Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Oysters and Persimmons

Across the street from the main section of the Saturday farmer's market there's a stand that sells oysters brought over from Angoulins, near La Rochelle, on the Atlantic coast southwest of Tours, about 2 hours and a half hours away by car or by train. Until the nice man at the Christmas market gave me a taste of raw oyster, I hadn't thought of buying them; they're hard to open if you don't know the trick, and with two cats and a dog in the house, getting rid of the shells immediately would be imperative. I think the last time I bought oysters at the farmer's market in Portland I baked them, and they were just okay - if you bake them they open themselves up, solving that problem, but then they dry out and get tough fairly quickly. So I didn't really know what to do with oysters, or have any real impetus towards their purchase. However, oysters are a Christmas tradition in France, eaten raw, and once convinced of their deliciousness I decided to offer them as my contribution to the holiday festivities at Sebastien's family's home in Saumur to which I have been generously invited.

According to 2011 statistics, over 120,000 metric tons of oysters were eaten in France that year, though there was a crisis in the industry starting around 2008 with a virus that killed many of the young oysters (called spats, which makes me think of an unruly mob of juvenile oysters scuffling and slapping each other at the bottom of the sea) and that led to a gradual increase in the price of oysters, though not to a decrease in their consumption. I ordered a crate of six dozen to be picked up on the 23rd on our way to Saumur.

I also talked to the proprietor about the possibility of going over and visiting their oyster farm, just to see how it's set up. After the holiday rush, naturally. I'm planning on a quick weekend trip to visit the farm, and if the weather's good that weekend I may even be able to fit in some fossil hunting. There's a section along that stretch of the coast where rocks formed in the Kimmeridgian Stage are exposed along the chalky cliffs, similar to the stretch of the Jurassic Coast in southwest England where Mom and John and I found ammonites back in 2007. A quick check on a geology website here shows that there are ammonites near Angoulins too, but that the area is known for its sea urchin fossils. Those would be fun to find. I am going to keep in contact with the oyster farmer and with the weather forecasters and try to find a weekend in January to visit and explore.

I bought more persimmons at the market on Saturday, since I'd used all of them for the pumpkin-persimmon tart I tried out earlier in the week. The tart didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but I think that was because I used firm persimmons instead of riper sweeter ones, and needed a little more body in the custard filling; coconut milk doesn't set the same as dairy milk. But the flavor was good, though not as persimmon-y as I'd wanted, and the custard firmed up after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. I'm eating the last of it for breakfast this morning, and would definitely make it again, with some adjustments. Here's the recipe, mentally adjusted:

Pumpkin-Persimmon Custard Tart

2 cups roasted pumpkin
3 large eggs
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tbs cornstarch
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 c light brown sugar
four ripe persimmons, sliced thin and seeded
margarine for buttering (margarining?) the dish

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Put all ingredients except the persimmons and margarine into a blender or food processor and whirl until smooth. Butter a large round tart pan and pour the filling into the pan. Top with a layer of persimmon slices. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the edges of the tart have pulled away from the sides of the pan, the filling is stable, and the persimmons starting to brown. Let sit for half an hour before serving to allow the custard to set (or serve it with a spoon).

I was going to brush a thinned-honey glaze over the persimmons at some point but didn't. I think that would be a nice touch, and probably is something that you'd do towards the end of the baking time so that the glaze didn't burn.

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