happens that most of them conveniently fall on Tuesday or Thursday, the French do not hesitate to make a four day weekend or as they say faire le pont – make the bridge. And so it happened that the long weekends of May became a great opportunity to travel around France and exploring different regions.

Last weekend we went to a small town in Lower Normandy called Honfleur. A beautiful picturesque town and its small port are situated on the Seine estuary right across the city of Le Havre. Honfleur’s tall, slate covered, half-timbered houses and narrow streets make you feel as if walking into a medieval fantasy.

Normandy, a historical region where you can find traces of Viking’s passage, the monuments of the second world war (Battle of Normandy) as well as UNESCO world heritage sites (Mont St.Michel) is also known for its rich culinary tradition. The long coastal line is a source of fresh seafood and in the port of Honfleur the specialty on the town’s menu were the scallops or coquilles St. Jacques. Normandy’s vast countryside is ideal for grazing cattle and is the center of the production of some of France favourite cheese such as Camembert.

Normandy is also known for its delicious apples, used in dishes both sweet and savoury but also for preparation of apple-based drinks. Normandy is the most important cider-producing region of France. Little shops selling ciders and a special Normandy apple brandy, Calvados, can be seen scattered all around Honfleur. The products usually carry the AOC mark (appellation d’origine controlée) which guarantees that both the product and the ingredients come from the specific geographical area and are produced in a traditional way, allowing you to be sure of their origin. Apples are also used to prepare a special sort of rum called rhum arrangé, where the apple slices are put into bottles of rum to macerate and give a special taste to the alcohol.

Normandy is also a birth place of a popular pastry brioche and the mythic apple tart called la tarte normande, which was for some reasone, maybe a victim of it’s success, impossible for us to find. We did manage to find a some sort of an apple pie in a local bakery. Not a typical tarte normande with apples and almonds and a caramelized egg custard, but good nonetheless.

About 20 minutes from Honfleur, a small river called Touques separates the cities Trouville and Deauville right before she flows into the English Channel. Deauville is one of the famous French seaside resorts where wealthy Parisian families come to spend their weekends. Deauville is therefore often called the 21st arrondissement of Paris. It was there that Coco Chanel opened one of her first boutiques and you can still find a lot of haute couture shops, five star hotels and a racecourse.

The only discomfort of this region is the swift changing weather and an extremely strong wind, a perfect excuse to sit down at a café for a glass of local apple cider.